As states across the U.S. grapple with a shortage of workers, Wisconsin is taking the long view toward solving workforce challenges and overcoming obstacles to workforce participation.
Wisconsin’s approach is distinctive in the way it works with regional partners to understand and address needs specific to each region of the state.
The Workforce Innovation Grants, made possible by the governor’s allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, aim to deploy community-based workforce solutions ranging from education and training to child care and health care.
The first round of grants was announced by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, WEDC and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) in December, when 12 projects statewide were awarded $59.5 million.
“These funds are critically important to encourage regions and communities to develop cutting-edge, long-term solutions to the unique workforce challenges they face,” said Governor Evers. “These investments will make a big difference for our workers, families and communities and the long-term success of our state.”
Among the projects funded in the first round of grants are:
- developing next-generation advanced manufacturing employees in west central and southeast Wisconsin;
- training construction and skilled craft workers across the state;
- building public-private partnerships to train and attract health care workers throughout rural Wisconsin;
- expanding affordable, high-quality childcare in Door County, Green County and south central Wisconsin;
- creating pipelines of young, educated workers in Milwaukee;
- fostering an entrepreneurship culture in Kenosha; and
- enabling incarcerated individuals to earn undergraduate degrees and gain employable skills from the University of Wisconsin.
Looking beyond the challenges that have arisen in the last two years, the initiatives seek to address long-standing disparities and other issues that predated the pandemic.
“We asked business, education and local leaders to think big and share how they would best meet their communities’ workforce needs, not just now but with an eye to the future,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “These regional workforce projects represent the kind of creative, practical thinking that has always made Wisconsin a leader in finding answers to some of our nation’s biggest challenges.”
The program draws on Wisconsin’s tradition of developing innovative policy solutions that become models for the nation, a legacy that includes the creation of unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, workplace safety laws and worker training programs.
A second round of grant applications and awards will be announced later this year.