Capitol Week-in-Review – September 1, 2016

Speaker’s Task Force on Youth Workforce Readiness Issues Final Report

Last summer, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) created a Task Force on Youth Workforce Readiness and directed this bipartisan group of State Assembly Representatives to explore new ways to encourage Wisconsin youth to pursue careers in the trades, manufacturing industry, and technical fields.

To carry out its mission, the Task Force held five public hearings throughout Wisconsin to gather input from state government agency leaders, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions, representatives of chambers of commerce, industry representatives, and business leaders. On Tuesday, the Task Force reported its finding and recommendations. The relevant findings were:

  • Students, parents, high school counselors, and other groups sometimes perceive technical careers as a lesser choice compared with enrollment in a four-year university, despite high job prospects and earning potential in many technical fields.
  • Worker shortages in fields such as advanced manufacturing and information technology exist and are likely to increase with demographic changes.
  • Employers are reluctant to hire youth, including youth participating in certified programs such as youth apprenticeships for a variety of reasons including liability concerns and the limitations on the work that may be performed.
  • Employers view “soft” skills (i.e., nontechnical workplace capabilities, such as promptness, professionalism, and communication) as being as much, if not more, important than technical skills for ensuring career readiness.
  • Students must have adequate math skills to work in technical fields such as advanced manufacturing.
  • Technical education programs are typically more expensive than other high school courses because they require “hands on” education, and because model programs utilize expensive machines.
  • The average age of initial enrollment in technical college and apprenticeship programs is too high, partly because many students attempt a four-year college first or delay seeking technical training.

Based on these findings, the Task Force has made the following recommendations:

  • Modify the state’s School Report Card to value technical education course enrollments and the placement of graduates in technical college programs.
  • Consider providing an exception to general local levy limits imposed on local school districts for the purchase of equipment used in technical education programs.
  • Encourage the integration of math skills in technical education curricula, and the integration of technical education projects in math curricula.
  • For Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development grants provided to technical colleges modify the grant outcome goals to be tied to regional workforce needs, utilizing regional reports rather than statewide reports. The grants would also be structured to allow for the funding of students’ travel costs, particularly in geographically large technical college districts. In addition, grant criteria could be modified to allow technical colleges to enroll students during the summer between their junior and senior years.
  • Direct the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to implement a clearinghouse for technical education curricula.

Some of these recommendations require changes in law while others can be enacted through changes to existing state agency policies. We are pleased with the work of this bipartisan Task Force and supportive of its recommendations. We frequently hear from members about their inability to hire and retain qualified workers. From our perspective, there is no magic bullet to solve this problem. Closer collaboration between local employers, school districts and technical colleges should help produce more qualified, skilled workers.

State’s UI Tax Rate Going Down in 2017

One of the factors used to calculate an employer’s UI tax liability is the financial condition of Wisconsin’s UI Trust Fund. The State of Wisconsin has four tax rate schedules – A, B, C and D. The highest tax rate (Schedule A) applies when the balance in the UI Trust Fund is less than $300 million. The lowest tax rate (Schedule D) applies when the UI Trust Fund balance exceeds $1.2 billion.

The balance in the state’s UI Trust Fund as of June 30, 2016 was $980 million. As a result, the State of Wisconsin will move from Schedule B to Schedule C tax rates in 2017. This lower tax rate translates into a $38 million reduction in UI taxes.

Governor Walker Declares State of Emergency in Western Wisconsin

On Monday, Governor Walker issued Executive Order #211 declaring a State of Emergency in Eau Claire, Buffalo, and Trempealeau counties. The emergency declaration is intended to help local governments and residents recover from the damages caused by severe storms and flooding which occurred on August 10 and 11.

Following the Governor’s announcement, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) requested the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) release emergency funds to help repair the estimated $1.8 million in damages to federal-aid highways in the three counties.