WisBusiness: New program to train skilled workers

By Brian E. Clark

Wisconsin business leaders often bemoan the lack of skilled,
high-tech workers in the state.

To help relieve that shortage, Department of Workforce Development
Secretary Roberta Gassman kicked off a new program Wednesday to train
biotech employees.

The so-called Emerging Skills Partnership will train 60 workers and is
being run by the Workforce Development Board of South Central
Wisconsin, explained Gassman, who spoke at Third Wave Technologies, a
Madison molecular diagnostics firm.

The program will be funded by a $85,000 state grant — one of 10
similar stipends that will be spread around the state — to train new
biotech, advanced manufacturing and renewable energy workers, Gassman

She said the state money would leverage an additional $200,000 in
federal and private funds to help ensure that Wisconsin remains a
leader in the emerging biotechnology industry.

“We want to make sure we are using state resources properly to train
people in emerging industries so that Wisconsin companies will have
access to the skilled labor pool they need,” she said.

“Wisconsin’s bioscience industry has been built on the strength of
well-educated scientists and business people,” said Jim Leonhart,
executive director of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device

“The WBMA is pleased to be a partner with the state in its ongoing
efforts to ensure that one of our bioscience industry’s fundamental
advantages will continue to be our well-trained and educated people.”

Gassman said she was impressed by the work being done at Third Wave,
which creates tests to help diagnose cervical cancer and other

“In some of these areas, the technology is so sophisticated and is
growing so fast that it’s hard to keep up with all the changes,” she
said, noting that the Madison area has more than 6,000 biotech workers
– a third of the state’s total.

She said biotech jobs are projected to increase by 15 percent in south
central Wisconsin through 2014. On average, biotech workers earn an
estimated $62,800 a year in Dane County and $56,700 a year in the

Slightly more than half the jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Nearly a
third of the positions, primarily lab technician jobs, require a
two-year associate’s degree, she said.

“Dane County has become the biotech hotspot of the Midwest, and the
workforce training initiative we are launching today with our partners
will help us remain at the forefront of pioneering research,” she said.

“We need more people in this field who can make diagnostic tools that
are being created by robotic equipment and are designed by computers,”
added Gassman, who said that Third Wave hires from Madison Area
Technical College, UW-Madison and other schools.

“We have the resources to shine in the areas of biotech, advanced
manufacturing and renewable energy – among others,” she said. “But to
do that, we need people with the skills to do the work so manufacturers
will invest in the technology to keep Wisconsin humming.”

Gassman said one grant will be given in Milwaukee to train high-tech
manufacturing workers. She said she is not certain where the other
eight grants – each worth $85,000 –will be awarded.

Gassman said other partners in the biotech training project include
Madison Area Technical College, the UW-Madison, THRIVE and the state
Department of Commerce.