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Projects take on Wisconsin’s biggest workforce challenges

February 25, 2022
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At the event announcing the Workforce Innovation Grant for Sauk Prairie High School, WEDC Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Sam Rikkers was greeted by the high-school marching band.

Twelve regional projects tackling everything from advanced manufacturing training to attracting health care workers have been awarded up to $59.5 million in grants through the first round of the Workforce Innovation Grant Program. 

Governor Tony Evers has called for a $100 million investment in solving the state’s workforce challenges—everything from training to child care. The projects announced in December are just the first round of Workforce Innovation Grant recipients, with more expected to be announced in 2022. 

“Wisconsin has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and we have high labor participation, but our state faces longstanding workforce challenges that existed for years before the pandemic,” said Governor Evers. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing the workforce challenges across our state, so these funds are critically important to encourage regions and communities to develop cutting-edge, long-term solutions to the unique workforce challenges they face. 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 public-private partnerships to train and attract health care workers throughout rural Wisconsin; develop next-generation advanced manufacturing employees in west central and southeast Wisconsin; expand affordable, high-quality child care in Door County, Green County and south central Wisconsin; create pipelines of young, educated workers in Milwaukee; train construction and skilled craft workers throughout the state; foster a culture of entrepreneurship in Kenosha; and enable incarcerated individuals to earn undergraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin.  

“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 grant program is funded by $100 million directed by Governor Evers using resources available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).   

“We have heard from employers around the state that, while we are facing statewide workforce challenges, individual employers and communities also have unique issues that require tailored solutions,” said Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. “These grants offer communities and employers the flexibility to respond to specific local workforce needs and implement solutions that will work for them.” 

Governor Evers, Secretary Hughes and Secretary-designee Pechacek announced the grants in Eau Claire, where they highlighted two regional projects. The first, led by UW-Eau Claire in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, will increase the availability of health care and social workers in rural communities. The second, led by Chippewa Valley Technical College, will provide training and job placement support to metal fabricators and advanced manufacturing workers, the top priority identified by business leaders in the 21-county region.  

The 12 regional projects that will receive up to $59.5 million in grants through the Workforce Innovation Grant Program include:  

Chippewa Valley Technical College | up to ~$10 million  

Serving Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau CLaire, Jackson, Pepin, Pierce, St. Croix, Taylor and Trempealeau counties, Chippewa Valley Technical College proposed using these funds for the Restoring Employment through Support, Training, Outreach, Recruitment and Education (RESTORE) project. This project will use a multi-pronged approach to address the need for skilled workers in metal fabrication across the manufacturing sector through outreach, short-term training with integrated educational pathways, and contextualized and work-based learning opportunities. The project model includes multi-purpose training centers and mobile labs strategically integrated in rural regions to be utilized by high schools and employers. 

UW-Eau Claire | up to ~$9.4 million  

Serving 16 counties across the state, the proposal provided by UW-Eau Claire provides a comprehensive, multi-pillared approach to alleviate workforce shortages in key areas of health care, education and social services while improving the health and well-being of families and individuals in rural regions of Wisconsin. Partnering with local school districts and social services organizations, the university will work to place education and social work students in rural settings to encourage them to stay and build their careers. The program will also partner with Mayo Clinic Health System-Northwest WI to create innovative curriculum and clinical experiences to graduate more nurses. Additionally, this proposal includes building a foundation for long-term talent development in high-demand, family-sustaining careers by creating new degree programs in growing health care fields, including public health, health care management and psychiatry. This proposal also looks to partner with Mayo to pilot a new innovative care-coach model and rural health care hubs to bring better care and upskilled career possibilities to rural communities. Finally, in partnership with Mayo, WiSys, and the University’s Small Business Development Center, the plan will provide main street business owners with skills to innovate, adapt to challenges and grow.   

Mid-State Technical College | up to ~$9 million  

Serving Wood, Portage, Adams, Waushara, Juneau, Jackson, Clark and Marathon counties, Mid-State Technical College, Centergy and their partners have proposed using the funds to build a regional collaboration around workforce challenges in the central region of Wisconsin to target 2,500 unemployed, underemployed, underserved communities and youths with skill training and barrier-removing support services. This includes the construction of the Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering Technology and Apprenticeship Center in the region.  

