Walker promotes worker training; signs $35.4 million bill

March 18, 2014

From lacrossetribune.com: “Walker promotes worker training; signs $35.4 million bill” — Gordon Murphy is still mastering his new trade, but on Monday he gave Wisconsin’s governor a quick lesson on operating a computer-controlled tool mill.

Murphy, a 29-year-old machinist and welder, is one of a dozen students enrolled in the machine tool operation program at Western Technical College, where Gov. Scott Walker stopped on a tour promoting new worker training bill.

The bill, which Walker signed into law Monday, will provide $35.4 million for worker training at places like WTC.

The Republican governor, seeking a second term this fall, touted the state’s falling unemployment rate — down to 6.1 percent in January, the lowest jobless rate since November 2008.

“More people are working, more employers are hiring and personal income is up,” he said. “We want that trend to continue. But one of the things we hear time and time and time and time again from employers is that one of the things they’re looking for to grow — not just to fill positions, but to grow — is even more well-trained, well-prepared, skilled employees.

Walker said spending on worker training will not only help fill job openings, but it also will attract more employers.

Western President Lee Rasch said the region’s greatest demand now is for welders, information technology specialists and behind the scenes workers in health care administration.

Electromechanical workers, who maintain the sophisticated machines used by workers like Murphy, are also in demand, Rasch said, though there aren’t necessarily waiting lists for any of those programs because of a lack of public awareness.

The new Wisconsin Fast Forward funds are designed to help technical colleges work through backlogs, give high school students access to vocational training and enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Rasch said WTC has submitted a $1.9 million proposal, which he said would be used to fund one-year certificate training rather than degree-based programs that would require ongoing funding.

That could mean training for 180 to 190 potential workers, he said.

Walker said the state should focus on advanced manufacturing in order to recapture some of the manufacturing jobs that were outsourced to China and Mexico in the 1990s.

“That’s why it’s so important for people, whether they’re coming right out of high school or coming back to support a new career, for them to have spots available in our technical colleges,” he said, “because they’re teaching them cutting-edge technology.”

Murphy said he landed a job at Chart a couple of years ago after starting the program at Western. He returned to school this year in hopes of landing a better job in the company’s tool room.

If successful, Murphy said he’ll be earning 15 to 20 percent more.

“It’ll pay for itself the first year on the job,” he said.

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