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Walker wants tech schools to address skills gap

Published On: Dec 03 2012 10:18:11 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 04 2012 07:39:49 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. -

As Gov. Scott Walker looks to technical schools to address the skills gap, some colleges say they're already doing what's being proposed.

Walker has been making a continued case for performance-based funding for education, including for tech colleges, to send more skilled workers to businesses that say they can't find qualified workers to fill needed positions.

"Whatever the reason is, we need to find a way to say not just offer the classes, not just have kids in the classes, but make sure they graduate and get plugged into those jobs," Walker said on Monday.

But officials at Madison College said they're already taking strides to do that, including having a business advisory board for every occupational program offered at the college in order to match curriculum and course offerings to what businesses need.

Turina Bakken, associate vice president for learner success at the college, said Madison College wants to be able to offer a diversity of programs but would be open to additional funding to target the skills gap.

"Certainly, there are going to be industry-specific areas where maybe things change more quickly than we're able to react to, so that's why any additional funding or creative partnerships we can get and build that will allow us to work in partnership with industry to meet those gaps more quickly, then we're all for it," said Bakken.

But the skills gap issue isn't as simple as that at the college level.

Madison College said it's graduating as many students as it can given the resources in some programs. In 2011, the college graduated dozens of automotive technicians, machine tooling techs, welders, maintenance technicians as well as medical lab technicians and IT positions. Based on surveys returned from those graduates, most of them got jobs right away.

But the college said that's not all it can focus on.

"One of our dilemmas is when you get into saying, 'OK, there's a need for welders,' but there's also a need for child care workers and vet techs and paralegals," said Bakken. "It's difficult for us to start to put more value on one industry than another."

Welding is one of the most popular programs at the college. But meeting the demand for some programs isn't the only problem.

"For retiring and aging workers, we're not getting the initial interest from younger (students). There are fewer younger students entering the manufacturing workplace," said Lisa Delany, associate dean of applied technology at Madison College.

Dan Schmidt, of Lake Mills, is in the welding program at Madison College in hopes of starting a new career.

"The main reason I got into the program was because I lost my position I had after 26 years," Schmidt said.

Schmidt's career at Madison Kipp Corporation had given him years of experience but his layoff had him see the light that experience wasn't enough for some employers.

"I had 12 interviews in a 10-month period, and nobody said, 'Hey, you're just the guy I'm looking for," Schmidt said.

Now as a student at Madison College, he said he hopes a degree in welding will lead to re-employment.

The welding program is one of the most in-demand areas Madison College sees right now.

"We have hired three additional faculty. We've expanded our physical capacity here in Madison and at Fort Atkinson," Bakken said.

Madison College officials said they're already working with local employers to see workforce trends and to design programs around those trends.

The college also said that manufacturing, health care and IT are also the most expensive programs to fund, so that should be kept in mind when allocating funding to schools in the next budget.

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