In hopes to “move Wisconsin’s economy forward,” Gov. Scott Walker has implemented more workforce development programs and shifted his focus away from job creation. But some say these actions are still not enough.
The demand for skilled labor has increased among state employers, Department of Workforce Development spokesperson Ethan Schuh, said. Employers across the state have job openings, but cannot find qualified workers to fill them, he said.
Schuh said Walker’s initiative to move toward expanding workforce development programs would help meet this demand.
“Under Walker’s vision and leadership, at DWD, we have redoubled our focus on talent development,” Schuh said. “We are more focused than ever on ways we can develop the talent needed to keep Wisconsin employers competitive.”
But some legislators have argued in Walker’s increased focus on workforce development programs, job creation initiatives have fallen to the wayside.
Creating programs to develop talent
Schuh said Walker has collaborated with a number of organizations to create more workforce development programs in the state. One such program, the Youth and Registered Apprenticeship program, was created in collaboration with DWD and targets high school students. These students partake in “hands on learning” at a worksite alongside normal classroom instruction, Schuh said.
Another program called Wisconsin Fast Forward works with higher education institutions including those part of University of Wisconsin System. It provides grants to businesses and workforce training organizations so they can train students and workers to develop useful skills, Schuh said.
A bill Walker signed April 5 will also increase funding for workforce development programs in Wisconsin. It will give DWD more flexibility to fund programs it thinks need the most funds and have the highest demand. Walker said in a statement that this would allow programs to continue outside the budget cycle as well.
“The future of Wisconsin’s workforce and economic success depends on our youth,” Walker said. “To ensure Wisconsin maintains a strong workforce, we continue to invest in programs like Youth Apprenticeship, which provide our students with hands-on training in high-demand fields, like manufacturing.”
Walker’s college affordability package has a law that requires the DWD to make more internship opportunities available to students. In an earlier statement, Walker said students represent Wisconsin’s “future talent pool” and the law will allow them to try working in their field of choice. He said it will help them develop professional skills, network and learn tactics to be more successful in the future.
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Schuh said some programs, such as Wisconsin Promise and Project SEARCH, under DWD’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation also accommodate and train people with disabilities.
“These talent-development programs will ensure that Wisconsin has the workforce needed to thrive not just in the U.S., but in the global economy,” Schuh said.
Job creation as necessary tool for economic development
Despite Walker’s extensive workforce development programs, Democrats in Wisconsin believe he is not doing enough. Assembly minority leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Walker has an “abysmal record” on job creation. Because of this, Wisconsin’s economy is lagging, Barca said.
Barca said it is important legislators focus on both job creation and workforce development instead of forgoing one for the other. He said the two “go hand-in-hand” and are priorities for Democratic legislators.
This past legislative session, Assembly Democrats initiated the Economic Opportunity Agenda, which focuses on both job creation and workforce development through job grants, minimum wage increments, tax credit provisions and small businesses. It encourages buying local and from small businesses, thereby stimulating the state’s economy and growing jobs and workforce development, Barca said.
Barca argued Walker should be doing more to create jobs in the state.
“The governor shouldn’t be throwing in the towel on job creation — he should be working with [Assembly Democrats] on improving economic opportunity for workers and families across our state,” Barca said.