Wisconsin skills gap needs employers, government and educators working together

Just as many factors contributed to the current skills gap in Wisconsin, closing the gap requires the cooperative efforts of several entities.

Observers in the media, government, education and business each have their own take on the situation. Some point to the aging workforce retiring without enough younger people to fill their jobs. Others say high schools facing budget shortages cut funding for technical training reducing opportunities for students to gain exposure to technical careers. Callers to recent radio shows blame low wages for the lack of candidates for skilled labor jobs.

Years of layoffs have made people wary of manufacturing jobs that may end due to changes in technology or economic factors. Employers in that sector are trying to explain that today’s manufacturing jobs require more technology and therefore different skill sets.

In a recent article in The Isthmus, a Madison weekly, Madison College administrators explained how input from employers helps the technical colleges respond to workforce needs. Advisory boards made up of industry professionals tell colleges how required skills are changing so curricula can keep pace with the changes.

Turina Bakken, Madison College's associate vice president of learner success, told The Isthmus her college has a good record of “evolving to meet the changing look of the community and the employers.”

Jennifer Bakke, director of business and industry services at Madison College mentioned the demographic factors in the Isthmus article.

"We don't have as many young people coming in, and we have the longtime baby boomers retiring," Bakke explained. "You get both a gap in preparing for the jobs and a gap in the total numbers coming into it."

In his State of the State address Governor Scott Walker highlighted a public/private partnership producing skilled workers who are hired upon completing their training programs.

“During the past year, we partnered with the Wisconsin Covenant Foundation to provide grants to technical colleges and employers in various regions to improve workforce development.  The next step will come in the state budget, as we align new resources with our critical needs in the workplace,” the Governor said.

Five Wisconsin technical colleges shared a three-year, $3.8 million Wisconsin Workforce Partnership Grant from the Foundation.

"The Wisconsin Covenant Foundation funds the productive collaboration of partnerships between higher education and private industry. We are committed to helping improve career pathways to provide specialized instruction and real-world training to bridge the skills gap for workers and employers," said Foundation Board Chair Richard D. George.

On a recent visit to Chippewa Valley Technical College Senator Tammy Baldwin praised the Wisconsin Technical College System saying: "We have so many people who were displaced in our great recession, displaced from manufacturing jobs, you have manufacturers who want new workers, but they're finding a gap between skills. Chippewa Valley Technical College and our statewide technical college system are really stepping up and forming partnerships and tackling this problem."

With all the attention focused on the current state of Wisconsin’s skilled workforce educators, employers, government and private funders are forming partnerships and developing solutions together. Momentum is building to create the necessary workforce for the state’s businesses and economic development.