UP FRONT – Closing the gap – New study spells out how Wisconsin can find the workers it needs

Posted on Dec 7, 2012 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

It’s something Linda Salchenberger, Marquette University’s associate provost for strategic planning, kept hearing over and over again from businesses: I can’t find enough workers.

But while the state’s unemployment rate has gone down a bit in recent months, it’s still at 8 percent and many of those people, unfortunately, don’t have the skills companies are looking for.

A new workforce study – Be Bold 2: Growing Wisconsin’s Talent Pool – by Competitive Wisconsin Inc. bears that out. Madison-based Competitive Wisconsin recently released the results of a year-long examination of the state’s job skills challenges and opportunities. Competitive Wisconsin did the study in partnership with Manpower Group.

“We kept hearing anecdotally that there was a skills gap out there, but now we have the research that backs it up and we can start on the path of trying to bridge the gap,” says Salchenberger, who also serves as Be Bold’s co-chair.

The data collected and analyzed in Be Bold 2: Growing Wisconsin’s Talent Pool shows that the state does not have enough skilled workers to meet existing employer needs, while at the same time there are a lot of people looking for jobs who aren’t qualified for the open positions. Unless the state acts now, Salchenberger says Wisconsin will confront a major shortage of skilled workers within the next decade.

“It’s going to happen quicker than a lot of us expected. Take, for example, the number of nurses who are going to retire within the next few years. The numbers are huge,” she says.

Scott T. VanderSanden, president of AT&T Wisconsin and president of Competitive Wisconsin, says discussions were held with hundreds of employers, workers and educators across the state to pull together the study information.

“We need to let our employers and the rest of the world know that Wisconsin understands the future of work and will have the talent they need, when they need it,” he says.

The study shows there’s a definite need for Wisconsin to move quickly in addressing the issue, VanderSanden says. The report outlined three main areas that need to be addressed: improve the relationships between economic development officials and people working in the workforce/talent development industries; change the way real-time information regarding jobs, skill requirements and career pathways is collected and shared; and provide support to Wisconsin companies looking to attract workers from out of the state as well as provide workforce development support to companies looking to move into Wisconsin.

Several summits will be held around Wisconsin over the next couple of months to share information about the summit and rally support in the state Legislature to create and fund the Governor’s Talent Development and Acquisition Council, which would control a $100 million talent development fund to oversee the ability of Wisconsin workers, employers, educators, trainers, economic development professionals and communities to respond to supply and demand changes in critical skill clusters.

“Legislators have told us that solid research and numbers would be critical in getting support for this initiative so that’s part of the reason we went down this road” and did the study, Salchenberger says.

Be Bold 2 fits well with initiatives going on elsewhere regarding the state’s workforce, she adds, including the work done by Tim Sullivan, former president and CEO of Bucyrus International, the Council on Workforce Investment, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.


The same group behind Be Bold 2 – Competitive Wisconsin – also funded a study that looked at how the state could jump-start its economic development initiatives so Wisconsin could compete better against other states. One of the recommendations from that study was the creation of a statewide Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which Gov. Scott Walker created in 2010.


Here’s a look at operational recommendations from Be Bold 2: Growing Wisconsin’s Talent Pool:

» Focus strategic management by replacing the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment and the Governor’s Council on Workforce and College Readiness with a new Governor’s Talent Development and Acquisition Council (Talent Council).

» Provide the Talent Council oversight of a $100 million Talent Development Fund to enhance the ability of Wisconsin workers, employers, educators, trainers, economic development professionals and communities to respond to supply and demand changes in critical skill clusters.

» Develop a comprehensive talent supply and demand projection for Wisconsin that examines the skills required by Wisconsin’s employer groups.

» Develop the most comprehensive real-time workforce/talent data warehouse in the nation.

» Develop a mobile application that provides job and career information on demand to everyone.

» Leverage real-time data, innovation and educational and training best practices to maximize citizen benefit from Wisconsin’s world-class education and training systems, empowering citizens to engage in lifelong learning that enhances employability and employment security.

» Support internships and experiential learning in targeted skill sets by enabling youth to enter the world of work by encouraging employers to align internships, apprenticeships and applied learning programs with the skill clusters road map.

» Alert employers and workers to Wisconsin’s ability to supply job creators in the United States and worldwide with the best, rightly-skilled talent in the world.


To read the entire Be Bold 2: Growing Wisconsin’s Talent Pool report, visit www.competitivewi.com.