Iowa STEM Blog

Wednesday, November 11, 2019

By: Chad Janzen, Rock Valley Community School District

Iowa’s businesses, particularly manufacturing, are finding employees in short supply. In addition to the lack of employees, businesses are also finding hires lacking in the necessary skills. According to the 2018 Workforce Needs Survey, 56% of applicants lack the necessary qualifications. The skills gap is alarming considering 53% of the skills gap is related to middle-skill jobs (2018 Occupational Employments Statistics).

To meet the growing needs of its own community, Rock Valley Community School District was awarded a STEM BEST Grant in 2014. The district used these funds to build Rocket Manufacturing, a fully-functioning, self-sustaining, student-run manufacturing business.  Students work and learn in a collaborative environment performing a variety of jobs. These jobs include marketing, accounting, using architectural software to design parts per customers’ specifications, and building parts employing automated machines such as a CNC mill and lathe, plasma tables and welders.

Students also develop the 21st Century and employability skills employers seek such as creativity, critical thinking, flexibility, accountability. Communication skills are developed through written, electronic and oral communication for students who work on the business side of the program. Students must be creative and flexible when working with business finances. Accountability skills are developed quickly when meeting deadlines in the real world.

The success of Rocket Manufacturing could not have been accomplished without the help of business partnerships.  Here are some of the keys to building essential school-business partnerships:

  • Focus on how you can help businesses rather than on how they can help you.
  • Find a business partner or two to be your cheerleader.
  • Financial assistance may be needed, but discuss that last.
  • Utilize your city and local economic development corporation.

Visit the Rocket Manufacturing Website at Click on the media link to hear specific information and success stories about the program. More information can be found on Facebook at

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