The Madison Region’s highly educated workforce is a major selling point for entrepreneurs and companies looking to relocate or expand.
More than 63% of adults over age 25 have at least some college education or an associate degree, while more than 36% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Dane County, the center of the Region and home to the city of Madison, 50% of the population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher.
A network of colleges and universities, anchored by the University of Wisconsin flagship campus, contributes to those statistics, and, along with a first-rate public school system, keep the pipeline of talent flowing to the Region’s industries.
“The significance of a skilled, available workforce to economic development efforts over the last several years cannot be overemphasized. Businesses can only succeed if they are supported by a smart, skilled workforce, and, in the Madison Region, we deliver that workforce,” says Gene Dalhoff, vice president of talent and education for the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP), the lead economic development organization for the eight-county Region.
Home to four University of Wisconsin campuses, four private colleges and four technical college systems, the Region cultivates a highly skilled and creative workforce, provides access to lifelong learning opportunities and connects its industries with a professional, qualified labor force that enables it to prosper.
Madison College, a public technical college based in Madison, is a vital player in the Region’s workforce development efforts, offering more than 150 certificates, technical diplomas and associate degrees all tied to employment opportunities in the Region.
“We are constantly monitoring new occupations that are arising in our Region and strive to introduce programming to meet those workforce needs. Our programming spans business, health, manufacturing, protective services such as police, fire and EMS, and many more,” says Bryan Woodhouse, associate vice president of strategic partnerships and innovation and executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Madison College.
The college offers businesses customized training for their employees and is a leader in micro-credentialing, or digital badging.
“This allows us to break down degree programs into even smaller, skillbased chunks that are measured and certified through the awarding of digital badges. There is growing interest from employers in using badges as verification of skill attainment,” he says.
Madison College partners with the school systems to give students a head start to college and local careers. Students can earn college credit, complete certificates and technical diplomas as well as begin their associate degree while still in high school.
Early College Academies, a course or group of courses in a particular subject area, lead to a Madison College credential or industry certification. The Running Start program allows high school students to pursue a variety of technical diplomas or an associate degree prior to high school graduation, and dual enrollment enables students to take a course and earn both high school and college credit upon completion.
Students enrolled in the STEM Academy dual enrollment program — a partnership between the college and the Madison Metropolitan School District — take a full schedule of college courses at Madison College during their 11th and 12th grade years.
Students focus on college classwork in their STEM interests and earn a large number of college credits that apply to four-year colleges and universities. Some students earn up to 60 credits toward an associate of science degree, allowing them to start at a four-year college with enough transfer credits for junior standing.
Cynthia Green, executive director of secondary programs and pathways for the Madison Metropolitan School District, says the STEM Academy not only offers a direct college and career pathway for students interested in STEM fields, but also helps diversify the Region’s workforce.
“Our school district has a very diverse student population, but we were noticing that the workforce was not as diverse, especially in STEM-related fields. Dane County is one of the fastest growing Regions for STEM jobs, but STEM-related fields are still predominantly white and male,” Green says. “STEM Academy is an opportunity for students in those underrepresented communities to take college courses and earn college credit while in high school. We wanted to provide the experiences in STEM for students that may be interested in this field, but our ultimate goal was to keep these students in Madison where they would hopefully get a STEM job so that we can continue to diversify the workforce.”