Column: Skills gap slowly closes with training programs

May 29, 2012

From wisconsinrapidstribune.com: “Column: Skills gap slowly closes with training program” — Much is being written about, talked about and even campaigned about regarding the “skills gap.” What is it, how did it occur and what is the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, or NCWWDB, doing to address this issue?

The skills gap is occurring in our Workforce Development Area 6, or WDA, in three sectors.

Manufacturing is the sector garnering the most publicity. In a nutshell, manufacturers in our area have many openings for skilled positions and yet the majority of those looking for work do not possess the skills needed. Welders and machine tool operators are at the forefront of this demand right now.

How did this disparity occur? For a long time in our WDA, we had many family-supporting positions available in our area. There were nearly as many jobs for people of all skill levels as available workers. These jobs were thought of as lifelong opportunities, and many indeed were.

At the same time, parents (myself included), encouraged our children to attend college and never gave a thought to the good-paying careers available in manufacturing. Some parents’ trepidation was based on a conception that manufacturing involved dirty conditions, hot environments and monotonous work, none of which are the norm today. From climate-controlled shops, state-of-the-art robotics and computer-controlled machines, our area’s manufacturing facilities look more like show rooms. And jobs in these skilled areas provide solid, family-supporting wages.

NCWWDB offers training programs and support to the workforce we serve. At the front of the list are the short-term training programs in machine tool and welding we are sponsoring with one of our partners, Northcentral Technical College, or NTC, in Wausau. NTC shortened a curriculum to 20 weeks, and we are running our third sessions of both programs, which are geared primarily for workers recently dislocated.

At the end of each of these short-term programs, NCWWDB facilitates a roundtable with local manufacturing employers allowing the graduating students an opportunity to display their work samples and talk with the employers.

We also provide support to dislocated and adult workers in two-year programs to train for both these and other careers. We partnered with Mid-State Technical College in a food science manufacturing program to fill a need in the area’s food industries. We are working with Nicolet Area Technical College to put together another short-term program (similar to one we ran a few years ago) to fill that area’s manufacturing needs. And, we recently began a customized training program within one company where upon successful completion of the training, the graduates will be given full-time positions with benefits.

As I meet with employers from the nine counties we serve, I’m on the lookout for other opportunities as well as just listening to employers. Our workforce partners also are working diligently to help fill these gaps. WDA 6 employers are eager for our participants to complete their programs and for more to enter. Eventually, these gaps will fill, but they took years to develop and will take some time to fill.

For more information about NCWWDB’s Employer Services, call me at 715-422-4706 or email btrimble@ncwwdb.org.

Bruce Trimble is the employer services director at the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.

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