Event recap: The 3 Driving Components of Workforce Development

Panel discussion and networking event addresses issues of an unfilled workplace

With the Department of Workforce Development estimating that 46,000 Wisconsin jobs will be unfilled by 2022, corporations, businesses, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations are working together to address this gap.

Through a collaborative partnership between area chambers, visitor bureaus and the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA), community leaders met for networking and panel discussions at the 3 Driving Components of Workforce Development event Feb. 21 at Lake Lawn Resort.

This program consisted of education, innovation and programs panelists. The education panelists included JoAnne Pella, Career Advisor at the Elkhorn School District; Kate Walker, Director of Operations, Business and Workforce Solutions Division from Gateway Technical College; and Ron Buchholz, Career and Leadership Development Director at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  

The innovation panelists were Jeff Peterson from Geneva Supply/Biz Tank; Jessica Sherman of Primex Family of Companies; and Dave Sekeres of Lake Lawn Resort.

The program panelists were Susan Koehn from Milwaukee 7, John Keckhaver from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and Mark Beilman from Precision Plus.

The panelists discussed trends they are seeing and obstacles they are facing in the workplace. With the amount of jobs increasing, employers are struggling to match employee skills with employers’ needs. High school and college graduates may not have the necessary employability skills, and employers struggle in filling their positions. According to the Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is very low decreasing from 4.3 percent in January to 3.2 percent in December.

Talent Engagement Coordinator of Primex Family of Companies, Jessica Sherman, said that in the past, she had a bigger pool of strong employees, but now, it is harder to fill some positions especially ones with more specific job descriptions. “Things have changed dramatically. Now, we have to do the hunting. We utilize LinkedIn to seek out candidates. We do utilize outside agencies when we have higher level positions that we aren’t able to recruit for in-house,” she said.

Sherman also said company benefits for new employees have increased. “Honestly, we really revamped our offerings to be able to differentiate ourselves from other companies in the area and draw employees in. For instance, in our warehouse, our new hires start with 20 days of PTO.”

High school programs as well as college career programs are working together with local employers to provide apprenticeship programs and more direct training so their skills are prepared with the needs of the workplace. Because every student needs an academic and career plan in high school, panelist JoAnne Pella said, it can help them align their academic work with their career goals. The high school’s Youth Apprenticeship program is one way to accomplish this.

Pella said that the Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship program is one of the top programs in the nation.

Since 2012, state government funds have doubled from $1.6 million in 2002 to $3.2 million in 2016. In June of 2017 Governor Walker approved $3.9 million in Youth Apprenticeship state grants to serve 4,300 students across Wisconsin.

“Companies are doing a great job by showing kids what it is like to have a job doing this kind of work,” Pella said.

There are also resources in Walworth County through Gateway Technical College through the Workforce Advancement Training (WAT) grants that can help companies assess the learning needs of employees, workplace curriculum development, instructional activities and for the purchase of supplies or instructional materials.

Pella said that through listening to the other panelists networking at the 3 Driving Components of Workforce Development, she was able to see what other companies are doing to increase training opportunities for their employees and provide students practical experience and to increase its employment recruitment techniques.

“It is great to see what other companies are doing and how we are all working together,” Pella said.

“The thread that can tie most of these elements together is a program called Inspire. WCEDA is proud to be heading up the Southeast Inspire program for Walworth County. This is a web-based program that enables businesses to set up a profile, which then allows them to interface with students, parents, teachers and administrators. Experiences, like those discussed by the panelists, can be shared with all the participants using the program. Inspire is a powerful tool for creating a future workforce pipeline, and all our businesses should be using it,” said Derek D’Auria, Executive Director of Walworth County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA).

For more information about upcoming events, visit the WCEDA website at www.walworthbusiness.com.