WisBusiness: Education secretary visits Milwaukee to unveil grant program for displaced workers

By Ryan Cardarella

For WisBusiness.com

MILWAUKEE — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced a $7 million national grant program aimed at helping displaced workers pursue second careers.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres were also on hand at Milwaukee Area Technical College to announce the grants, which will be used for tutoring, counseling and other services intended to “remove the financial barriers” that stand in the way of displaced workers re-entering the job market, Duncan said.

The money will be awarded on a competitive basis beginning in September and will range from $300,000 to a maximum of $750,000 per program over a three-year period.

The department will begin taking applications immediately.

Duncan stressed the important role that technical schools will play in helping the sagging economy recover, especially in a state like Wisconsin that has been hit hard by layoffs.

“We need to find a way to transform and reinvent our workforce, and higher education is the answer,” Duncan said.

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate peaked at 9.4 percent in March and still hovers near the 9-percent mark, the highest rate for the state in 26 years.

Duncan called the technical college system “an undervalued gem” and indicated that tech schools like MATC will be absolutely essential in providing the sagging economy with skilled talent to fill trade jobs and turn things around.

Joerres added that with the availability of “in-place” jobs like teaching, electrical and other trades that can’t be outsourced, the qualified talent produced by tech schools will be in large demand.

“Of the 10 toughest jobs for businesses to fill, nine of them employ skills taught at technical schools,” Joerres said. “They get those people from places like MATC.”

He also indicated that the perception of attending technical schools and pursuing the fields they teach needs to change, noting that parents have tended to push their children toward liberal arts schools that offer difficult placement opportunities post-graduation.

“We need to bring back the importance and the prestige of skilled trades,” Joerres said.

While Doyle spoke of sharing sacrifices during the current budget crisis and having to make many tough cuts, he believes that education is the way out of the recent economic situation and stressed that the education system cannot be undermined by the shortfall.

“We can’t say to hard-workers in our higher education system that we don’t have a place for you, and to people who have been laid off and need to make a living to come back in a couple years when we can do something for you,” Doyle said.