Wisconsin awards $ 60 million for large projects to alleviate workforce challenges

By Erik Gunn, Examiner from Wisconsin

December 15, 2021

Programs to train manufacturing skills, expand the health workforce, and provide inmates with job training and post-release support were some of the projects that will share nearly $ 60 million in grants. government grants on Tuesday to meet the workforce challenges highlighted by the covid-19 pandemic.

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“What the pandemic really revealed is what we thought were much bigger individual issues than this,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC), in an interview. “And so we need real investments to try to solve them.”

Governor Tony Evers, accompanied by Hughes and Amy Pechacek, Secretary-designate of the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), announced the Workforce Innovation Grant with press conferences at Eau Claire, Stevens Point and Kenosha.

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“Wisconsin has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and we have a high participation in the labor market, but our state faces long-standing workforce issues that have existed for years before. the pandemic, ”Evers said. Because no one solution fits all regions of the state, he added, the grant program was designed “to encourage regions and communities to develop cutting-edge, long-term solutions to the challenges. of the workforce they face “.

The grants are part of a $ 100 million package that WEDC and the Evers administration have put in place to address significant workforce gaps in Wisconsin.

The administration is spending an additional $ 30 million on programs through DWD: $ 20 million on subsidized bridging jobs to train workers and $ 10 million to support mariners in a pilot program to help people in two parts of the state who have encountered barriers to staying in touch with work. All of the $ 130 million comes from the state’s share in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the federal pandemic relief bill that was enacted in late March.

In total, a dozen workforce innovation grants were announced Tuesday, totaling $ 59.5 million.

At Eau Claire, the administration identified two grant recipients, the Chippewa Valley Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The technical college received up to $ 10 million for a project to provide metal fabrication skills training in the college’s 11 counties. The project will include outreach to future trainees, short-term trainings and multi-purpose training centers and mobile laboratories that local high schools as well as employers could use. It will include a rural component.

UWEC has received up to $ 9.4 million for training projects in health care, education and social services. It includes a partnership with the Mayo Clinic Health System in northwestern Wisconsin to train more nurses for the area. It also includes partnerships with local school districts and social service agencies to place students in teaching and social work in rural communities with the goal of encouraging them to stay and establish their careers there.

The University of Wisconsin’s Prison Education Initiative has received up to $ 5.7 million to teach job skills to inmates during their sentence and after release with work placement assistance.

In Green County, the Green County Family YMCA received up to $ 3.7 million to help build a daycare and preschool wing as well as a new youth development wing.

Difficulty obtaining childcare services has been widely identified as a major barrier to hiring more people that the pandemic has exacerbated. Other programs that received grants included training child care workers in Madison and surrounding counties and supporting child care operators in Door County.

The promoters of projects focusing on child care explain that “if we are able to develop our child care system so that everyone has access to affordable, quality and safe child care, then it’s a problem that is solved, ”said Hughes.

The 12 winning projects involved collaboration between several agencies, companies and organizations in their region. They were also distinctive from the regions that produced the requests, she said.

Collaboration was a high priority for WEDC when it invited applicants. “When I traveled the state before the pandemic hit everyone was talking about manpower [shortages]”Hughes said.” But everyone had a different idea of ​​how to solve it, whether it was attracting talent, developing skills or being entrepreneurial. What really struck me was that people had to come together and decide what was most important. “

Although funded by a one-time grant, the projects are also designed from the start to develop long-term support, she said, with applications including an explanation to make them sustainable in the long term.

With more than $ 40 million remaining in the Innovation Grants program, another round of grants is slated for 2022.

WEDC will follow up with grant recipients as they report on their projects along the way. Hughes said that during the three press conference announcements, “there was a palpable sense of excitement,” Hughes said.

“A lot of times you see communities having great ideas, but then they don’t have the resources to implement those ideas,” she added. “It was a time when not only did communities have ideas, but resources were made available for them to execute them. This combination was really exciting.”

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