Erasing the workforce paradox
Wisconsin faces a workforce paradox. Several sectors, mainly manufacturing, are having difficulty filling jobs because applicants lack necessary skills. Yet, the state has an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent. Good, family-supporting jobs are out there, but the state, our education system and employers must collectively focus on matching the availability of our workforce with those job needs.
Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are aggressively working to address this paradox. The issue wonít be solved overnight or on any one front. Itís a matter of laying the groundwork for our education system, businesses and workforce development to work together to address the gap between experience and available jobs. Our state must make it a priority to educate our workforce and dispel myths about Wisconsinís economy in the following ways:
1. Our K-12 system, along with parents, must do a better job of highlighting manufacturing as a desirable career pathway and dispelling false impressions that manufacturing is dirty, dumb and dangerous.
2. We must introduce students at the elementary, middle school and high school levels to the reality that advanced manufacturing is part of Wisconsinís new economy and that the industry offers high-tech, immediately available positions with family-supporting wages to those with the right skills.
3. Our manufacturing plants must engage students and young working adults through mentorship programs and other outreach. These employers can showcase their products and operations as well as illustrate potential societal impact and the skills needed to drive their industries forward. Having been through workplaces over the years, we guarantee that these tours leave impressions that will get young people excited about these careers.
4. We must recognize that not everyone needs a four-year college degree and that attractive, lifelong opportunities exist through technical training. All of our colleges must develop curricula addressing workplace needs rather than just student demand. In addition, focusing technical training on certifications, rather than degrees, makes us more nimble to respond to changes in workplace skill needs. We have one of the best technical college systems in the country. Working together, we can ensure their course offerings accurately reflect the workforce dynamic.
5. We must identify regional job opportunities and skill needs and find ways to help people relocate to those jobs. Businesses facing shortages must throw wider recruitment nets. We may have to consider training credits and relocation assistanceóconnecting available workers with available jobs.
6. We must do a better job of identifying the skills, abilities and experience of the unemployed and link them to available needs. A more thorough assessment of our workforce development strategy is necessary to transition from excelling at processing claims to excelling at putting people back to work.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Workforce Development will partner in rebranding opportunities, aligning training to job needs, connecting workers to jobs and providing training and relocation investments. We look forward to continuing to work with our workforce development partners, along with educators at every level, to better position available workers to fill businessesí needs.
Paul Jadin is CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation; email Paul.Jadin@wedc.org. Reggie Newson is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development; email Reggie.Newson@dwd.wisconsin.gov.