Sullivan report is an eye opener

A former business executive has released recommendations to the administration of Governor Scott Walker, on how the state might best address Wisconsin’s highly-publicized “skills gap” – a lack of trained workers to fill existing job openings. The report is loaded with some eye opening statistics.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international think tank, only 46% of complete college once they start. This ranks the U.S. dead last for college completion among the 18 OECD countries.

And guess what? Wisconsin doesn’t even match that national level. The report (Moving Ahead: Restoring Wisconsin’s Workforce Development) states that for students starting in 2005, UW System had a four-year graduation rate of just 29.3%, although that increased to just over 65% after six years.

Tim Sullivan is the former president and chief executive of Bucyrus International in South Milwaukee. He volunteered his services in February, and released the 126 page report on Tuesday. Sullivan also serves as Chairman of the Council on Workforce Investment and as member of the College and Workforce Readiness Council.

The most urgent of the recommendations contained in the report,  is for the state to modernize software used by the Department of Workforce Development, so state agencies will be able to track Wisconsin job trends in real time.

Wisconsin needs timely, accurate job numbers to form the basis of policy decisions for economic development organizations and other groups. These numbers should come from new Labor Market Information (LMI) software. The State should provide this software so that all groups and State employees have a common, reliable starting point to discuss workplace need.

Sullivan also called for better communication among the state’s economic development groups. The report notes that Wisconsin has more than 600 groups listing economic development as part of their mission.

As for that four-year graduation rate, the report proposes that the UW System develop a contract, to guarantee that students get their degree in four years.

The contract can be modeled after the University of Minnesota’s contract, which states that if a student cannot complete a four-year college degree on time through no fault of his own, the school will pick up the added expense. This will encourage students to complete on time, saving them money and speeding them into the workforce.

There’s lots more, of course, including a proposal to fund worker training through unemployment insurance and reforming the state’s tax system, and a recommendation that Wisconsin encourage international immigration to fill gaps in the workforce. And lastly, there’s sense of urgency. “What Wisconsin cannot do is idly sit by and expect the challenge to disappear.”

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