An op-ed by Amy Pechacek; Secretary-designee, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
At the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, we advocate for rewarding work, skills that build communities, and the rights of all people to achieve meaningful employment.
As we celebrate Black History Month and honor the accomplishments of Black Americans, we recognize that Wisconsin is at a turning point with greater potential than ever before to advance racial equity and economic opportunity. Our state’s record-low unemployment brings a once-in-a-generation chance to expand access to jobs with wages and benefits that support workers, their families, and their communities.
The story of Wisconsin’s economic recovery from COVID-19 is still being written. Yet already, Gov. Tony Evers has authored a dramatic series of proposals to address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact, reduce systemic barriers to employment, and deliver the skilled workforce Wisconsin businesses need to compete for generations to come.
Gov. Evers’ historic $130 million commitment to the Workforce Solutions Initiative recognizes that many barriers to employment are rooted in social injustice. The Workforce Innovation Grant program has invested nearly $60 million into 12 regionally based programs to meet the unique needs of different communities while the Worker Advancement Initiative‘s $20 million in grants to 11 regions will help thousands of workers get new skills and training to find new jobs.
At the same time, Gov. Evers’ plan to leverage the state’s highest-ever general fund balance by investing a portion of the surplus in childcare, education, and caregiving tackles a variety of systemic challenges head-on.
The governor’s plan recognizes that without access to quality, safe, affordable childcare, full employment is unattainable. Without access to education and in-demand skills training, historic inequities can never be overcome.
Through the years, challenging conditions and wages have made it difficult for many child caregivers and educators to support themselves and their families. The Evers proposal to expand the newly created Child and Dependent Care Credit from 50% of the federal credit to 100% would go a long way in securing sustainable careers for those who play a vital role in developing of our future workforce.
Other aspects of the Evers proposal build on strategies already underway to strengthen the workforce through DWD’s groundbreaking apprenticeship programs, technical colleges, and workforce development partners around the state.
For example, the governor’s plan invests nearly $750 million into education at every level to continue improving school quality and address the state’s achievement gap. This includes expanding capacity to teach in-demand fields such as computer science and work-life skills, such as driver’s ed.
By devoting some $20 million to after-school and related programs, the proposal offers new support to single working parents and those whose jobs extend beyond the normal school day.
A thriving Wisconsin economy requires equitable access to meaningful employment and the sustainable participation of all who want to work. As we reflect on the progress and potential demonstrated by Black History Month, DWD remains committed to strengthening the skills and capacity of underrepresented community members to pursue America’s promise.
The Evers Administration’s unprecedented plan to remove employment barriers and support development of our future workforce opens a new chapter in the shared effort to establish a more inclusive economy.