Companies paying to train workers to fill local jobs in new program

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Jim Leute
Sunday, June 2, 2013

— Employers in recent years have complained to just about anyone who will listen that they can't find workers with the skills needed to fill open positions.

They've repeatedly asked government and technical school officials what they're going to do to solve the employers' so-called "skills gap" problem.

A new initiative in Rock County is designed to reverse that line of thinking. Participating companies are paying to have workers trained for their openings.

Work Today is intended to match worker talents with open jobs, but its similarities to other initiatives end there. The pilot program involves local employers willing to spend money to train employees for specific positions.

"Instead of just generally training people and sending them out to find a job, this program provides specific training for jobs that local employers have open," said Bob Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, which has partnered with the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, Community Action, Manpower and others on the program.

"With this program, employers have skin in the game."

Several employers, primarily in the Beloit area, are the founding members of the Work Today Employer Alliance. Each pays an annual fee of $2,500 to $7,500 that goes toward a pool—currently about $60,000—to train workers for openings at member companies.

Randall Upton, president of the Beloit chamber, said membership is open to any private-sector company in Rock County, and interest is growing beyond its borders. One company, he said, is about to hire a couple of workers.

"The program is unique in that instead of just concentrating on the perceived needs of workers, we're going directly to the decision makers with employers that are looking for workers," Upton said. "The employers are really the key, and this is a completely different approach.

"Instead of throwing something together and hoping for state funding, we decided to deal directly with the private sector, those companies that are either hiring or have some other commitment to the community."

Other than the employers, participants include job seekers in search of new skills, including those with limited or no previous work history.

The Rock County Job Center assesses candidates' job traits and the occupational skills they have or could learn. The center contracts with Manpower, which has an arsenal of more than 6,000 short-term training programs covering a wide variety of occupations.

The employers, through their fees, then pay for the job-specific training.

"The employer is the primary client rather than potential employees, which should lead to a far more effective effort in matching skills needed to those of the job seekers," Borremans said.

The local program is a pilot project for the rest of the state, so it's getting a lot of attention, said Borremans, who recently was part of a presentation in Minnesota.

"For about 75 minutes, we talked about our program and the fact that we use a private contractor—Manpower—to deliver our services," he said. "That's very unique in Wisconsin and across the nation, and we fielded questions for up to two hours.

"We really believe this sort of workforce training will be the model of the future."

Eloise Anderson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, has been involved in the local program's formation, and she's watching it closely.

"Rock County has had more than its share of employment problems during the past few years, and while things are slowly improving, the Beloit area continues to be particularly hard-hit," Anderson said in a news release. "It is ironic that although many employers have job openings, they cannot find qualified workers."

She said the program could help the chronically under-employed and unemployed, and it could serve as a blueprint for similar programs in other parts of the state.

"While past plans have attempted to train clients first, then try to find openings for them, in this program potential employees would be given specific training for job openings that already exist," she said.

Participating businesses include DuPont, Kerry Ingredients, Cotta Transmission, Beloit Memorial Hospital/Health Services, Blackhawk Transport and Regal Beloit. The AT&T Foundation also contributed $5,000.

Last updated: 7:57 am Monday, July 29, 2013

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