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Bridging the skills gap
State effort seeks to connect "disconnection" between 21st-century jobs and workers
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PLATTEVILLE — Unemployment rates are high in the state, and yet businesses are having problems finding employees for certain jobs.

How to close that employee–employer gap is the subject of 12 briefings held by Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. across the state.

The briefing July 10 was hosted by UW–Platteville in association with Southwest Wisconsin Technical College and Competitive Wisconsin. Competitive Wisconsin’s economic initiative, “Be Bold 2,” is the group’s data-driven, evidence-based approach to workforce development.

Bob Borremans, CEO of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, shared some background information on the current state of jobs in the area. His evaluation included statistics on the population, unemployment numbers (particularly in Beloit, which has the highest unemployment rates in the state), key industry clusters for the state, and the impact of the Workforce Investment Act on the current economic conditions in the state.

“Wisconsin has a dilemma — a workforce quandary — caused by a widely noted disconnection between the growing availability of high-skilled, 21st century jobs and a declining pool of qualified workers,” said Borremans. “This quandary will require long-term solutions and structural changes to delivery services and systems in order to respond to the challenges ahead.”

Part of the role of Be Bold 2 is to identify those high-skilled jobs and train workers to fill them.

James Wood, Competitive Wisconsin’s strategic counsel, explained the group’s response to those problems. The first initiative undertaken by the group, “Be Bold,” was launched in 2010 and played a significant role in the creating of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. The success of the original initiative prompted the creation of another, this time focused on excellence in the workplace.

Reggie Newson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, addressed his department’s involvement with the Be Bold initiative and some of the details of the plan.

The first component of Be Bold 2 is a major research study on workforce development and training conducted by Manpower, a nationally recognized leader in workforce solutions. The data from the research study will be used to outline objectives and create strategies to address workforce issues in the state.

The program includes a parallel statewide strategic planning and public outreach effort dedicated to publicizing and building on the research’s findings and recommendations. The ultimate goal of the program is to share those recommendations with officials and opinion leaders statewide and incorporate them into the development of meaningful work force public policy.

The study is already under way, with data and results expected by the end of July. After the data is gathered, Newson said, the first iteration of a workforce strategy will be compiled and four economic summits held before the end of 2012.

Without revealing much about the study (results will not be available until it is fully complete), Newson revealed the program’s goal: to add 20,000 new jobs in the southwestern region of the state.

“If each employer in the state hired one more employee to their payroll, we could reach that goal,” he said. And if Be Bold 2 has the intended effect, the state will far surpass it.