Walker targets workforce development

Gov. Scott Walker recently unveiled a $100 million series of new programs in an effort to create a more competitive workforce in Wisconsin.

The programs, which would be atop an existing $32 million in state spending on workforce development, are aimed at helping individuals fine-tune the skills needed for today’s job market as well as gain long-term financial independence.

“This investment in the workforce continues to allow the ability to train, retool and educate our workforce in Wisconsin so individuals can be self-reliant,” said Reggie Newson, secretary of the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD).

Walker also outlined new legislation within his workforce development agenda, which ranks among his top five priorities moving forward through the biennium, according to Newson.

“By addressing the skills gap, more people can get good-paying jobs and help Wisconsin’s economy grow,” Newson said. “Wisconsin must help people learn the skills they need to meet the requirements of in-demand jobs.”

Within his proposed workforce development bill, known as Wisconsin Fast Forward, Walker has included an investment of $20 million for the creation of a labor market information system, a one-stop website for employers, education stakeholders, job seekers and the general public to access real time information about available jobs and training opportunities.

The site, which will be in development over the next 24 months, also will act as a resource for high school students and guidance counselors in identifying career options and specific training needed for in-demand jobs. And through the website, every sixth-grader in the state will be able to compose academic and career plans so they can assess their skills, talents and interests and have a roadmap to navigate the remainder of their education.

“The earlier we can engage children and get them to think about the future, the better off we’ll all be,” Newson said. “The idea is to open students’ eyes early to the full range of possibilities ahead of them. Starting with the sixth grade was a recommendation that came out of the governor’s Council on College and Workforce Readiness.”

Walker’s workforce development budget also allows for $15 million – $7.5 million each year of the biennium – in worker training grants. The grants will support organizations like technical colleges, economic development groups and employers in training employees.

To oversee the grants, an Office of Skills Development would be administered through the DWD. The office would also be responsible for engaging businesses, technical colleges, nonprofit agencies and community groups in economic development as well as attracting businesses to Wisconsin to create more jobs.

Another $300,000 within the budget would ensure continuation of the state’s Veterans in Piping program, which provides 20 weeks of pre-apprenticeship training to veterans and then matches them with an apprenticeship position upon completion of training.

An additional $1.8 million would support the state’s apprenticeship program in the second year of the biennium. The apprenticeship program equips students with skills needed to pursue a career in a skilled trade through on-the-job training and classroom instruction and pays them as they complete their apprenticeship.

The DWD’s Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards, in partnership with the state’s Apprenticeship Advisory Council, plans to market apprenticeships statewide, particularly to young women who may be well-suited for careers in skilled trades jobs, Newson said.

“We want to continue to use the apprenticeship program as a viable option for young people that may not necessarily want to go to a college for a four-year degree,” he said.

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