Unemployment in the Madison Region ended 2016 at 3.5 percent, below both the state and U.S. averages. As the job market heats up and older workers near retirement, the region’s business community is increasingly looking to local education providers to partner with to cultivate and retain the workforce growing up in their backyards.
To help make these school-to-career connections possible, the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) has taken the lead role in promoting and administering a program called Inspire Madison Region. Inspire Madison Region is a software supplement to the web-based program Career Cruising, which the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has made available to all public school districts in Wisconsin. The statewide distribution of Career Cruising is a response to a statute passed by the Wisconsin state legislature mandating school districts provide academic and career planning services to students in grades 6-12, beginning with the 2017-18 school year.
“Career Cruising in an excellent program which allows students to learn valuable information about specific occupations and how they may or may not be a good fit based on a student’s interests and abilities,” said Gene Dalhoff, MadREP vice president of talent and education, and manager of Inspire Madison Region. “The Inspire Madison Region add-on takes the program one step further. It makes it possible for students to connect via the interactive platform to local employers, career coaches and experiential learning activities such as job shadowing, internships, and youth apprenticeships.”
Building Workforce Pipelines
A number of partners are helping MadREP promote and expand Inspire Madison Region including the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin (WDBSCW).
“One of the most critical things we need to do in our region is build the talent pipeline. We have a people shortage – primarily because of the demographic shift in the region – so we really need every young person to have an idea of what they want to do in the future,” says Pat Schramm, WDBSCW executive director.
“Inspire Madison Region provides students with a lot of opportunities to connect with companies in our region so they have a clear picture of what those companies do. Then they can understand what role they can play and what kind of skills they need to develop to get a job with that company,” Schramm says.
In the classroom, area educators are beginning to see how Inspire Madison Region is enhancing the learning experience of students.
“Inspire Madison Region is a unique resource that allows Madison Metropolitan School District to bring real world experiences into the classroom by connecting teachers and students with local business, community and post-secondary partners,” said Kristin Long, career education coordinator at the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Business partners are also touting the benefits of the program. Bridgett Willey, director of allied health education and career pathways at UW Health said, “Inspire provides a great platform for business to connect with educators and students in order to help build our future workforce. Our organization has been able to fulfill requests for speakers, student interviews and other career events in the schools through the Inspire platform.” Participation in Inspire Madison Region continues to grow.
“Students in nearly 50 school districts now have the opportunity to connect to over 360 career coaches and more than 300 companies which, combined, are offering approximately 1,850 experiential learning activities for students and educators,” said Dalhoff. “Through the connections Inspire provides, we are working to show students what opportunities are available locally and, in doing so, grow our future workforce in the Madison Region.”