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Mwirotsi & Rosalind: Pi515 is helping fill the demographic drought in the labor force

Guest post by Nancy Mwirotsi and Rosalind Carey.

The U.S. labor force is facing a crisis that’s been brewing for decades and has become readily apparent thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of Americans are without jobs, yet millions of job postings are unfilled. A 2021 data review published by Emsi found that as of March 2021, over 19 million Americans filed for some sort of jobless benefits despite 7 million recorded job openings. The US labor force participation rate (LFPR) has been steadily declining since the 1980s, yet the last year has made the hiring crisis glaringly obvious. There are three parts to the current labor crisis: the mass retreat of baby boomers from the workforce, the record-low LFPR of Millennial and Gen-X age employees, and the lowest birth rates in US history.  

As baby boomers retire early, their children and grandchildren are not prepared nor interested in taking their places as skilled employees. Between February 2020 and February 2021, over 2.4 million Millennial and Gen-X women left the labor force. Part of the reason is that the industries that traditionally employ more women than men were the first to close during the pandemic–food service, retail, and travel industries. The other is that working mothers were the primary caregivers to children learning remotely, and many made the choice to leave their jobs to better support their children. Men of the same generations have also been retreating from the labor force since the 1980s, due to shifting interests and a rising preference for part-time work instead of full-time.

One upside to this crisis is that current employees and job applicants are driving the workforce. Employers and hiring managers are competing for talented applicants and are learning that employee retention is crucial to the success of their business. Applicants can choose where to apply and where to accept offers with exclusivity. Additionally, non-traditional applicants are becoming increasingly attractive to employers, such as applicants without a college degree and workers that are on the older or younger ends of their generation.  

Pi515 specifically serves students who are likely to be classified as non-traditional job applicants.  Our programs equip middle and high school students with the digital and soft skills to be attractive applicants to a wide range of employers. High school students gain experience through internships and teaching opportunities, preparing them to enter the workforce before receiving a college degree.  Because the size and strength of America’s labor force directly impacts the economic success of the country, the work that Pi515 does ensures that the students served are entering the workforce as the most prepared, attractive, and flexible candidates they can be. The shrinking labor pool is a problem without one easy solution.  But the impacts of a strong workforce are so keenly felt that Pi515 is doing everything it can to offset this growing problem. After school programs, workshops, and motivational summits keep students engaged in STEM throughout their time in school and into their chosen career fields. To keep up with the growing interest in these educational programs, the organization is increasing the number of weekly classes and workshops offered. Through this expansion of programming, Pi515 is working to combat the growing demographic drought.

Nancy Mwirotsi is the founder of Pi515 and Rosalind Carey is a writing intern for Pi515. Pi515 is a nonprofit organization that empowers refugee and disadvantaged youth to succeed by teaching them technology skills.

Mwirotsi & Rosalind: Pi515 is helping fill the demographic drought in the labor force | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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