Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Filling skills gap in Wisconsin

by Neal Kedzie - State Senator

February 16, 2012

As the Legislature looks at more ideas to grow jobs in a state traditionally known for manufacturing and agriculture, it is clear we are heading in the right direction. Wisconsin's economy is on the upswing, and Wisconsin's fiscal condition has significantly improved. The unemployment rate is falling, and last year, Wisconsin gained a net total of more than 21,000 jobs. But we know there is still much work to be done to improve those numbers.

Currently, we are hard at work on a number of items to help grow jobs in our state. One consistent message from companies and small businesses is about the skills gap that exists between available jobs and qualified workers.

While there are job openings available across the state, it can be difficult for companies to find qualified workers with the skills necessary to fill those positions.

As a solution to this problem, Senate Bill 352, the 'Wisconsin Wins' bill, has been introduced and is moving through the legislative process. Senate Bill 352 requires the state to administer a pilot program offering occupational training to unemployment insurance (UI) claimants for a six-week period. For an employer to participate in the program, they must affirm it has one job opening for each training participant that it seeks in a position that a successful participant would potentially qualify to fill. The bill allows those on UI to get the training they need for employment, while also allowing employers to work with and train a potential job candidate.

Another factor in the skills gap is the high unemployment rate of our veterans. With the veteran's unemployment rate in Wisconsin almost double the statewide average, steps are being taken to help our veterans attain employment. Last month, the Senate passed Senate Bill 338, which establishes a program under which licensing agencies may waive various fees for qualified veterans who are applying for professional and occupational licenses. The intent is to honor our veterans by helping them gain professional advancement and entrepreneurship.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 357, would allow a veteran's military education and training to count toward satisfying training or other requirements for certain professions when the veteran's military training substantially relates to the professional training. It only makes sense that veterans, who give years of their time for our country, be allowed to use that time toward a career path.

In further addressing the skills gap, Gov. Walker recently introduced a Wisconsin Working agenda. The agenda concentrates both on connecting businesses with job seekers and equipping job seekers with the skills they need to succeed. The plan is based on recommendations from a special sub-cabinet workgroup that recommended a series of steps meant to address the skills gap and get unemployed workers back on the job faster.

In addition, the Governor recently created the College and Workforce Readiness Council, which will work to improve student readiness for college and careers through a variety of measures, including designing shorter and less costly degree programs aimed at filling high-need positions. The Council will also work to expand dual enrollment and dual credit opportunities for high school students, allowing them to earn college and workforce training credits while in high school.

The overall goal of these plans by the Legislature and Governor is to connect workers to employers and create incentives for employers to take on unemployed workers for job training. While Wisconsin's employment rate is better than the nation's, we want to ensure that everyone looking for a job is set up for success. These measures should enhance our economy by providing the necessary skills to those searching for employment and connecting them to jobs where they can most succeed.

Sen. Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com.