Walker signs workforce training bill at Blackhawk Technical College

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Jim Leute
Monday, March 17, 2014

JANESVILLE—When Rock County's economy started tanking in 2009, enrollment at Blackhawk Technical College skyrocketed.

The local auto manufacturing sector vanished and a national recession hurt other sectors.

Displaced workers turned to the local technical college in hopes of reinventing themselves for different kinds of jobs.

For many programs, they encountered waiting lists.

As the economy improved, some of those waiting lists were wiped out, but others still exist.

A further reduction in waiting lists at BTC and the state's other 15 technical colleges is one goal of legislation Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Monday at BTC.

Walker signed a bill that came out of a January special session. It provides more than $35 million to technical colleges, school districts and businesses under the state's Fast Forward program.

Specifically, Walker said the new money would:

--Provide workforce training grants to technical colleges so they can expand programming and reduce wait lists for high-demand programs.

Walker said the funding would more quickly get more students into the job pipeline. He said it has both short- and long-term ramifications for both employees looking for work now and employers who have plans to expand, if they can count on available workers.

--Create new partnerships with K-12 districts to provide training, equipment and credit for technical education at the high school level.

Walker visited the technical education program at Beloit Memorial High School in October and said Monday that it's an example that's being replicated around the state.

“We want to create a partnership for dual enrollment, such as what's being done at Beloit Memorial, where our K-12 schools partner with our technical schools for a seamless transition,” he said.

--Enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

While general population employment participation rates are 68 percent, the rate falls to 19 percent for people with disabilities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bill signed Monday would provide more than $1 million to businesses that want to hire and train people with disabilities. It also gives $750,000 to expand a high school transition program that provides training to students with development and intellectual disabilities.

“This will help employers identify the unique abilities of people who otherwise have been identified as having disabilities,” Walker said.

Walker said all three initiatives will help lower the state's unemployment rate.

“But there is a big challenge on the horizon for employers not having enough workers to fill positions, and that plays into their decisions on where to grow,” he said. “We can't afford to have anyone on the sidelines.”

Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson said it's too early to determine how much of the $35 million might find its way to Rock County.

The Wisconsin Technical College System's board of directors will soon start meeting with college presidents to determine where the money will go, Newson said.

Walker said the bill received strong bipartisan backing in both the Assembly and Senate. The money came from a nearly $1 billion state budget surplus.

“A job is not a Democrat job or a Republican job, it's a Wisconsin job,” he said.

In the Assembly, the bill passed on a 77-22 vote. It had the local support of Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, opposed the bill.

In the Senate, Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, was part of 32-0 vote in favor of the legislation.

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