Panel says skilled workers needed for economic expansion

Growth and expansion in Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector is stalling because of a lack of skilled workers, a panel of experts reported to the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) Board last week.

“Manufacturers across Wisconsin consistently point to skill shortages as a ‘pacing’ issue,” said Jim Morgan, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation and one of four panelists. “In other words, skills training drives their ability to grow and expand.”

In a December survey of the Wisconsin manufacturing industry conducted by Schenck, an Appleton-based accounting and consulting firm, nearly 90 percent of respondents indicated a skilled labor shortage was affecting sales growth and expansion opportunities.

Other panelists speaking before the board included John Schwantes, a director with Johnsonville Sausage in Sheboygan Falls, Fox Valley Technical College president Susan May and Jim Mackey, WTCS education director for manufacturing programs.

“We’ve certainly been challenged with skills shortages,” said Schwantes, a member of the WTCS board. “But we’ve also been engaged in developing the kinds of flexible K-12 and technical college partnerships that help us address those challenges.”

The technical colleges offer more than 60 education and training programs in manufacturing, with about 9,000 students enrolled, as well as customized training and technical assistance. “Our members believe the technical colleges are the preferred providers of skills training,” Morgan told the board.

May highlighted long-standing partnerships her college has with regional manufacturers. She also pointed out that the technical colleges must aggressively manage their “program mix,” balancing the needs of employers and interest of students across sectors.

“At some point, the colleges bump into issues related to student pipeline and college capacity,” said WTCS board president Mark Tyler. “We work hard with our partners to generate interest in manufacturing programs and careers, but we face challenges there, and in ensuring the colleges have the physical and instructional capacity to deliver graduates.”

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