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Wisconsin Workforce Development Critical to Economic Recovery

By Kathy Marks

In 2000, Wisconsin was home to 611,000 manufacturing jobs. Today, that number is closer to 422,000 — and most of those manufacturing jobs are not expected to return. According to a recent white paper by the Wisconsin Technology Council, “Looking to the future: A case for bold action,” that doesn’t mean Wisconsin is without economic development opportunity. It just means that those opportunities lie in new sectors — care for the aging, education, food processing, safety, information technology, transportation and alternative fuels.

A key to that potential is Wisconsin workforce development. The report outlines a long list of recommendations, in three categories:

  • Improve access to higher education for youth and adults through use of financial aid and other strategies.
  • Increase K-12 investment in science, technology, engineering and math education.
  • Develop relationships between higher education and industry that focus on business needs to fill workforce voids.

Some of the workforce development recommendations in these three categories include:

  • Improve the SB-409 education tax credit to help the marketplace fill the need for college-educated workers.
  • Follow Minnesota’s lead and use state funding — not district-level funding — for Wisconsin’s Youth Options program.
  • Encourage development of science and technology charter schools.
  • Encourage youth to take part in entrepreneurial ventures through programs such as the Youth Entrepreneurs in Science (YES) business plan contest, business education classes, extracurricular clubs and other related efforts.
  • Require a third year of math and science for graduation from high school.
  • Improve access to higher education at four-year colleges, technical colleges or certificate programs with need-based financial aid and sufficient UW system funding.
  • Utilize the Next Generation Assessment Task Force recommendations to restructure Wisconsin’s K-12 student assessment.
  • Redefine the senior year of high school such — tackling remedial education issues in the senior year rather than during the first year of post-secondary education.
  • Provide special scholarships and/or loan forgiveness programs for Wisconsin students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related fields,
  • Improve direct foreign investment by helping UW academics connect with foreign companies and investors.