Washington County launches workforce program

To combat a severe labor shortage that could sweep through Washington County within the next decade, the Washington County Economic Development Corporation (EDWC) has erected a new program that will package customized workforce solutions for individual businesses.

EDWC realized the need for immediate attention to the workforce needs of area businesses after a 2012 retirement survey indicated Washington County could face 23,500 unfilled jobs by 2026 if the county does not begin taking action now.

The 2012 Washington County Retirement and Departure Intentions Survey, conducted by Washington County chambers, economic development organizations and education stakeholders in hand with area employers, questioned more than 3,000 area employees about their retirement and post-retirement plans. Results, released in early 2013, revealed that a total 17.5 percent of individuals consulted aim to retire within the next five years, 33.9 percent within the next 10 years and 50.9 percent within 15 years.

After digesting the severity of the projected workforce gap, EDWC assembled a Workforce Alliance of key community stakeholders, including private sector executives, to jump on the front end of a solution. EDWC also began researching workforce development best practices and looking to counties across the country with similar workforce concerns.

Perhaps the good news is that there is no shortage of workforce development partners in Washington County, including secondary schools, technical colleges, private sector parties and government resources, according to Christian Tscheschlok, executive director of EDWC.

The hole to fill, he said, stems from “the inability to pull all of those resources together in a meaningful way” and package them to meet a specific opportunity at a specific time at the speed of a particular business.

That approach to developing a pipeline of next-generation talent forms the basis of EDWC’s response plan as the organization begins to act as a connecting agent among stakeholders lending their voice to the dialogue on workforce development.

With a new business services director to guide the first stages of the new program – Julie Gabelmann, formerly chief operating officer of Milwaukee-based American Society for Quality – EDWC plans to pull together “packaged solutions” for area companies anticipating a significant need for quality talent to replace their aging workforce.

The organization’s vision focuses on creating a “very strong, robust, highly qualified pipeline of workers that are fine tuned to the expansion opportunities” of Washington County, Tscheschlok said, adding that a top-notch workforce will have the power to attract additional business, investment and expansion.

Gabelmann, who grew up in Washington County, said much of the work ahead will advance the progress in planning already made by the Workforce Alliance along with area schools and municipalities.

“Now it’s really getting that plan to a formalized state that we can start to implement and build a sustainable, trained workforce to support the growth of our businesses throughout the county,” she said.

EDWC points to Germantown-based Cambridge Major Laboratories, Inc. as an early success story of the model of workforce development programming it will roll out this year.

As the pharmaceutical company embarks on a more than $20 million expansion project at its Germantown plant, it expects to create 75 new operations and administrative positions over two to three years.

To ensure that the company will have an adequate workforce that can accommodate its expansion, EDWC coached CML through opportunities and incentives it can tap into to attract and train top talent.

“EDWC really played the quarterback in terms of bringing everyone to the table,” said Adam Lauber, controller at CML.

Comprised of a host of loans and incentives provided by local and state authorities, CML’s packaged workforce solution included a $400,000 Wisconsin Fast Forward worker training grant and up to $800,000 in Jobs Tax Credits authorized by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

“Personally, I don’t know how EDWC could have done a better job at bringing all of the organizations to the table and coming up with a better win-win situation,” Lauber said. “I think if they do more of the same, they will have succeeded.”

Along with customizing solutions for area businesses, EDWC plans to build out the leadership team of its Workforce Alliance as well as coordinate industries skills panels. Those panels, which will target specific industries such as advanced manufacturing, will advise EDWC on prevalent skills gaps along with solutions and strategies to fill gaps. Panels will also provide EDWC with feedback on its program progress and suggestions of revisions to its tactics where needed.

The model of EDWC’s new workforce development program was largely inspired by a model implemented by the Middle Tennessee Regional Workforce Alliance, according to Tscheschlok.

As EDWC explored potential solutions to fuel a next-generation workforce, Tscheschlok said the organization sought a program that would be driven by the private sector and that would leverage the assets of the different players involved. EDWC also wanted to develop a program that would be “flexible and responsive” to adapt to the needs of a variety of companies and that would result in measurable outcomes.

As EDWC pumps $60,000 to $70,000 into the workforce program’s pilot year, Tscheschlok said his staff aims to have several initial projects underway by the second quarter of 2015 so that in the third and fourth quarter, the organization can feature program outcomes. EDWC plans to converge members of Washington County’s business community at an economic development conference toward the end of the year when it will display its progress and discuss the program’s future.

Tscheschlok said that while EDWC realizes there are a lot of great entities doing great work in Washington County, those efforts must be woven together in order for the right workforce difference to be made.

“We’re best positioned to be able to fit all those pieces together,” he said.

Erica Breunlin is a staff reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee.

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