Monday, May 5, 2008

The Wisconsin Story

"An aging and increasingly diverse population, combined with growing education and skill shortages, pose tremendous challenges to the future productivity and success of Wisconsin's workforce...This "skills mismatch" is undermining regional economies in the Midwest and across the country."
Center on Wisonsin Strategy (COWS), Skilled Workers, Quality Jobs: Meeting the Needs of Wisconsin's Workers and Businesses

The new narrative or story about education and skills emphasizes their key role in our prosperity at home and competitiveness abroad.

The Argument for Wisconsin:
1. In the next fifteen years number 18-year olds will approach the number 65-year olds
2. 105 occupations, 26,260 opening a year (2004-2014) require higher skills but not 4-year degrees; 12 of fastest growing occupations are in health and require post secondary education
3. Associate degree or higher increases wages significantly compared to high school grads
4. 143,987 are unemployed but only 3,320 receiving training under Workforce Investment Act; 295,431 without high school credential but only 26,803 are receiving
ABE classes; 120,169 speak English less than very well but only 7,248 enrolled in ESL
5. Lots of things do do: Invest in adult education; Improve access to education and training; Strengthen transition between basic and adult education to post secondary; and Improve job quality and accountable economic development

Getting this right is not the only thing we need to do, but it seems to me that filling this "skills gap," when and where it occurs, is a key to more equity in the economy.

We ignore these real opportunities at times for various reasons -- we don't believe they exist; it's too hard; it's too easy. In short, it requires working person by person and institution by institution.

For fifteen years I've had to argue that getting a job, a career, and benefits is a decent goal. It worked for me. Sure, there are differences, but you'd be surprised how many people would rather talk about the jobless economy, microenterprise, worker co-ops, time dollars, all the bad jobs, etc. There's truth here, and lots of seemingly odd strategies work in specific situations for specific people. And,let's agree, education and training is a part of an overall package of improving job quality and work supports. But I always say to myself and anybody who will listen, If we can't make education and training work for the good jobs we have, how are we going to make a broader case?

Most people get this in some fashion. We just haven't managed yet to tell a compelling story that makes it believable and within our reach.

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