MSTC responds to employer training needs

February 17, 2014

From stevenspointjournal.com: “Central Wisconsin prepares for baby boomer retirements” — As the first baby boomers begin to retire, central Wisconsin health care providers, employers and educators are bracing for what some have termed the “silver tsunami.”

Wisconsin is expected to face worker shortages during the next 20 years as birth rates drop and older adults retire, according to a news release issued Thursday by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Statewide, 14.4 percent of the population is older than 65, compared to 13.7 percent of the national population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2012. By 2030, 24 percent of the state’s population will be older than 65, said Tom Walsh, state Department of Workforce Development labor market economist for north central Wisconsin.

Currently in Wood, Portage and Marathon counties, 52 percent of the population is working age, defined as 25 to 54 years old by WISTAX, but that number will drop to 44.4 percent by 2030, Walsh said. He said central Wisconsin has a slightly older population than the rest of the state, but he expected local workforce trends to closely follow state trends.

“One of the big sectors that will be impacted is health care,” Walsh said. Not only will many health care workers be retiring, but retirees also will require more health care services as they continue to age, he said.

“Certainly, throughout our service area, we have fewer workers for every person moving into Medicare,” said Dr. Brian Ewert, Marshfield Clinic president.

“It’s a very transformative time in medicine compared to the 1950s, where … more people (were) getting insured under their employers, and there were more workers and a very small group of retirees,” he said.

Ewert said retirees will consume more health care resources in the coming years, while at the same time, providers are being charged with reducing health care costs.

One model that health care providers have found that benefits patients and saves resources is the patient-centered medical home, in which patients are assigned a primary care team consisting of a physician, nurse practitioner, registered nurse and medical assistant.

The patient-centered medical home, along with other nurse-coordinated services like nurse lines, reduce hospital admissions and re-admissions and allow physicians to spend more time on tasks that require a higher level of licensure, Ewert said.

The model of care allows hospitals to do more with fewer resources, a trend Walsh said he has seen in many other industries.

To address possible physician shortages, Marshfield Clinic has partnered with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine to offer the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine program, or WARM, which allows third- and fourth-year medical students to complete their clinical training at Marshfield Clinic sites with the goal of encouraging students to practice medicine in rural areas of the state.

The WARM program last year included six medical students, two of whom chose to complete their medical training at Marshfield Clinic residency programs. This year, 10 students are participating in the WARM program, Ewert said.

Connie Willfahrt, vice president of academic affairs at Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids, said employers in the manufacturing, transportation and information technology industries have expressed a need for more skilled workers and fear of worker shortages in the future, due in part to the number of expected retirements.

Willfahrt said representatives from the college share information about employer needs at community job fairs, but students are encouraged to develop skills and knowledge in their areas of interest that will allow them to be competitive in the workforce.

Still, MSTC has added sections and expanded its automotive technician, diesel mechanic and welding programs due to employer demand.

“Our mission is to work closely with the employers we serve … to really understand what current and future training looks like to them and how we can align our programs and coursework to prepare graduates to be ready for those occupations,” she said.

“We can’t afford to let high school graduates languish without workforce training or higher education,” WISTAX president Todd Berry said in Thursday’s news release.

Besides training workers to fill open positions, MSTC trains individuals already in the workforce so they’re prepared for promotions or new responsibilities in their existing roles.

“We’re really looking to plant the seed of lifelong learning,” Willfahrt said. “You’re probably not going to have the same position for the rest of your life, and if you are, it’s going to be using different tools and different technology.”

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