Wis. plan for worker training gets support

Wis. governor's plan to spend $35 million on increased worker training wins support at hearing

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to spend $35 million to help technical colleges train people for high-demand jobs, as well as do more to help find work for people with developmental disabilities, found widespread support Tuesday at a legislative hearing.

No one testified against the measure, which Walker proposed in his State of the State address last month. The Assembly planned to vote on it next week, along with a separate proposal to cut property and income taxes by more than $500 million.

While some opposition has formed to the tax cuts, the workforce development piece is finding smooth sailing so far.

The measure would use the money to eliminate waiting lists for high-demand fields such as manufacturing and computer technology at technical colleges, help high school students get trained for high-demand jobs through dual enrollment programs, and support programs that help people with disabilities find work.

"I'm stoked," said Wisconsin technical college system president Morna Foy, in testimony to the Assembly's Workforce Development Committee. "I am just sitting here with my fingers crossed behind my back that you guys are going to say, 'Yes.'"

Foy assured lawmakers that the additional money could be put to use as early as this summer to help get more people the training they need to fill job openings.

"It's a very exciting opportunity," Foy said. "It's been a long time since we've had these kinds of chunks of dollars made available for this kind of activity."

Reggie Newson, secretary of the state Department of Workforce Development, said the focus will be on reducing waiting lists at technical colleges to add course offerings and classes to help get people trained more quickly.

Newson also touted the dual enrollment program, in which high school students get training and earn technical college credit at the same time.

Representatives from the disability rights community, including relatives of people with disabilities, spoke in support of increasing funding for programs to help people with disabilities find jobs. Part of the money would go to expand an on-the-job training program for workers with disabilities from seven companies to 27 over the next three years.

People with disabilities account for about 9 percent of the state's workforce, based on data provided by Disability Rights Wisconsin. But their employment rate is less than one-third that of workers without disabilities, and workers with disabilities on average earn 30 percent less.

Advocates for the disabled, as well as members of the Assembly committee, stressed to Newson and Foy that they want to be able to track whether more people are finding work as a result of the increased spending.

The $35 million would be transferred to the Department of Workforce Development from a surplus generated by the state's chief jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

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