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
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
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