“Skills Gap” Bill Gets Senate Hearing

Lassa Proposal Creates Rapid Response Grants

Madison — A bill to close Wisconsin’s “skills gap”, authored by State Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point), received a public hearing in the State Senate today before the Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges.

Senate Bill 163, the Workforce Growth Program, would provide rapid response grants to technical colleges to expand their capacity to train workers in high-demand skills.   The bill would also grow Wisconsin’s workforce by expanding services to help returning military veterans train for new careers, enabling more students to begin taking tech college courses while they are still in high school, and promoting the development of new businesses based on innovations developed at tech colleges.

“Businesses all over the state have told us how difficult it is for them to find workers with the specialized skills they need,” Lassa said. “Their inability to find or train the skilled workforce they require is a major impediment to job growth in our state.  At the same time, people are waiting in line to get trained at our tech colleges.  This bill will address that skills gap and help put people back to work in good-paying jobs.”

Under the program, a business, a consortium of multiple businesses, a workforce development board or an economic development organization can partner with their local technical college to apply to WTCS through a competitive grant process for workforce growth funding to meet their local skilled worker training needs.

Depending on the needs in a particular region or industry in our state, the grants could be used to expand tech college facilities, purchase equipment, hire faculty or develop curriculum. Workforce Growth Program funding could also be used to address student needs such as training scholarships, student career support services, job placement, and business recruitment.

The bill also creates a four-year veterans success grant for technical college districts. These grants would enable districts to expand existing programs for veterans, including outreach, counseling services, assistance for individuals using state and federal veteran educational benefits, and other programs, and to identify additional strategies to support veterans.

“We know that these kinds of programs have a major impact on helping veterans make the most effective use of their educational opportunities and get the kind of training they need to transition into successful civilian careers,” Lassa said.

The bill would also help high school students prepare for the world of work by enabling more of them to enroll in technical college programs while they are still in high school. It contains a grant program to help technical colleges mitigate the costs for coordinating these programs between high schools and technical colleges, student transportation, curriculum design and implementation, and other costs associated with dual enrollment programs.

“One of the challenges of expanding our skilled workforce is helping young people understand the technical careers available and how to prepare for them, and this program would do that,” Lassa said.

Finally, the bill would promote the development of new products and businesses that arise from innovations developed by faculty and staff.  “Developing a culture of entrepreneurism has helped our UW campuses nurture the growth of new Wisconsin businesses and jobs, and this program would help our tech colleges achieve the same success.” Lassa said.

“Wisconsin faces a skills gap today, and will see an even greater shortage of skilled labor as the Baby Boom generation retires,” she said.  “The tech colleges are on the front lines of building Wisconsin’s skilled workforce. The Workforce Growth Program will expand the tech colleges’ capacity to help Wisconsin workers and businesses compete in the changing world economy.”