At a panel discussion in Madison on March 22, WEDC Sector Development Director Kathy Heady (the rightmost panelist) spoke about how K-12 school districts, technical colleges, state government and economic development partners are overcoming silos and working together in the Pathways Wisconsin initiative.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” While children and youth may have an answer ready for this question, they don’t always know the path they’ll need to follow to get them to their chosen career—nor have they necessarily considered practical factors such compensation levels, hours and schedule, or the availability of jobs in their chosen field.

Pathways Wisconsin is a new initiative that was created to help high school students start thinking more concretely about the steps they need to take to make their career aspirations a reality. What’s more, the initiative solidifies the exact steps the students can take now, even before graduation, so their coursework and work experience prepares them well for the job they hope to hold later on. The pathways are specific to the jobs available in each Wisconsin region, so that students can both take advantage of academic and professional resources available in their home area, and be prepared to get a job in that area if they so desire.

An initiative of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Pathways is being implemented with the support of technical colleges in four Wisconsin regions: the Madison area, the Milwaukee area, the Indianhead region in northern Wisconsin, and the Moraine Park region in east central Wisconsin. JPMorgan Chase is a sponsor of the initiative, and WEDC is a major collaborator, with a WEDC representative serving on each of the four regional committees that are guiding implementation.

Each of the four regions is undertaking creation of “pathways” for two specific career fields: construction technology and manufacturing in Madison; nursing and technology in Milwaukee; construction and manufacturing in Moraine Park; and health care and manufacturing in Indianhead. (Additional “pathways” will be developed for other fields once the initial eight are complete.)

Each “pathway” is being created specifically for its own region, with input from local employers as to the skills they need in their workers and the types of knowledge and training students will need to develop those skills. And each “pathway” will spell out suggested coursework and skills for students to master, including the opportunity to take courses at their local technical college or university and, in many cases, to practice their skills in an internship with a local employer.

At a statewide forum that brought together program collaborators on March 22, with meetings in each region connected remotely to enable real-time discussion, keynote speaker Mark Tyler, cofounder of OEM Fabricators and chairperson of the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, noted that the chosen “pathway” areas largely align with the professional fields that are growing the fastest, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics—namely, manufacturing, engineering, health care, information technology, software development, information security, logistics and financial services—as well as aligning with Wisconsin’s existing strengths.

Jobs such as construction, which had traditionally been thought of as the skilled trades, are increasingly becoming high-tech endeavors that require programming and/or engineering skills. “We need to be more straightforward with our students,” Tyler said, and tell them that these jobs not only pay well but can be intellectually engaging as well.

“Highlighting pathways that have been less visible and are awesome choices for our students is the heart of our work,” said DPI Deputy Superintendent Mike Thompson, likening the idea of a “pathway” to a knapsack full of tools that students gather for use in their future careers.

During the event, Kathy Heady, sector development director for WEDC, took part in a panel on overcoming the “silos” that can exist in projects like this one, which requires K-12 school districts, technical colleges, state government and economic development partners to all work together.

Panelists spoke to the difficulty in sometimes having multiple technical colleges and multiple workforce development boards in a single region, and the challenge of getting the attention of busy professionals in the private sector who may not yet understand how Pathways Wisconsin can help their company.

But they said the Pathways framework itself can help overcome obstacles by encouraging collaboration across boundaries and making sure efforts are coordinated statewide. “It gets us all swimming in the same direction,” said Joel Mindham, director of career and technical education for Cooperative Educational Service Agency #5 in south central Wisconsin.

“We just see the bigger perspective by having so many different people work together,” said Heady.