Wisconsin Career Pathways: Postsecondary Education for Low-income, Low-skill Adults

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June 09, 2015
By: Winnie Karanja, Laura Dresser, and Michele Mackey
The national economic recovery is gaining speed and Wisconsin workers and firms are increasingly feeling the relief, and the state’s ability to build industry-needed skills of the workforce is becoming an increasingly critical shared priority. Workers have jobs but need stronger skills. Firms need a skilled workforce that can adapt
as opportunity evolves. Fortunately, an impressive infrastructure to support the development of workers skills has taken shape over the last decade in Wisconsin. Critical here is the strong but perhaps too little known work of the state’s technical colleges in paving the pathways from basic skills to meaningful credentials. Also essential have been efforts to build stronger connections to employers through training funds like Fast Forward, through the development of industry partnerships within regions, and through the increasing connection of career pathways at tech colleges to unmet and emerging industry needs.

For Wisconsin workers and employers to thrive in the 21st Century, this critical progress in skills and talent infrastructure must be supported, connected, amplified and extended. Wisconsin is a national leader – in career pathways, in tech college training for displaced and other workers, and in industry/employer driven training investments in the “Fast Forward” grant program for demand-driven training). This infrastructure can help connect the unemployed to work, the underemployed to the skills they need to move toward self-sufficiency, and the state’s employers to relevant strategies for developing their own workers’ skills as well. This infrastructure is critical for advancing Wisconsin’s competitive position and for providing low-wage workers a stronger pathway to self-sustaining jobs.

This paper provides an overview of these programs and initiatives, the need for them, and opportunities to strengthen them. Our focus is building on Wisconsin’s strengths so that opportunity and career pathways can yield improved outcomes for low-skilled workers while simultaneously meeting the skill needs of employers in the state.