Developing local talent into our future workforce

What can today’s youth literacy rate tell us about our region’s future?

We know the Quad Cities’ economic strength is closely tied to the quality of our workforce and talent pipeline. Each worker’s story starts with a K-12 education and leads to a college degree or skilled trade and, eventually, a career.

That’s why it’s critical that our region prioritize education and work together to ensure we prepare every student to graduate with the skills needed to succeed in life.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is, hopefully, reaching an end, its adverse impact on the academic achievement for Quad Cities students is already visible. The long-term economic effect for our community and businesses could be devastating without an all-in approach to close gaps that have manifested during the pandemic. 

That’s because academic achievement and future earnings are strongly correlated, particularly when it comes to reading proficiency. Reading — an essential skill — has been among the hardest subjects hit by COVID. The number of students reading at grade level fell by half to its lowest point on record. To date, only 30% of students are reading on grade level.

Third-grade reading proficiency can predict what’s to come for both individuals and communities. Students who cannot read on grade level by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, thus setting them up for a life filled with economic and social challenges.

United Way Quad Cities has partnered with Group O, the Quad-City Times, school districts and other organizations to launch Read United QC, a ground-breaking, community-wide awareness and action campaign to help our kids get back on track.

Quad Cities businesses require a thriving pipeline of talented individuals who are invested in our community and equipped for the workplace of the future. The next generation of business, technology, science and community leaders are in our classrooms today.

I invite you to join the more than 300 volunteers and organizations already committed to helping students overcome this new challenge. Here’s how:

Corporate Volunteering: Volunteer your workplace or team for weekly one-on-one reading sessions with a student as a Read United QC volunteer. So far, over 400 students have been referred to the program by teachers and care providers at more than a dozen participating locations. With additional referrals expected, we anticipate the need for 500 volunteers to pair with students to read for 30 minutes a week.

Corporate Giving: Fund United Way’s Read United QC effort to bolster out-of-school literacy and early education programs, mentoring and parenting classes throughout the region.

It will take all of us working together to ensure all Quad Cities students are reading on grade level and have a pathway for success in college or career. Can we count you in?  •

Rene Gellerman is president & CEO of United Way Quad Cities. Learn more about the Read United QC initiative at

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