by Rich Rovito, WMEP Industry Reporter

The Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership is hosting special Lunch & Learn programs on June 18 in Madison, June 19 in Pewaukee (session full) and June 20 in Oshkosh, that will highlight how the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) can assist manufacturers  through the agencies’ various programs and services.

As the state’s lead economic development organization, the WEDC nurtures business growth and job creation by providing resources, technical support and financial assistance to companies, their partners and communities.

The DWD is charged with building and strengthening Wisconsin’s work force. As part of its mission, DWD offers training and employment assistance for people looking for work, while at the same time working with employers to fill current job openings.

At the sessions, manufacturers will learn about assistance such as: investment loans and tax credits;  research and development tax credits; local funding for minority business owners; developing profitable exporting opportunities; adopting profitable sustainability initiatives; posting free online job openings; apprenticeship and training services; hiring incentives; recruitment services and career fairs; and services aimed at narrowing the manufacturing skills gap.

harkins-captionShelly Harkins, sector manager for manufacturing, defense and financial services at WEDC, said the Lunch & Learn programs will give attendees an opportunity to learn how to work with regional account managers at the public-private agency to determine the best course of action.

“Manufacturers should come and meet their point of contact. And if we don’t provide the necessary solutions, they will help figure out who does,” said Harkins, who has more than 20 years experience in economic development and also has been involved in business development, finance, industry consortium and entrepreneurial development, and global ventures during her career.

Harkins will be one of the speakers at the Lunch & Learn sessions. Her role at the WEDC is to help find ways to grow the state’s manufacturing sector, which remains a vital cog in Wisconsin’s economic engine.

newson-captionAlso speaking at the sessions in Milwaukee and Oshkosh will be DWD secretary Reggie Newson. He noted that the DWD is taking a comprehensive approach, improving existing programs and services and taking innovative approaches to address the skills gap, particularly in manufacturing, to ensure a skilled work force for employers in all major, demand sectors.

“Our goal is to equip individuals with the right skills, so as to empower them and put them on paths to rewarding careers,” Newson said.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature adopted the Wisconsin Fast Forward bill as part of a $100 million agenda to develop the state’s workforce, he noted.

As part of the bill, the Office of Skills Development will administer $15 million in training grants. Scott Jansen has been hired as the new director of the Office of Skills Development after serving as talent dividend director for the Greater Milwaukee Committee. Dennis Schuh, an attorney with 25 years of experience, has been hired as OSD’s program manager.

Wisconsin Fast Forward also has authorized a new state-of-the-art labor market information system that will serve as a national model for modern work force delivery systems in connecting job seekers with employers ready to hire. The new system will focus more on skills – skills job seekers already have or skills they can acquire through training – and more effectively match job seekers to jobs.

“In our efforts to move Wisconsin’s economy forward, we are focused on reform and innovation,” Newson said. “Wisconsin is an industrious state with a strong work ethic and penchant for invention.”

The $100 million in state-funded work force investments also includes apprenticeship funding.

“Apprenticeship is one of our best kept secrets, and we aim to change that,” Newson said. “We want more employers to become apprenticeship sponsors. It’s a great opportunity for an employer to train workers to meet the employer’s specific needs.”

Keeping the manufacturing sector viable and thriving is vitally important for the state, Newson and Harkins agreed.

Manufacturing accounts for about 18 percent of the state’s work force (the national average is about 9 percent) and 20 percent of its gross domestic product, according to Harkins.

“We’re always either first or second in the country in manufacturing,” she said.

The percentages are even higher in certain regions of the state, including the Milwaukee and Green Bay areas, she said.