University of Wisconsin Administration | up to ~$5.7 million  

Serving counties across the state through the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, the University of Wisconsin Prison Education Initiative (PEI) will deliver workforce-ready curriculum to teach employable skills to students while incarcerated and continue supporting them post-release through program completion and career placement. Piloting the program will engage six regions of the state with programs through UW-Oshkosh, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, UW-Green Bay and UW-Madison, along with Extended Campus.    

Gateway Technical College | up to ~$5.6 million  

Serving Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties, Gateway Technical College was awarded these funds for the Southeast Wisconsin’s Talent Optimization Project (SWTOP) to address the biggest regional workforce challenges, including the urgent need for educated workers in high-demand fields and the large number of adults who cannot address that need due to lacking high school credentials. This project will offer a four-week pre-HSED (High School Equivalency Diploma) program followed by a 16-week Work Ready (WR) HSED program. Courses will be offered in person and online; on-site classes will be centrally located and offered both during the day and in the evening. Transportation and child care services will be sourced as needed, and individual case management will provide support services and guidance to keep students on track.  

City of Kenosha | up to ~$990,000  

Serving Kenosha County, the City of Kenosha proposed using these funds to partner with Gener8tor to bring an entrepreneurship skilling program to the city, specifically to work with startup founders of color and women founders in Kenosha. The programming, known as gBETA, will provide the coaching, mentorship and networking needed to develop the workforce of entrepreneurs in the city to build strong, sustainable companies and therefore create strong, sustainable jobs  

Green County Family YMCA | up to ~$3.7 million  

Serving Green County, Green County Family YMCA will use these funds to facilitate the addition of a 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art day care and preschool wing for licensed programs and classes, as well as an addition of a 6,000-square-foot youth development wing. Through a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Vitality Youth Services, Jacob’s Swag, Avenue’s Counseling and the Multicultural Outreach program, this investment will help Green County Family YMCA meet the diverse needs of area youth. 

United Way of Door County | up to ~$3.5 million  

Serving Door County, United Way of Door County was awarded funds to make changes to existing child care facilities in the county. Following the work of United Way of Door County’s community child care task force, two local nonprofit licensed group child care centers are revising their business models. These new business models require changes to the child care, facilities and United Way of Door County was awarded these funds to make changes to the existing space as well as construct a new space.   

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee Inc. | up to ~$3.3 million  

Serving Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and partner agencies and employers plan to use these funds for the Ready Center Collective (RCC) to launch a new approach to teen workforce training, credentialing and employment engagement. In partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools, Employ Milwaukee, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Herzing University and more than a dozen large-scale employers serving Milwaukee, the RCC is an alliance of workforce partners intent on increasing the positive engagement of Milwaukee’s teens in the local workforce. The training building will include seven classroom training spaces, and the programmatic approach is multi-tiered, providing teens the opportunity to sample career pathways, immerse themselves in occupational skills training experiences, and engage in internships and apprenticeships.  

Operation Fresh Start | up to ~$3.3 million  

Serving Dane County, Operation Fresh Start proposes using these funds for an innovative program known as Build Academy, designed to solve trades employment workforce issues in the south central region of Wisconsin. Build Academy is an innovative, industry-informed, collaborative job training and education program designed to prepare the next generation of construction and conservation workers for successful careers, providing real-life, on-site work experience with classroom and training lab education.   

Madison Area Technical College  | up to ~$2.9 million  

Serving Adams, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Juneau, Marquette, Richland, Rock and Sauk counties, Madison Area Technical College (MATC) proposes using funds to address two significant pandemic-related workforce issues in South Central Wisconsin, including child care and training and upskilling for in-demand jobs. MATC plans to bolster the pipeline of high-quality child care professions by leveraging partnerships to provide more care, support child care facilities in improving quality ratings and accessing financial resources, and support working families with dedicated navigational support at MATC. Additionally, MATC plans to develop new avenues to accessing in-demand skills training in advanced manufacturing, health care and information technology through collaborative community partnerships.  

Sauk Prairie School District | up to ~$2.4 million  

Serving Columbia, Dane and Sauk counties, the Sauk Prairie School District plans to use these funds to provide an innovative solution to address the workforce needs of the region’s advanced manufacturers, agricultural science employers and health care providers. Currently, needs are not being met due to outdated training spaces and equipment, creating a skills gap in the area. This project will lead to sustainable training for apprentices, current students and current employees by bringing employers into the school building and students into the region’s employers.   

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