Can the Fond du Lac region successfully meet the challenges of future work force development? More than 50 community, business and education leaders examined this question at a special work force development breakfast briefing held at the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac on July 12.
The briefing was co-hosted by Moraine Park Technical College and UW-Fond du Lac in collaboration with Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI). Participants learned about a statewide research study that is currently underway and heard from community leaders about preparing the Fond du Lac region work force of the future. Similar briefing sessions are being held at a dozen locations around the state.
Programs already in motion to address future work force needs include initiatives like the Fond du Lac School District’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) charter school, Moraine Park’s School to Work program and UW-Fond du Lac’s collaboration with UW-Oshkosh, UW-Green Bay and Moraine Park which will deliver a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology.
Steve Jenkins, president of Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation said that communities and regions that develop a globally competitive work force, especially as manufacturing rebounds and re-establishes its presence will be the economic winners. “Talented people of all ages with globally competitive skills will be the cornerstone of prosperity moving forward.”
He added that manufacturing in Fond du Lac County and in this region is critical to the economic base. “The key is work force, work force, work force.”
Several presenters concurred and said the definition of manufacturing needs to change and the awareness of opportunities needs to increase. A manufacturing work force can include a wide range of career choices including positions requiring specialized training or technical skills, positions requiring an engineering degree or positions requiring a Ph.D. in fields like metallurgy, chemistry or mathematics.
The old methods of developing the work force in both the public and the private sector must evolve quickly including breaking down of silos said Jenkins. “It’s important to understand that it is everyone’s responsibility.”
The good news for the Fond du Lac area in terms of the future is that educators, business leaders and government leaders “get it” according to Joe Reitemeier, president of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce. “They understand the environment we are in and are more than willing to roll up their sleeves and start to develop new initiatives, new ideas and collaborative efforts that will get us to a very strong, meaningful economy once again.”
The Lumina Foundation says that between now and 2018 Wisconsin will have about 925,000 vacancies due to retirements, job creation and other factors. Of these, 558,000 will require post-secondary education. In Fond du Lac, educators on the panel said they meet regularly to talk about issues where they can work together to improve the ability of students to make choices.
“As partners in post-secondary education, we must be sure that students have choices, that they understand what different paths they can take and that they understand there is no one way to the future,” said John Short, UW-Fond du Lac dean and CEO. “In the future as I see it, we will have students taking classes here, going over to Moraine Park Technical College, taking a course at Marian University and they will be involved in the community through service learning.”
Short added that students will change jobs many times in their lifetime. “They need skills, they need a future orientation, they need a sense of problem solving, they need a sense of communication.”
At the K-12 level, Jim Sebert, superintendent of the Fond du Lac School District pointed to ongoing work with the Association of Commerce in the School to Work program and creation of a manufacturing task force as part of its efforts to produce the types of students that are needed for careers and jobs in this community.
“We are the keepers of the work force of the future,” said Sebert. “We take that very seriously and we’re continuously trying to evolve and improve ourselves.”
Presenters said short term, long term and continuous education and training will be needed to keep pace with work place demands.
In addition to long term goals for work force development, Jim Eden, vice president of academic affairs at Moraine Park said he hears from businesses with short term needs. “The businesses have orders to fill and need employees to run the machines to fill those orders to either stay in business or grow their business.”
Moraine Park works with employers to up skill or provide basic skill training to a current workforce, or to provide a different skill set needed by a current employee.
According to Jim Wood, president of Wood Communications Group and strategic counsel for Competitive Wisconsin educators need to stop thinking about students in terms of two or four years at the higher education level. “We’re talking now about a 30 to 40 to 50 year ‘customer’ who is going to come in and out of that system, primarily from their work place, because the skill set demands are changing. How we supply and meet these needs is going to be a very, very different process.”
At the state level, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson said they are looking at short term and tactical initiatives with a sense of urgency.
“This is probably the number one challenge, the number one issue that we are going to be confronting as a state, as well as nationally,” said Newson. “How do we get our work force trained and developed?”
To address current and future needs, an online job center through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development was created where job seekers can post resumes and employers can post openings. Newson says there are approximately 40,000 openings currently listed on the site.
As a follow up to these briefing sessions, economic summits on job and work force development will be planned for various locations around the state beginning in September.