Retraining Workers a New Path for Economic Development

Many states are following a new path to economic development—retraining their workforce for jobs of the 21st century.

Wisconsin is one of those states. Its Fast Forward Initiative allocates state funds to help companies train new and current employees, administered through a grant application program.

Two Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development officials—Deputy Secretary Jonathan Barry and Scott Jansen, administrator of the Division of Employment and Training—will discuss the state’s retraining efforts during an April 21 webinar, “Training for Today: Retraining the Workforce for 21st Century Jobs.” The webinar, presented by Capitol Ideas magazine and CSG’s State Pathways to Prosperity initiative, will begin at 11 a.m. EDT.

Wisconsin involved a number of stakeholders to develop the parameters of its initiative.

“The first thing we did was that we met not just the workforce development systems, but with the economic development corporations, companies, the chambers of commerce, and the technical and community college systems so that we could hear from both the supply and the demand sides of the labor equation,” said Jansen.

The Fast Forward Initiative is the first time Wisconsin has used state money for these kinds of programs without federal funding assistance, according to Jansen. The first round of grants allocated $2.7 million; that amount will climb to more than $7 million in the next round, Jansen said. A total of $15 million has been authorized for the 2013–15 biennium.

The initial round of grants will focus on training workers in the manufacturing, construction and customer service sectors. Employers will play a key role in how the training programs are designed and administered.

“When we first approached Gov. (Scott) Walker with this concept, he reiterated that he wanted an industry- and demand-driven training program where an industry or business partner would be the applicant,” said Barry.

While employer input is essential to the program, developing ways for employers to collaborate with other partners is another key component.

“We encourage them and incentivize them through these grants to bring on program collaborators—it could be a technical college, it could be a workforce development board—to not only define the training, but then deliver the training and put together the facilities to make that happen,” said Jansen.

While state and federal training programs typically rely heavily on community colleges as partners with the private sector, Wisconsin’s grant program led to a more diverse set of collaborators. So far, employer partners have included workforce development boards, nonprofit agencies, trade unions and groups like the Urban League, as well as community and technical colleges, Jansen said.

“That’s exactly what we wanted to see—put the grants out there and see what kind of collaborative relationships would come together,” said Barry.

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