September 30, 2021
It is difficult to have a conversation with businesses these days without workforce issues rising to the top of the discussion. There is no question that businesses large and small are facing challenges that are more intense than ever before. Finding talent is a real challenge, and in discussions that I have had, the question “What are we doing about it?” has come up.
The Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment (CWI), in collaboration with Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development, other state agencies, and educational partners, is nearing completion of its new Strategic Plan. The new Strategic Plan will establish a number of policy recommendations to not only address the challenges that businesses and workers are facing today, but also offer solutions on connecting the dots for the next four years.
The traditional challenges of education, training, and workforce preparation are certainly included in the upcoming recommendations, but there are new areas addressed that haven’t historically been a part of workforce development. Some examples are supporting access to childcare, affordability of childcare, and building the pipeline of childcare professionals; encouraging the development of workforce housing in regions where little or no housing is available; and strengthening transportation options to get workers to jobs and jobs to workers.
As we see our demographic challenges intensify, namely more people retiring from the workforce than younger generations coming up to replace them, we are seeing examples of collaboration that are working to make sure every student graduating and entering the workforce has multiple options to prepare them for their career pathway.
Academic and career planning in our K12 system introduces students to opportunities early in their education, which enables them the time to learn about all the career options they have and what they have an interest in doing for their future career. Our high schools are partnering with our technical colleges so students can graduate with their high school diploma and their technical college degree at the same time, saving both time and tuition dollars. Our technical colleges and private nonprofit universities are collaborating to create clear pathways for students completing their associate degrees to continue as juniors on their path to their bachelor’s degrees. And apprenticeship opportunities are growing like crazy in both traditional and non-traditional careers, giving students access to great opportunities while being paid and accumulating no debt. It’s an exciting time to be a student coming into the workforce.
There is a strong level of collaboration among state agencies. State agencies are contributing at the table with discussions on how to improve the pipeline of success for workers and businesses. The infusion of federal funds into the state has helped solve some of our short-term workforce issues. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and forgiveness have assisted many companies with retaining workers through difficult times. And the Workforce Innovation Grant opportunity recently announced by Governor Evers represents a unique opportunity for regions to fund projects that can address issues unique to their region.
All in all, I believe that Wisconsin, its citizens, and employers have been stepping up in many ways to address what has been the challenge of a lifetime. September is Workforce Development Month, and as I reflect on our state's commitment to bounce back from the pandemic and build an economy that works for all of us, I’m confident in our collective future and grateful for the work of our CWI members and partner agencies.