Keys to Building a Successful Workforce
By Mark Kessenich
don’t have to be Irish to appreciate or marvel at the
dramatic growth of the economy of Ireland. As a world leader
in attracting foreign investment and as the fastest growing
economy in the European Union, many are curious as to how
this happened. Recently, I had the opportunity to hear the
Irish Minster of Labor respond to the question, “How
much of this astounding economic growth can be attributed
to workforce policy?” His rejoinder, “the entire
growth of our economy is premised on the restructuring of
our education, trades, and training system.” The entire
room was surprised by his remarks.
Somehow in Wisconsin and the United States
our public and private interests have lost their bearings
in this critical discussion. The debate and current policy
can be summed up, “find a job.” Well, if finding
a job is our public policy then its no wonder you have a lot
of frustrated job seekers and cynical employers. Not exactly
the Irish model.
There are a number of forward thinking people
in both the private and public sectors who understand that
innovation, diversity (of people and product), cost controls,
and partnerships are core principles of creating the conditions
for successful jobs training programs. Let’s consider
three public / private partnerships and the components that
make them uniquely successful:
The Surgical Technologist Customized Skills
Training program sponsored by the major local hospital systems
(Aurora, Columbia/St.Marys, Frodtert, and Wheaton Health Care).
These hospital systems recognized the need to address chronic
position vacancies in nursing and allied health professions,
including the field of Surgical Technology. These organizations
also realized the need to diversify their workforce. In partnership
with the local Workforce Investment Board, they discovered
an internal capacity to identify current entry-level staff
who would make great candidates for the Surgical Technologist
field and then created an advanced training program designed
to move these candidates into Surgical Technologist positions.
By providing wage support to the trainees for nine-months
and utilizing hospital staff for training, the hospitals have
significantly reduced vacancy, increased diversity, and have
developed a core of extremely dedicated, well-trained, and
prepared staff for the future.
The Welding & CNC Certificate Programs
sponsored by the local Workforce Investment Board, in partnership
with Milwaukee Area Technical College and businesses throughout
Milwaukee County represent a public / private response to
on-going shortages in metal fabrication and Advance Manufacturing
industries. Individuals are recruited and assessed to fill
slots at the local Technical College for industry specific
short-term occupational skills training. Employers provide
guidance on curriculum, hiring qualifications, and job duties;
the Technical College provides instruction and training, and
the local Board provides funding and coordination. The result
is an economy of scale to provide a clear pathway and skills
development system for individuals who want to work and earn
a good living in the manufacturing sector. For the employer,
these systems provide a workforce that has the preparation
and attitude required to be successful at their particular
place of business.
In the construction sector, the Urban Trades
Partnership Initiative On the Job Training Programs emerged
as collaboration between the City of Milwaukee, the BIG STEP
program and the local Workforce Investment Board along with
private sector investment on major construction projects in
the area. Partnerships with Gilbane Building Company, Manpower
and the Forest County Potawatomi provide individuals with
the opportunity to work in pre-apprenticeship on-site job
training and earn training wages. During the training period
individuals are exposed to a variety of trades and at the
end of the training individuals are hired by contractors or
moved into apprenticeship opportunities in the trades.
Considering these examples, let’s
summarize the keys to creating the conditions for innovative
and successful employment initiatives:
- The center of gravity for all workforce
development is the employer. While the local Workforce Investment
Board or other public agencies can initiate partnerships
with employers, it business and their labor demands which
drive the process from beginning to end.
- Individuals need to have economic support
while in training. Very few individuals are in a position
to drop-out of the workforce or relieve themselves of family
related obligations in order to go back to school or enroll
in occupational skills training programs. Providing individuals
with a training wages or training stipend works.
- Employers, human resources, and supervisory
staff are invaluable to the recruitment, screening, and
selection process for the program. HR staff understands
the tangible and intangibles for their organizations. They
appreciate the skills and qualification requirements as
well as the culture of their particular organization. Ultimately,
they also play a major role in the hiring and maintenance
- Clear path from training to employment.
Training curriculum and instruction should match demand
- what’s learned should be applicable to employment.
Further, as a training class approaches the end it should
not be a mystery where individuals are going to be employed.
The transition from training to employment should be seamless
without a day lost. In a solid partnership, all parties
understand what the goals and outcomes of the effort are.
Ultimately, the goal is increased productivity not a diploma
or a certificate.
- Flexibility from both public and private
partners. Federal and state regulations provide enough of
a challenge for even the most creative minds. In the end,
participant data questions, curriculum development, hiring
practices, cost sharing requirements, and reporting will
require all partners to recognize flexibility and innovation
as the best tools for solving problems. If the problem was
easy it would have been solved already.
- Public and private partners have to
leverage each others resources. Public funds are limited
and private funds are limited - we all agree.
The conditions for creating public / private
ventures and how they are catalyzed is a matter of will. In
Milwaukee and our region there are a number of significant
partnerships which have leveraged funding, expertise, and
opportunity to advance solutions to these challenges. Not
surprisingly, a pattern for success has emerged which generates
hope for individuals and provides a clear direction for employers
and government moving into the new economy.
Mark Kessenich is a Research and
Planning Analyst with the Private Industry Council, the Milwaukee
Workforce Investment Board.