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COMMENTARY: Celebrating Wisconsin's innovation in workforce development

COMMENTARY: Celebrating Wisconsin's innovation in workforce development

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For more than 110 years, Wisconsin has been a leader in workforce innovation, advancing ideas to cultivate a workforce that remains the envy of the nation.

Today, that powerful cycle of worker productivity, economic growth, job creation and workforce training has contributed to a labor force participation rate that — at 66.5% — is a full 4.8 percentage points higher than the national rate of 61.7 percent.

And our statewide unemployment rate? At 3.9% we’re approaching our pre-pandemic levels. The seasonally adjusted numbers from August remain well below the national rate of 5.2%.

When Wisconsin pioneered laws to compensate injured workers and programs to train workers through registered apprenticeship programs back in 1911, and when Wisconsin became the first state to enact unemployment compensation benefits in 1932, our workers gained important recognition for their critical role in a thriving economy.

The Senate Committee on Economic and Workforce Development held a public hearing on the appointments of Melissa Hughes as Chief Executive Officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Amy Pechacek as Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development. Committee Chair, Senator Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac) asked Hughes how the state budget proposal of $100 million in venture capital funding could be used. Hughes highlighted that 85% of the venture capital exists in San Francisco, Boston, and New York, and the remaining 15% is what Wisconsin and the rest of the country is fighting to obtain. This funding resource would aid Wisconsin entrepreneurs as they endeavor in their business pursuits. Later in the hearing, Sen. Feyen asked Pechacek how the department was doing on the 2021 Act 4 deadlines set to address Unemployment modernization which Pechacek confirmed that they were on track.

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Today, recognition of the importance of our state’s workforce continues through historic investments and service-driven initiatives to nurture talent and build skills that will keep Wisconsin’s workforce and employers competitive.

At the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, we are proud to advance this work on many levels — in partnership with businesses, job seekers, labor unions, Workforce Development Boards, technical colleges and our sister state agencies, among others.

The latest investments take several forms; chief among them is Gov. Tony Evers’ $130 million Workforce Solutions Initiative. The initiative, paid for with federal COVID-19 relief funds, includes:

$100 million for the Workforce Innovation Grant Program, which is meant to encourage regional stakeholders and communities to collaborate in the development of long-term solutions in the wake of COVID-19. The program is being administered with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

$20 million for the Worker Advancement Initiative, which will offer subsidized employment and skills training opportunities through local employers; and

$10 million for a Worker Connection Program to provide career coaches who will connect with people attempting to reengage in the workforce.

In addition, DWD continues to work directly with employers to deliver grants through the Wisconsin Fast Forward program. The program reimburses employers for customized occupational training for those who are unemployed, underemployed, and current employees.

In recent months, I’ve been privileged to travel the state, visiting companies and leaders involved in cheesemaking, transportation, textiles, biotechnology, agribusiness, health care, manufacturing, labor, education and more. Insights gained from these meetings guide our work at DWD as we continue to innovate in connecting our workforce with available jobs through:

Launch of a virtual career center, which features an online appointment platform;

Launch of a live chat function on Job Center of Wisconsin; and

DWD’s Mobile Career Lab, which delivers services throughout the state, including communities where physical job center locations do not exist.

Wisconsin’s workforce is a point of pride for our state, underpinning our economic health and community well-being. Through the progress of our partnerships, our workforce development efforts will continue paying dividends for generations to come.

Amy Pechacek is secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.


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