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Guest Column, May 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017   (0 Comments)
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By Sen. Dan Feyen

When I campaigned for State Senate last summer and fall, I ran on the premise of closing the skills gap in Wisconsin. I have learned copious amounts of information about topics large and small in my first few months in the legislature, but one thing has stood out from the rest: Wisconsin’s workforce issues are shifting away from a skills gap and morphing into an issue of simply having enough workers.

As of May 4, there were 103,791 jobs posted on the Job Center of WI. However, the website had only 45,994 resumes posted. Therefore, even if every worker who posted a resume had the necessary skills for one of the job openings, Wisconsin would still be 57,797 workers short. While our 3.4% unemployment rate is absolutely a figure to be proud of, it is time for legislators and business leaders to come together and address our growing “people problem.”

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation also sees attracting and retaining talent to Wisconsin as one of their most important goals. They have recently launched a “Think. Make. Happen.” marketing initiative that aims to tout our world-class educational institutions, innovative business climate and stunning array of recreational opportunities as the ideal trio for America’s burgeoning young workforce.

As I have toured businesses in my districts and beyond and met with industry leaders, I have been truly awed by the inventive methods businesses are employing to develop a world-class workforce. From benefits packages with modern perks to flexible scheduling with remote work options to communication structures that allow every worker to have a say in a company’s mission and actions, it is clear that the free market is working and Wisconsin businesses are staying competitive in the modern market. 

While the public perception WEDC seeks to influence is key and having the investment of the business community is crucial, I have also been examining how I can address this issue through my role in the legislature.  Research shows that students who complete an internship during their educational career are more likely to work in the communities where they interned after graduation. I am working to ensure all Wisconsin students have access to an internship that entices them to accept a job offer here.

Students with an industry-recognized credential that coordinates with a local employer’s business have a reason to stay and work in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Career and Technical Education (CTE) Grant program currently grants schools money if students graduate with an industry-recognized certificate. One of the certificates the program supports is Snap-On Tools Precision Measurement Instruments certificate. These students graduate high school prepared for a high-tech manufacturing career and have an impetus to stay in the state as there is an employer who needs their skills. Wisconsin needs more programs and partnerships like this one—a win-win for students, employers, and overall, our state’s economy and workforce! I am working to put more money into the CTE grant program and create more initiatives like it.

While students are the first thing that comes to mind when the average individual thinks of creating a workforce, it is time that Wisconsin pushes this border of conventional thinking. Ensuring that differently abled people, individuals who were once in the correctional system, and workforces in other states that lack opportunity see a Wisconsin that offers them opportunity is also important to me. I am currently authoring legislation that allows correctional institution inmates who are nearing release to be transferred back to their home county to participate in a work release program. The initiative aims to reduce recidivism by smoothing the transition to post-incarceration employment. I am also taking a deeper dive into ideas surrounding how to bring workers to Wisconsin with the skills our employers need that currently live somewhere they do not have economic opportunities.

A recent WEDC study showed that in other states Wisconsin is largely viewed as comprised of two things: cheese and the Packers. While these things are a component of the Wisconsin I am proud to represent, they barely scratch the surface of what our great state has to offer. As I continue to settle in to my new role representing the 18th Senate District, I am committed to challenging this perception and supporting innovative ideas and programs that can develop, recruit and retain the workforce Wisconsin both needs and deserves to continue our legacy of high achievement and support future generation’s ability to #ThinkMakeHappen right here. 

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