Innovative opportunities to connect classrooms to the workforce are coming to Iowa schools. Through the Iowa Department of Education’s Credentials to Careers grant, 37 Iowa high schools will offer students opportunities to earn real-world, industry-recognized credentials that support and propel future college and career pathways.

An industry-recognized credential is a valuable tool, verifying a person’s qualifications in a certain career field. They include certifications, credentials or licenses vetted by employers and endorsed by a nationally recognized trade association or organization in a particular industry. Credentials are available across many career pathways, including health sciences, information technology, construction, manufacturing, child development, culinary and business. By offering opportunities to earn these types of certificates, licenses or degrees in high school, students will attain skills and experience in areas that are highly important and in-demand with local employers.

“Industry-recognized credentials aligned with high-quality career and technical education (CTE) programs can set Iowa students up for success in their future college and career plans,” said Dennis Harden, section chief for the Department’s Bureau of Community Colleges and Postsecondary Readiness. “These new opportunities will open doors for students and ensure they are well-prepared for high-wage and high-demand job fields.”

At South Hamilton Community School District, their first foray into offering industry-recognized credentials will start next fall within their industrial technology program. Students will have opportunities to pursue certification through industry leader Snap-On Tools for precision measurement and hand tool safety and identification.

“I want to give my students as many opportunities as possible through our CTE programs,” said Chris Entner, industrial technology educator at South Hamilton. “By earning an industry-recognized credential, students will have the upper-hand on their competition when applying for jobs in the future.”

Through the Credentials to Careers grant, the 37 school recipients will align CTE pathways to student attainment of industry-recognized credentials. The grant supports areas related to pursuing a credential, such as student exam fees, training equipment, instructor training and computer software, among others.

For Entner, he plans to purchase toolkits that are required for hands-on training and certification with students. He also will attend professional development training over the summer for the two credentials.

Entner anticipates that many students in his classes will be able to take advantage of the industry-recognized credential opportunities.

“At this point, we hope to offer the hand tool identification and safety certification to all students who take the introduction to manufacturing class,” he said. “This is the first class that any student in the program has to take, so it has the potential to reach a lot of students.”

Industry-recognized credentials like these are foundational and can potentially be stacked with other future certifications or degrees, which sets a student up for further education, training and postsecondary achievements.

“Industry-recognized credentials are often portable, stackable and lead to many different college and career options for students,” Harden said. “Through these opportunities, students will have a clearer outlook for what potential pathways lie ahead for them.”

For automotive technology educator Jeff Gerdes, industry-recognized credentials have been a game-changer for students in Fort Madison Community School District’s CTE programs. For the past two years, Fort Madison has offered industry-recognized credential opportunities within health care and automotive technology. Through the Credentials to Careers grant, Gerdes and his colleagues are branching out even further with new certification opportunities in agriculture, carpentry and welding as well as expanded credentials in automotive technology and health care.

“All CTE content areas were able to get something out of the Credentials to Careers grant,” Gerdes said. “This will allow us to upgrade equipment and provide new opportunities for students to get hands-on training and experience with advanced technology that’s used within the industry.”

With the grant, Gerdes plans to update his program with state-of-the-art equipment that will give students practical experience, such as with wheel balancers, tire-changing equipment and various tools. His class will offer credentials through Hunter Manufacturing and Snap-On Tools.

Gerdes states making connections with local business and industry partners is key for understanding what equipment is being used today and what credentials employers are seeking in new job candidates.

“As teachers, we’re helping to build the next generation of the workforce,” he said, “The input from our business partnerships is certainly a big factor in how we determine what certifications we will offer to students. We want the credentials to fit with the positions they need to fill.”

Business and industry partnerships assist Gerdes with not only essential feedback on what credentials to provide to students, but they also provide support, information and opportunities with work-based learning. Students at Fort Madison have been able to participate in Registered Apprenticeships, job shadows, networking and guest presentations through these valuable partnerships.

“We wouldn’t be in business in CTE without our partners,” Gerdes said. “They are a big part of our industry-recognized credential initiatives, and we plan to continue to collaborate with them to help shape our program.”  

Like South Hamilton, Fort Madison’s industry-recognized credential opportunities have a chance to reach many of their students. Since several CTE programs will offer an industry-recognized credential, there are opportunities to cross-train students in different career paths.

“We will offer an OSHA-10 certification on safety,” Gerdes said. “This applies to many areas in CTE, such as construction, carpentry, automotive, welding, manufacturing and more. This helps cast a wide net to hit as many students as possible with the chance to earn a credential that is used in the real world.”

Industry-recognized credentials can help set up a student for success in their life after high school graduation. And both Gerdes and Entner would agree these things are vital in today’s CTE programs and tomorrow’s future workforce.

“If we can offer credentials in our CTE programs, it gives students one more thing they can use to stand out and find success,” Entner said. “Any opportunity that will help kids in their life after high school, I’m all about it.”

Learn more and find the Department’s approved list of high-quality industry-recognized credentials at Industry-Recognized Credentials | Department of Education (