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Jansen: DWD's new Office of Skills Development to work with private sector on worker training

By Brian E. Clark
For WIsBusiness.com

Scott Jansen grew up in a blue-collar home on the northwest side of Milwaukee. His father drove a bus and his mother worked in the Singer Controls factory as a shipping clerk.

In the '60s and '70s, he saw the city’s industrial base thrive. Later, he watched as manufacturing shrank, a victim of global competition and outsourcing.

Now Jansen, who spent most of his nearly three-decade career as an executive with AT&T, has signed on with the state to help boost private-sector job creation. Since May, he’s headed the new Office of Skills Development, which will distribute $15 million in employer-focused worker training grants. Companies will be required to pay some of the costs for the programs, he said.

The funding is part of $20 million included in Act 9, the Wisconsin Fast Forward legislation passed earlier this year with bipartisan support. The remainder of the funding will be used to create a labor market information system and bankroll what he called a “lean” staff of four. To date, Dennis Schuh has been hired as a program manager.

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“I’m a born and raised Milwaukee kid, a graduate of the public schools system,” said Jansen, who served as the talent dividend director for the Greater Milwaukee Committee. “I understand what the boom of manufacturing was like for Milwaukee and its deterioration.”

And while no one’s predicting that all those factories will magically reopen, Jansen said he’s a “big believer that we can reinvent the workforce” that companies of all stripes need now and in the future.

Jansen said he hopes the OSD will be able to begin distributing grants as early as October, once the administrative rules and procedures are written and approved.

He said the grants will be awarded to companies or business groups that can demonstrate a specific labor shortage that isn’t being met by other training or education programs and is backed by labor market information.

He said grants will go to companies that partner with workforce development boards, local and regional economic development agencies, tech schools and other education program providers.

Jansen said businesses have been saying for years that some of the existing programs “don’t meet the structured, tailored needs that they have in individual sectors or regions.”

And while the companies will work with existing organizations, the “distinctive difference is that businesses will drive what that curriculum will be.”

He said the programs will identify “cohorts” or groups of candidates, as well as current workers who need more training to more-skilled and better paying positions.

“So the arc that we want to achieve within the regions is to build the right kind of collaborations ... with the end goal being that everyone who comes out acquires the skill, gets hired and ideally achieves a pay increase or gets employment ... so we can maximize the return on investment in those public tax dollars.”

Jansen said welders have been in great demand for some time, so technical colleges and private schools have responded with programs.

“So the first thing that we will do is work with them to vet all the resource and training opportunities that already exist in their area ... (because) we are looking to find a distinctive need that’s not being met elsewhere.

“Part two is we want them to collaborate… and then look at what the possibilities are in terms of developing something new that could be scalable and replicable for use by others.”

Jansen said he’s also been in talks with trucking firms about creating a program for the roughly 20 percent of driver school graduates who fail to pass the companies’ entry level test.

After taking the course to refine their skills, he said he hoped all of candidates could be hired by the four or five trucking companies in the consortium to meet their staffing needs.

“What is beautiful about that example is that they came together as a natural collaboration because there is such a high demand for CDL (commercial drivers’ license) drivers in the state right now,” he said.

Jansen said his office won’t be limiting itself to manufacturing or other blue-collar jobs.

“There are also needs in financial services, IT and health care,” he said. “We want to take a look at some of those emerging markets where there is not a developed workforce right now. Some people are asking us if we would dip into that area to develop that kind of workforce. We are opening everything up in an inquiry process.”

Jansen said his office has looked at similar skills development programs in states including Minnesota, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“We are benchmarking against them,” he said, noting that the other states haven’t pushed scalibility and portability of successful programs.

“They weren’t real aggressive, but we want to jump on that here,” he said.

He said the other states stressed the need for transparency and accountability.

“We are not looking to quickly give money away,” he said. “We want to do the due diligence on the front end and build the collaborations and partnerships. We will have auditing functions ... to make sure what was funded has a match to it and that the outcomes are clearly known.”

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