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Madison College is trying a simple solution for worker shortages: Free training

October 21, 2023
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Roberto Gonzalez has been clamoring for a new career.

Gonzalez, 24, is a longtime kitchen worker, cooking as a sous chef and turning orders in a handful of restaurants on Madison’s Far West Side.

But last week, Gonzalez was at Madison Area Technical College’s new “Invitation to Manufacturing” night course, seeking a better life as a welder.

MATC, also known as Madison College, this year launched a free eight-week program that teaches basic skills in common areas of Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry. Over the course of the program, students can learn how to weld, fabricate metal or operate automated machinery that can create a variety of household products.

The program is supported by a $2.9 million innovation grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, part of a larger $128 million state grant program meant to address pandemic-related workforce challenges.

MATC’s sister colleges also are using millions in WEDC grants to solve workforce problems, many of them also in the area of manufacturing or the trades.

Sam Rikkers, deputy secretary and chief operating officer for WEDC, said each technical school that received state grant money is taking a regional approach to solving workforce issues.

Chippewa Valley Technical College, in Eau Claire, is partnering with high schools and local manufacturers to give students on-site training in manufacturing. At Mid-State Technical College in Stevens Point, construction is underway on an advanced manufacturing training center.

The workforce development programs are looking to combat what Rikkers calls “the silver tsunami” — labor shortages caused by high rates of retirement by Baby Boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964.

“This is exactly why much of the $128 million that the governor invested into tackling our workforce challenges went to those tech schools, or at least partnerships with tech schools,” Rikkers said.

“Those are the partners that are really modernizing how we’re teaching manufacturing, and they’re the folks that are connected either to the students who are coming up or the incumbent workforce that knows that they need to reskill to really be competitive.”

[Adapted from: Madison College is trying a simple solution for worker shortages: Free training. Oct. 21, 2023, Wisconsin State Journal]

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