New report says Wisconsin’s technical colleges play vital role in state’s economy
Published on Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wisconsin’s technical colleges will play a vital role in ensuring that employers have the skilled workers they’ll need in the coming years, according to a new national report. Demand in Wisconsin for highly-skilled technical and trade workers will spike as baby boomers retire and the number of high school graduates declines, trends obscured by the current recession.
Wisconsin’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs was released today by The Workforce Alliance, a national coalition of community-based organizations, community and technical colleges, labor unions, business leaders and local officials. Part of the national Skills2Compete campaign, the Alliance report says “middle-skill” jobs—those that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree—represent about 54 percent of current jobs in Wisconsin, a proportion not expected to change significantly over the next decade. Wisconsin’s technical colleges are the premier provider of the education and training needed to obtain these jobs.
Although the recession has resulted in a high unemployment rate in Wisconsin, a significant mismatch currently exists between worker skills and employer needs. “Given the pace of technological advancements in the workplace, high-quality education and training for all workers has become an economic imperative,” said Dan Clancy, President of the Wisconsin Technical College System. “This is really about creating a culture of lifelong learning in Wisconsin.”
Wisconsin’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs notes that 67 percent of those expected to be in Wisconsin’s workforce in 2020 were already working in 2005. Because many of these individuals have been dislocated or don’t have the advanced skills required to meet employers’ current or emerging needs, they are turning to the technical colleges in large numbers.
Enrollments in Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges, which historically increase during recessionary times, are at unprecedented levels: the System’s full-time equivalent enrollments are expected to increase more than 15 percent this year. While significant enrollment increases have strained colleges’ staff and resources, the colleges have responded with a number of strategies to meet demand, particularly the needs of dislocated workers. Strategies include adding course sections, flexible course delivery, relaxing enrollment limits and deadlines, and waiving application and other fees for dislocated workers.
Brent Kramer, of La Crosse, was laid off from his welding job at Trane Company in June. He had often thought about pursuing an associate’s degree, but it wasn’t until his layoff that he took his chance. “I’m really excited about this opportunity,” he said. “Now I want a quality job and a rewarding career. Getting my degree will help me achieve that.” Kramer is currently enrolled in Western Technical College’s Respiratory Therapy program.
Getting laid off was a mixed blessing for Kramer. Unemployment benefits, including educational funding, have allowed him to pursue his dream of a college degree. “I couldn’t afford to do school otherwise,” he said. And support services at Western have helped him choose his direction.
“We feel it’s essential that working adults and dislocated workers understand the educational and career pathways that are available to them,” said Lee Rasch, president of Western Technical College. “Our enrollment services advisors make sure that the approach and options are clear from the start. This ensures that employers get the skilled workers they need, and the workers are able to advance their careers.”
The Alliance report highlights a number of exemplary education and training programs already developed by the technical colleges to serve these populations. To highlight the importance of education and training beyond high school, the Wisconsin Technical College System endorses the vision offered in the Wisconsin’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs: every Wisconsinite should have access to education or training past high school. The report and additional information about labor market projections and Wisconsin Technical College System programs can be found at www.skills2compete.org/Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Technical College System has 16 technical college districts throughout Wisconsin, which offer more than 300 programs awarding two-year associate degrees, one and two-year technical diplomas and short-term technical diplomas. In addition, the System is the major provider of customized training and technical assistance to Wisconsin’s business and industry community. Approximately 400,000 Wisconsinites enroll in technical colleges each year. More than half of all adults in Wisconsin have accessed the technical colleges for education and training. Find more about educational programs at www.witechcolleges.org.