By Mike Rohrkaste
Economic progress continues here in the Fox Valley, with unemployment now under 5.5 percent and several hundred job openings in the area, but there is more work to do to safeguard our community’s economic future. This prosperity of our state and local community can be achieved through the growth of businesses that create quality jobs and through the continued development of local educational opportunities. We must promote more business-education partnerships to showcase how educational institutions can work alongside businesses to create a skilled workforce that meets the demand of our local economy.
Employers throughout our state are finding it increasingly difficult to acquire quality skilled workers to fill positions, particularly in manufacturing and construction, despite an attractive annual wage in the range of $53,000. Companies are offering steady, good-paying openings for welders, pipe fitters, carpenters, machinists, engineers and more, but there is a shortage of workers with the right skills and experience to fill those positions. We need to ensure that our local high schools, technical schools and universities are working together with businesses to train students for the valuable job opportunities that are ready and waiting right here in the Fox Valley.
We have already seen how such partnerships can work. Appleton’s Pierce Manufacturing—the maker of most of our local fire-fighting vehicles—has partnered with Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) to create manufacturing training programs in disciplines such as welding and hydraulics. In Coloma, the Operating Engineers of Wisconsin has long had an apprenticeship program that combines classroom and on-the-job training for heavy-equipment operating jobs that can pay over $30 an hour, with coursework accredited locally at FVTC. Many schools in our University of Wisconsin System, including UW-Fox Valley and UW Oshkosh, have partnered with other schools across the state, as well as regional manufacturers, to offer engineering technology degrees designed to fill existing skill gaps in the workforce. At the secondary education level, Neenah High School has started a welding program to help graduates gain the experience needed for placement in local manufacturing jobs.
In the Fox Valley we are fortunate to have numerous job creators, both big and small, which provide stable jobs for families. Those businesses are supported by some of the best school systems in the country, both public and private, from K-12 to college levels. We must continue to support partnerships between these two assets that will create the high-paying jobs our Fox Valley families can be proud to hold. We must encourage lawmakers in Madison to do all they can to help. If you have other ideas on how to bring new jobs into our area, or retain them for the long haul, please email me at email@example.com, or visit my website at www.mikefor55thassembly.com.