Waunakee training center

Craig Ziegler shows off the welding classroom at the Waunakee-area Wisconsin Laborers' Apprenticeship and Training Center, which he directs.

AMBER ARNOLD — State Journal

If more than four years of total Republican control of state government isn’t providing the companies that belong to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce with the skilled employees they need, then maybe they should try doing more of what they should have been doing already: Hire unskilled people with brains and work ethic and train them themselves.

WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer is only the latest business representative whose rhetoric suggests workers should be showing up for their first day on the job ready to contribute to the company’s bottom line.

And if workers haven’t shelled out their own money for the training they need, they should be able to rely on legislators to force the taxpayers to shell out.

“Wisconsin business leaders are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of qualified workers as well as the lack of action by politicians to address the issue,” Bauer said in a statement detailing the results of the latest WMC survey of business leaders.

The survey and meetings with WMC members show worker shortages run the gamut, Bauer told me, from entry-level to more advanced positions, from machinists to IT professionals.

The group supports funding technical colleges and Wisconsin Fast Forward, a state worker-training grant program, as ways to close the skills gap. It also participates in state efforts to reinvigorate company apprenticeship programs.

WMC’s latest survey didn’t try to ascertain how much WMC members themselves were doing to train workers, but Bauer said that’s something the lobbying group encourages, too.

“The strategy and approach changes depending on the sector of the economy, but apprenticeships, internships, part-time jobs, etc., are all part of the solution,” he said.

“Businesses that ‘grow your own’ will have a major leg up on their competitors.”

That’s good to hear, because it’s not as if Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, its allies in the Legislature and taxpayers have been doing nothing.

Technical colleges have seen cuts, but Wisconsin Fast Forward has approved the award of $12.5 million in grants since its creation in 2013, according to the Department of Workforce Development, and DWD and Walker’s office said more than $100 million went to worker training in the 2013-15 budget.

But neither should elected officials, taxpayers and job seekers have to do everything.

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life, none of which I was specifically trained for by anybody but my employers.

Before I was allowed near one of the massive woks at the Chinese restaurant where I worked, for example, I spent hours cutting up vegetables into variously shaped tiny pieces under the tutelage of my boisterous and politically incorrect Asian boss.

Think “The Karate Kid,” but with food and more profanity.

The benefit for my employers is that I was a blank slate upon which they could write their way of doing things. The benefits for me were skill sets I was paid to attain.

Among the benefits to taxpayers was they didn’t have to foot the bill for the schooling I needed in order to make one mean Szechuan beef — that is, until I was actually able to make them one mean Szechuan beef.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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Chris Rickert is the metro columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, where he's got his laser-like perspective trained (mostly) on all things Madison.