WTCS participates in legislative hearing on skills gap

September 20, 2012

From “Shortages predicted in skilled workforce” — Wisconsin faces a workforce crisis, with a high volume of exiting workers and not enough skilled workers to take their place.

That double whammy was a focus on Wednesday of a legislative hearing in Oshkosh to discuss job creation and training.

The hearing was held at Fox Valley Technical College’s Riverside Campus in Oshkosh, and co-chaired by State Sens. Jessica King, D-Oshkosh, and Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.

Testimony tackled Wisconsin’s skills gap and successful workforce development initiatives. King said the next step is to build on the hearing’s success stories and work to ensure the state’s workforce meets employers’ the current and future needs.

Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Department of Workforce Development, said Wisconsin’s workforce started to flatten out around 2000, and by 2035, it could start to shift to a decline. The state’s growing occupations require teamwork, communication, analytical and problem solving skills, Winters said. The top occupations with the most new jobs from 2008-2018 are mostly in health care and technology fields.

New survey data indicates that the workforce will change more dramatically over the next 15 years than employers and educators expected. According to the 2011 Fond du Lac County Retirement and Departure Intentions Study, 51 percent of that county’s workforce plans to retire within the next 15 years.

Josh Bullock, vice president of strategic advancement for Moraine Park Technical College said the county could train every school-age student and still not have enough workers. He said Fond du Lac County could be short 19,000 people to fill available jobs by 2026, which could lead employers toeither leave the area or shut down.

A similar survey of eight major health care providers in the Fox Valley found that 48 percent of health care workers plan to retire in the next 15 years, up 4 percent from 2008.

“We have this double whammy with a mass exodus of aging baby boomers who are aging: not only are they leaving health care, but they require more health care as they age,” Bullock said.

Morna Foy, vice president of policy and government relations for the Wisconsin Technical College System, said the system estimates that employers will require 39,000 more workers with technical college training than what the system can produce with its current resources, Foy said.

Still, Foy said, Wisconsin’s tech schools are training more people with a more diverse population and showing as positive results as they ever have.

Representatives from Fox Valley Technical College cited the success of collaborations with Miller Electric and FABCO in providing students with real-world learning opportunities while providing companies with continued education. FABCO has offered a job to every student graduating from its partnership with FVTC, and job placements from the Miller Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center ranged from 85 percent to 100 percent, depending on the field, last year.

The hearing also included testimony from Jeff Rafn, president of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, and Steven Baue, vice president of human resources for Marinette Marine. NWTC and Marinette Marine have a $1.8 million, two-year agreement under which NWTC will provide Marinette Marine with more than 130,000 hours of training for the company’s welders, shipfitters, pipefitters and electrical workers. This month alone, Marinette Marine will hire 70 permanent employees and 180 contractors, Baue said.

Without NWTC, Marinette Marine would not have been able to grow, Baue said. He said education related to the company’s shipbuilding jobs isn’t just failing at the high school level; it’s failing at the elementary school level.

“My concern is, I have a rapidly aging workforce, and these are highly skilled positions,” Baue said. “I should not have to work this hard to find employees.”


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