CIRAS Attends Conference Focused on Workforce Solutions

The spark ignited at a recent workforce conference still burns for four CIRAS employees who attended the event.

“We’re excited to take some of the information and best practices presented there and fit them into our program,” said Mary McGraw, project manager.

McGraw, Brenda Martin, workforce program director, Pam Lane, project manager, and Mayra Ramirez, project manager, were among more than 90 professionals from across the U.S. who participated in the aptly named FireWorks conference. The event was held in June in Cleveland, and included tours, presentations, networking opportunities, and brainstorming sessions.

For Ramirez, a conference highlight was seeing new ways to engage underrepresented groups like youth and refugees in manufacturing. The conference also included a session on creating in-prison training for incarcerated women to meet some workforce goals.

“MEP centers are quite varied in their approach to workforce services,” said Martin. “Comparing notes with other centers helped us learn what works and what to avoid.”

Lane commented on the value of touring different businesses for a first-hand look at how they manage workforce issues. Networking opportunities were also beneficial.

“This was a gathering of like-minded professionals attempting to help businesses in their state, and sharing the programs and process for doing that,” Lane said. “From an inspirational speech on hiring people with mental disabilities to interactive Industry 4.0 training stations, we saw many examples of innovative workforce development strategies that make making a real impact in communities MEP centers serve.”

The FireWorks conference was sponsored by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National Network. MEP is a private-public partnership with51 centers nationwide focused on serving small- and medium-sized manufacturers. CIRAS manages the MEP for the state of Iowa.

For more information, please contact Brenda Martin at or (515) 570-5282.