When Competitive Wisconsin shared its “Be Bold 2: Growing Wisconsin’s Talent Pool” findings and recommendations during a December summit in Eau Claire, its leaders made clear the time for action is now and that collaboration is essential if Wisconsin is to narrow the skills gap that makes it hard for the state’s employers to fill jobs with skilled workers.
Western Wisconsin higher education leaders and other people and organizations involved in talent and economic development are now answering Competitive Wisconsin’s call to action.
Building on the long tradition of working together to tackle regional economic issues, a newly formed Collaborative Council, an executive group comprised of public- and private-sector leaders in higher education, chambers of commerce, and economic and workforce development, as well as state legislator Rep. Warren Petryk, met at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to explore new ways of bridging existing and emerging skills and talent gaps identified in the Be Bold 2 study.
Specifically, the study identified five “skills clusters” that generate more than half of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP): systems and network software development, accounting and financial analysis, nursing and health-related professions, mechanical engineering and metal manufacturing.
Among the key findings in the study is that significant talent shortages in some areas are expected as the workforce ages and fewer people enter the pipeline to replace them. For example, the study finds that more than 46 percent of registered nurses are planning to retire over the next nine years.
Noting the significant health care organizations and higher education institutions in our region that provide quality nursing, health care and life sciences programs, the Collaborative Council asked UW-Eau Claire and Manpower of Western Wisconsin to lead a pilot project that will focus on the nursing and health-related professionals skills cluster. At the urging of the council, it is our intent that the pilot project we develop for the nursing and health professions cluster will serve as a roadmap for future projects that focus on the other skill clusters around which our region and state’s talent development efforts must focus, including the manufacturing sector.
In late March, representatives from UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, Chippewa Valley Technical College and Manpower gathered for an exploratory meeting to begin work on the pilot project. At the meeting, the group agreed to analyze data from Be Bold 2 and other sources, identify existing points of collaboration as well as potential new ones, connect with key private-sector partners, and develop strategies and opportunities for best meeting the anticipated nursing and health-related workforce needs in western Wisconsin and beyond.
While this pilot focusing on the nursing and health-related cluster is in its infancy, our initial discussion was wide-ranging, engaging and illuminating. We outlined the strengths each of our organizations brings to the table, current collaborations and opportunities for new initiatives.
Among the concepts explored were:
— Developing career ladders that will enable prospective and currently enrolled students, as well as those now working in health care professions, to envision opportunities and pursue the skills and knowledge required to qualify for high-demand positions. For example, we could work with health care providers on programs designed to enable associate degree nurses to obtain their bachelor’s degree.
— Strengthening connections with other higher education institutions such as Marquette Dental School, UW Health, Medical College of Wisconsin and pharmacy schools to provide a “pipeline” of talent to these schools, along with making internship/clinical opportunities available to students.
— Better understanding the workforce needs of health care providers, especially in high-demand fields, and tailoring our programs to meet those needs.
— Working collaboratively with technical colleges and others to promote two-year programs.
— Determining original and applied research collaboration opportunities with Mayo Health Systems, UW Health, Medical College of Wisconsin and others that would be available to our regional UW System campuses faculty and students.
This jointly authored opinion piece highlights our personal and institutional commitment to partnership, especially when it comes to improving how we prepare students for the workforce.
It is our hope that the kickoff meeting of the Collaborative Council and our initial focus on health care clusters is just the beginning of ongoing, meaningful and productive discussions with the many entities that are so committed to keeping our region and Wisconsin moving forward.
Gilles Bousquet is interim chancellor at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Janice Lemminger is executive vice president of Manpower-Western, Northern and Central Wisconsin. Scott T. VanderSanden is president of Competitive Wisconsin and president of AT&T Wisconsin.