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The Importance of Workforce Development
Dr. Sammis White

Posted on 2/7/07

Workforce is increasingly being recognized by employers as the most critical input in successful enterprise. And the workforce that is better educated is more likely to be successful. Education and skills are commonly being seen as primary determinants of worker productivity and subsequent income. For these reasons, workforce development is growing in importance for economic and personal growth.

Nationally and globally, the world of work is changing dramatically. In the US in 1948 men who had not completed high school accounted for 60% of the hours worked by men. Among women, those who had not finished high school worked 50% of the total hours contributed by women. By 1997 men and women with less than a high-school degree accounted for 12% and 9%, respectively, of total hours worked. By 2007 those percentages are even smaller. Education increasingly matters both to employability and to income generation.

Employers in Milwaukee 7 (M7) region are recognizing that a higher quality workforce is critical to the success of this economy and to their own operations. They see the link between education and value added. Employers are demanding higher levels of education for new employees and continuing learning among existing employees. Both create demand for workforce development organizations.

What is also creating a demand for further education and training of workers is competition, global competition for many. Pressure to reduce prices is commonplace. Quality is more closely scrutinized. Contributing to the pressures for higher levels of productivity are tighter labor markets. Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find skilled, experienced workers. In fact, nationally the projection is that the US will experience a shortage of 10 million workers by 2010.

Wisconsin labor markets are already tight and will likely tighten further. The labor force is projected to grow just .4% per year for the next 15 years. For the Milwaukee area the labor force projection is .3% growth annually. Furthermore, all net growth in the labor force is projected to be in the age 55 and over cohort. That slow growth means for the economy to be healthy, those who participate must be more productive. That in turn implies workers must have more education and training, and employers must become very flexible in terms of how they employ and utilize the workers they are able to attract.

Another challenge is the need to address the full range of skills. Employers in the M7 region currently have worker shortages at entry level positions as well as at positions that require years of college education. This means that workforce development cannot concentrate on just one part of this range; workforce development efforts must cover the full spectrum of skills.

Milwaukee area employers will increasingly be challenged to find the workers they need. Retirement will remove some individuals from the labor force. Growth in area employers will add to the competition for workers. And competition from other labor markets will further heighten the struggle to find individuals with the education and skills desired. That pressure heightens the importance of further workforce development because education and training investments here will help to expand the pool of workers available and increase the productivity of existing workers. Those two ingredients are essential for a successful regional economy.

UWM is one of well over 100 organizations that can be characterized as contributing to workforce development. Be it credit or non-credit classes, degrees, certificates, or merely knowledge, UWM is a very large post-secondary institution. It has 153 degree programs serving over 28,000 students. Additionally, UWM has a large School of Continuing Education that provides non-credit courses in many subjects that help over 30,000 participants annually become more productive, be it in project management, training others, network security, Spanish, or a host of other topics.

UWM cannot meet the need for life-long learning by itself. It recognizes that area institutions of higher learning can do more collectively to aid the region than they can do alone. UWM is working with area technical colleges, such as Milwaukee Area, Waukesha County, and Moraine Park, on articulation agreements to make transfer of credits between institutions a non-issue, opening the university door to greater diversity and more individuals who complete four-year degrees.

This is just the beginning. All of the institutions are doing custom training and at times partnering on this. Such will become the more common model, as employers grow to realize how critical continuous learning is to both attract and retain the talent they need to succeed. Workforce development truly is the lynchpin to successful enterprise, be it an individual employer or the region.

Dr. Sammis White is the Associate Dean of the School of Continuing Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Helen Bader Foundation University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Milwaukee Jobs