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Colleges Bolster Madison Workforce Development

Find out how the University of Wisconsin and Madison, WI's community and technical colleges provide employers with skilled workers.

By Teree Caruthers on May 6, 2015

Madison, WI
Madison / Courtesy of Greg Anderson

In a highly competitive global economy, a deep talent pool is a key ingredient for economic growth and success. But with Baby Boomers aging out of the workforce at an increasing rate, workforce development, recruitment and talent retention are issues for communities across the country. Higher education institutions and economic development organizations in the Madison Region are meeting the challenge. The region’s highly regarded higher education institutions includes two campuses of the University of Wisconsin system, the oldest college in the state, and a network of technical colleges that provide employers with a pipeline of workers with the skills and knowledge needed to successfully compete here and on the global stage.

Campus Outreach

More than 63 percent of the region’s residents over age 25 have at least some college education, more than 32 percent hold a bachelor’s degree, and more than 12 percent hold an advanced degree. Madison is home to the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin and its more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 120 countries. UW-Madison awards close to 10,000 degrees each year and ranked eighth in the nation in 2013 for the number of doctoral degrees awarded, according to the National Science Foundation. It’s no wonder bizjournals.com in 2014 ranked Madison No. 2 for metros with the highest levels of “collective brainpower.”

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has one of the largest business schools in the nation and the largest graduate business program in the state. The College of Business and Economics offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in more than 20 areas, including information technology and supply chain management. The college also offers both bachelor and master of business administration degree programs online.

Generation Next

At Beloit College, the oldest private institution in Wisconsin, Nathan Edwards and his staff are working to ensure the region’s underserved population is given the tools to succeed in the workplace.

“Our program works with students who are the first in their families to attend college or they come from a low-income background. We provide them with the social capital needed for them to develop the education and career background they need to become successful,” says Edwards, director of student support services at Beloit.

Edwards says first-year students are paired with peer mentors from the same background. These mentors help students get acclimated to campus life and help them work through some of the social and academic challenges they may face. He says forging connections on and off campus is an important part of Beloit’s overall career development strategy for students.

“We connect students with alumni who are already in the workforce,” he says. “Our Liberal Arts in Practice Center reaches out to alumni to help connect our students with businesses and provides resume and career building services, such as mock interviews. We want to provide the theory and practice and allow our students to develop those critical-thinking skills that tie the academics with the actual practice.”

Edwards’ department hosts an alumni speakers series where alums discuss their experiences in the workforce and detail their career paths. The college plans a series of field trips for students to visit alumni and businesses in the region to better connect with potential employers.

Business Partners

The region’s technical and community colleges also have a reputation for reaching out to area businesses in an effort to connect their students to future employers. Madison College offers more than 150 degree and certificate programs at its nine campuses in the region. The college is a major supplier of skilled workers to the region’s employers in fields as varied as animation, graphic design, bioinformatics, stem cell technology and wind energy. Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville relies on outreach to the business community to help develop its degree, diploma and certificate programs.

“We work with economic development groups, employers and advisory committee members to survey the industry,” says Garry Krause, executive dean of advanced manufacturing and transportation at Blackhawk Technical College. “We ask them a multitude of questions to find out what specific kinds of training and education their prospective and current employees need. Then we upgrade, rebuild or tweak our programs to make sure they’re responding to current employers’ needs.”

Blackhawk Technical College also is developing embedded certificates that allow employees to train in a specific niche area in a shorter amount of time. For example, the new two-year Industrial Maintenance Technician program will soon have four embedded certificates covering areas such as electricity and programmable logic controllers; maintenance machining; hydraulics and pneumatics; and welding, drives, seals and conveyor systems.

“Certificates get people working more quickly, and they help employers who need to ramp up or grow in a particular area of their business. They enable the unemployed and existing employees to go from a lower wage to a higher wage, so there’s more discretionary income, which helps the economy overall,” Krause says.

Find out how UW-Madison is helping startups.

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