Jim Golembeski, Envision Board member and Upward Mobility Signals Team

It takes 18 years to grow a worker.

That makes workforce forecasting one of the easiest things that Envision can do in our efforts to identify trends and challenges.  It is easy to gather live birth data for our region on an annual basis and extrapolate out into the future.

We know the numbers of each age group, year by year, in NEW North.  I have been speaking about these numbers for more than twenty years. The writing, as in the book of Daniel, has been on the wall: too many Baby Boomers retiring and not enough replacement workers coming into our workforce.

One of the most productive responses to this reality is to better align our education systems with our regional economic needs.  This makes sure that we are training the upcoming workforce with the skills our economy needs rather than providing skill training that is useful elsewhere or training too many people in areas we do not need.

Here are two examples. Many young people are fascinated by ocean life and preservation, but training in oceanography related occupations guarantees they will leave the area in search of limited job opportunities. In addition, social sciences are valuable, but we have far too many psychology and sociology majors and not enough plumbers and electricians.

To address this disparity, we have done several things well during the last twenty years here in NEW North.  Here are some highlights.

  1. Our K-12 schools have reinstated training programs in the skilled trades over the last twenty years, programs that had been eliminated or neglected since the 1980s.  This has been done in close partnership with area manufacturers, construction firms and other companies.
  2. Alternative high school programs such as Northeast Wisconsin School of Innovation are offering nontraditional education training options for young people that connect directly to in-demand jobs.
  3. Since 2006, NEW Manufacturing Alliance has focused on improving the image of manufacturing careers and has had success by more than quadrupling the number of welding students and tripling the number of machining students in NEW North during the last fifteen years.
  4. NWTC, LTC, FVTC, and MPTC have greatly expanded their skilled trades training capacity.  The technical colleges have also developed key partnerships with K-12 school districts for transcript and dual credit programs.
  5. Former UWGB Chancellor Gary Miller fought a hard battle to establish several engineering programs at UWGB, and these programs now experience applicant waiting lists.
  6. New North Digital Alliance and programs such as Tech Spark and Women in Technology have made training in new technology available in the region.

Looking ahead into the next decade, skilled workers will continue to be an invaluable economic resource.  We cannot afford to waste talent, and serious effort has to be made to keep young people here.  The continued alignment between our economy and our education systems will be vital to regional economic success.