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‘Second-start’ bill might not get second chance

Amid persistent concerns about a labor shortage, Wisconsin lawmakers voted this week in favor of a bill aimed at extending recruitment efforts to a perhaps obvious but nonetheless overlooked group: college dropouts.

The proposal — which has been deemed a “second-start” bill — would direct the state’s Department of Workforce Development to send out recruitment pamphlets to former students who had attended any of the state’s 26 public universities and two-year colleges but had not graduated. The information circulated would not come from the state, but rather industry groups and other organizations looking for a way to advertise career opportunities to young people who have suddenly found themselves at a crossroads in their lives.

Among the chief supporters of the bill is the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, a group that represents mostly nonunion construction companies. John Schulze, ABC director of government and legal affairs, told lawmakers Wednesday that he and his colleagues have often heard apprentices lament the directionless years they spent trying to decide on a career before discovering the trades. Many did not have a contingency plan in place when they decided college was not for them.

“The reason for the lost decade is that their planned career path of high school to four-year college graduation, to a degree in their field of study has been derailed, and it takes them a while to reassess and reengage,” Schulze said. “Over 10,000 students drop out of the UW system every year. It is (for) this group we believe the second start bill is best suited.”

Although the proposal received the Senate’s Committee on Economic Development and Commerce’s blessing on Wednesday, its chances of passing this year appear slim. The chief obstacle is simply a lack of time.

Like any bill, SB 696 cannot become law without approval from the full Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker. And although leaders in the state Senate have discussed plans to reconvene again in the coming weeks, their counterparts in the Assembly said Thursday’s floor session was likely to be the last for the current legislative calendar.

Schulze said Wednesday that he is aware of no other state that has a similar second-start law. The cost of the one proposed for Wisconsin is relatively small, he said.

If SB 696 were passed, the Department of Workforce Development would become responsible for printing and mailing the recruitment pamphlets that would be mailed out to recent college dropouts. The department has estimated 13,000 would be needed each year and has pegged the cost at about $30,800 annually.

There would also be an initial cost of $6,400 to get the system up and running. In writing up the proposal, supporters had to be careful not to encroach on former college students’ privacy rights.

For that reason, the Department of Workforce Development would be the only agency allowed to assemble a list of recent college dropouts. The ABC and other organizations would have no direct link to the former students and would have to submit any recruitment or contact information to the state to have it distributed.

About Dan Shaw, [email protected]

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 414-225-1807.

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