MADISON, WI. FEB. 1, 2022 – Working as an assistant teacher for 2-year-olds, Crystal Ranson spent about eight years piecing together the courses to earn her associate degree in early childhood education from Madison Area Technical College.
Today, she’s the preschool program director for Red Caboose Childcare on Madison’s east side. Ranson said she’s fortunate to have a wonderful and dedicated staff but like all child care providers – they’re stretched thin.
”Child care providers need a break,” Ranson said. “There is a staffing shortage. I can’t give them the time off they need and absolutely deserve.”
While Ranson’s studies have paid off, she doesn’t see many other child care providers seeking out higher education. There’s a simple reason, she said. About three-quarters of her staff and applicants are parents themselves – and on a child care worker’s wages they often can’t afford to enroll their own children into quality care.
“Putting their kids in care really isn’t an option to pursue higher education,” Ranson said.
With the help of Wisconsin’s Workforce Innovation Grant, Madison Area Technical College is trying to work with providers to offer needed training, tap into financial resources and create more open slots for parents. At the same time, the college is assessing the needs of its student parents.
The goal is to help create a pipeline of highly trained early childhood professionals.
“The COVID-19 pandemic taught policymakers and economists something that working parents have known for a long time – child care is a huge workforce issue,” said Missy Hughes, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation secretary and CEO. “To keep Wisconsin’s economy growing, we have to first ensure that Wisconsin’s children are safe and learning.”
WEDC Secretary Hughes, Department of Children and Families Secretary Emilie Amundson, Department of Administration Secretary-designee Kathy Blumenfeld and Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek took part in a roundtable discussion about the grant Tuesday at Madison Area Technical College’s Goodman South Campus.
“Having access to high-quality, affordable care is critical to building thriving communities and maintaining a strong economy,” Amundson said. “These grants, in combination with other state and local initiatives, are helping pave the way for a child care system that meets the needs of all Wisconsin families and communities.”
“Child care availability and workforce participation go hand in hand. It’s exciting to see Workforce Innovation Grants addressing both child care and training needs to help Wisconsinites connect to family-sustaining job opportunities, and continue our strong pandemic recovery,” Blumenfeld said.
In December, Gov. Tony Evers announced that 12 projects across Wisconsin would receive up to $59.5 million in Workforce Innovation Grants to help tackle some of the state’s most pressing workforce challenges from child care to worker training.
“Wisconsin’s record-low unemployment and strong labor force participation rate are reasons to celebrate; yet the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges for working parents and child care providers alike,” Pechacek said. “This grant will connect underemployed workers with well-paying manufacturing jobs while strengthening the child care infrastructure through improved career opportunities for caregivers and greater access for families.”
Madison Area Technical College’s grant – worth up to $2.9 million – is designed to address both child care issues as well as create short term training that can quickly prepare workers for manufacturing jobs.
The college’s workforce innovation project was designed to address immediate needs such as getting skilled workers onto the factory floor to allow businesses to grow and find longer-term solutions to challenges such as child care.
Working with a variety of community organizations, the college is attempting to recruit unemployed or underemployed individuals to take part in a short, specific training program that gives potential employees the skills businesses need. The first trainings will focus on manufacturing, said Dennis Wessel, director of Continuing Education and Corporate Training for Madison Area Technical College.
“It’s a field where someone with hard work and some education can go a long way,” he said.
In terms of child care, the college’s first step is to assess what each community in their service area has in terms of child care availability, needs and options for training, said Jessica Cioci, dean of Madison Area Technical College’s School of Human and Protective Services, which includes early childhood education.
“How do we raise the profile of child care providers so they’re recognized as professionals?” Cioci asked. “High-quality child care is also related to better outcomes for children. This is a workforce issue but it’s also best for children.”
The grants are paid for by $100 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and a second round of grants is expected to be announced later this year.