State puts $130M into projects to provide worker training, address hiring challenges

By: - July 15, 2021 5:24 am
Factory Worker

(Spencer Davis | Unsplash)

Wisconsin will use $130 million from the state’s federal pandemic relief funds to pay for new programs that aim to help employers find new workers and people without jobs find new work.

The three programs, which Gov. Tony Evers announced at a news conference in Green Bay Wednesday morning, include:

  • $100 million in so-called Workforce Innovation Grants that would go to regional and community projects to address the causes of workforce shortages that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • $20 million for a new skills training program for local employers to hire unemployed people, with a temporary state subsidy for wages;
  • $10 million for a new pilot Worker Connection Program offering career coaches to help with unemployed people who encounter obstacles that might have prevented them from sticking with a new job or training opportunity.

“Employment in Wisconsin continues to grow, but we currently do not have enough workers to fill the existing jobs, and much of the existing workforce needs training to update their skills to reflect  employers’ needs,” said Amy Pechacek, secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), at Wednesday’s news conference.

The innovation grants, up to $10 million each, will be offered to community and regional proposals that address local barriers to hiring, with special attention to the effects of the pandemic, said Missy Hughes, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Those could include child care, the lack of affordable housing and the need for better transportation, all of which might be factors that have made it harder for employers to find workers, she added.

The wage-subsidy and training program is similar to an existing transitional jobs program that is administered through the Department of Children and Families (DCF), but will have broader eligibility rules than the DCF program, according to DWD. This program will be administered through local workforce development boards and community organizations and is planned to enroll up to 2,000 people.

The Worker Connection Program was originally included in Evers’ 2021-2023 budget proposal. Along with two other workforce development programs, however, it was removed by the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee before the spending plan went to the Legislature.

According to Pechacek — who promoted the connection program on several occasions this past winter and early spring — disruptions in child care, transportation or other aspects of some workers’ daily lives may explain their failure to consistently show up for work. The Worker Connection Program would provide follow-up help so that participants stay more closely and consistently engaged.

The pilot program will be established in two regions of the state and will include “sector-focused training with employers who are ready to hire,” Pechacek said.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.