The most recent unemployment numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Office of Economic Advisors, are some of the lowest that Northwest Wisconsin has seen in nearly two decades. This data for October states that Northwest Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is 3.3 percent, below the United States’ rate of 3.9 percent. As businesses continue to grow and expand, it is becoming more and more challenging for them to find workers with the skills they need to fill open positions. This is not a problem unique to Northwestern Wisconsin. Statewide, employers are struggling to meet their growing workforce demands.
High growth occupations, for the most part, require advanced training or schooling beyond a high school diploma. To have a competitive edge in the job market, many job seekers looking to update their skills think the only options available are to obtain a two- or four-year college degree, but that is not the case. Technical colleges and universities have short-term credentials, certificate programs, technical diplomas and other training available to assist individuals in obtaining employment or climbing the career ladder more quickly than the traditional two- or four-year path. The Wisconsin Technical College system has a number of career pathways available that allow individuals to earn a credential by taking a few courses at a time. With each “stack” of related courses that are completed, individuals can choose to earn more advanced certificates, diplomas or degrees, or enter into the job market after completing one of these programs. Another exciting option is apprenticeship. It provides a way for an individual to earn while they learn and provides employers with a dedicated, interested employee who is available to work immediately and will receive their instruction along the way. There is a plethora of apprenticeships in Wisconsin and many outside the traditional occupations that one may associate with apprenticeship.
In order to effectively and efficiently meet employer needs, short-term training is quickly becoming the norm. Recognizing the needs of industries critical to Northwest Wisconsin’s economy, the Northwest Wisconsin Workforce Investment Board (NWWIB) has focused on coordinating and providing short-term trainings to job seekers and incumbent workers to assist them in developing their skill set. These short-term trainings are created through a collaborative process with business and industry where a curriculum is developed that will produce a workforce with the skills needed for the job.Two of the industries the NWWIB is focusing on are construction and retail/hospitality.
In Spring of 2017, the NWWIB partnered with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College to offer a Construction Essentials course. After gathering valuable feedback from employers, the course was modified to include OSHA Safety 10 training as well as CPR/AED/Basic First Aid certification. The new course, Construction Foundations, takes place over a 10-week period and provides participants with the knowledge and skills necessary for job success in the construction industry. In Construction Foundations, participants learn the basic fundamentals of construction framing and drafting along with print reading and math applications related to construction. Safety principles and the use of hand and power tools are also covered. After successfully completing the training, participants earn a Technical Certificate. Currently, a session of the training is taking place in Ashland with graduates from the course being ready to enter the job market in mid-February. Plans are already underway to expand this training to other parts of Northwestern Wisconsin. NWWIB and WITC will offer this same course during Spring 2018 in the Rusk County region.
Retail and hospitality are economic drivers in our region and the other focus sector in 2017. Throughout the past two years, the NWWIB has provided training for entry-level workers and jobseekers to increase their skills and ability to provide “quality” customer service. The curriculum is from the National Retail Federation’s Rise Up program, and those who complete the training are eligible to take an exam to receive a nationwide industry recognized credential. This curriculum is adaptable and has been used for job seeker short-term trainings and has been used to provide customized incumbent worker training as well. Given the popularity of this training and the demand for it from industry, the NWWIB will be kicking off another training series called the START program.
The START (Skills, Tasks and Results Training) programs offer flexible training and certification for in-demand hospitality positions. Some of the occupations training includes front desk representative, maintenance employee and restaurant server. The curriculum for these programs has been developed by the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute. The program presents concise skills instruction that shows participants how to perform key tasks correctly and consistently, along with training in the soft skills needed to be successful in a hospitality career. The NWWIB has partnered with the Ashland County Jail to offer the first short-term START course in kitchen cook with two cohorts scheduled to begin in early 2018.
For more information about NWWIB’s industry training initiatives, please contact Mary Lois Bolka, sector and strategies coordinator, at 715-682-9141, ext. 118 or email@example.com.
Melissa Rabska is operations and communications manager at NWWIB.