DWD official touts state’s collaborative job training program

The lead administrator for Wisconsin’s “Fast Forward” program says using state funding to collaborate with businesses in training skilled workers helps to focus job-training efforts.

“What Wisconsin Fast Forward has really meant to me is to invest in demand-driven models and make a commitment to hire and build collaboration,” the Department of Workforce Development’s Scott Jansen said Tuesday at a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon.

He juxtaposed Wisconsin’s approach, which is rooted in the March 2013 Fast Forward program that gives $15 million in grants to employment training programs, with those other states use where they are “throwing money at the wall” by focusing on attracting large businesses and ignoring smaller-scale issues.

Fast Forward, which is just finishing its second of three application rounds, is designed so that business leaders who see a need for skilled workers can come to Jansen and the DWD and apply for money to train workers while promising to match funding. The businesses outline curriculum and skill needs as well as the training system to use and final measures of competency, but then must promise to hire at least 85 percent of those workers who eventually meet the definitions, according to Jansen.

He said the program and the solid state funding to back up the plans has already allowed those working on the effort to go in on a micro level and “surgically” find and fix discrepancies in worker training.

Those discrepancies are even more easily mended with the multi-sector collaboration Jansen said has been developing. That means working across industries and with technical colleges, high schools and even on a K-12 level to teach people specific skills needed for success in state industries.

So far, the program has focused on the manufacturing and construction sectors and pushed skills not only in working with equipment and in a business setting, but also “soft skills” like teamwork and interpersonal communication.

One player on the technical college level is Lisa Seidman, head of the Biotechnology Laboratory Technician Program at Madison College and the second panelist at the luncheon. During her portion of the panel, she outlined the specific technical and soft skills her program has been able to teach as well as its high local and national placement rate since starting as a trailblazer in the field in 1987.

She also said that Madison’s strong tradition with stem cell work has led to her program being the only two-year one she knows of that was training students to have a career with stem cells.

New developments like stem cells played into Jansen’s ultimate conclusions during the panel that much of the success so far in the program has been its ability to connect the business and educational areas in the state. Both he and Seidman said the educational and training programs that partner with interested businesses teach potential employees fundamental skills that are useful across industries. That way, Jansen said, if one business works to train someone and it eventually does not work out, that potential employee can go to a different business or industry and still positively contribute to Wisconsin’s economy.

He added that those connections Fast Forward has been able to foster create a more fluid environment where business and industry leaders know where to go for help and are introduced to others that give opportunities for important development through idea sharing and other collaboration.

“It’s been really exciting,” Jansen said.