Over the past year, members of the Rural Wisconsin Initiative have been working on legislation to blaze new, easier-to-travel trails into the trades.
For years, students have been told that the only way to find a meaningful, family-supporting career is to go to college and enter a white-collar profession. But this simply isn’t the case for many students. In Barron County, for example, employers are struggling to find people to fill empty positions – positions that pay well and have benefits.
When students are able to fully explore their own interests with the help of supportive family and school staff, they are able to maximize their own potential and find the best fit for themselves. The Rural Wisconsin Initiative is working to change the conversation in Madison and ensure that all career choices are respected.
In December, we testified on three bills of particular interest to the construction industry. These bills would give schools tax breaks to support increasing their training opportunities in the trades, ensure that students can deduct the cost of apprenticeship tuition from their taxes, and expand student access to apprenticeship programs.
State Rep. Bob Kulp, a Republican from Stratford, is one of the chief proponents of Assembly Bill 729, which he described to the Committee on Local Government as “an incentive to include more technical and vocational education.” Schools now have limits on how much money they can raise using community referendums.
AB 729 would give schools an exemption to this revenue cap when they put in new equipment to provide students with training in activities related to workforce development. These activities could include everything from using welding units and HVAC-repair units to doing work related to auto repairs and health cares. In order to qualify for the exemption, schools would have to have the support of a local chamber of commerce and the executive director of a regional workforce-development board.
As Rep. Kulp pointed out, these criteria will serve “as an incentive to have schools and industry working together much more closely. Too often in the past, industry, community, and our K-12 schools have been on different trains of thought.”
Representative Rob Stafsholt, a Republican from New Richmond, is the main sponsor of Assembly Bill 734, which would ensure that anyone who pays tuition for an apprenticeship program could deduct the money from their income taxes. Rep. Stafsholt told the Committee on Workforce Development that apprenticeships are “the gateway to many family sustaining careers across the state, particularly in rural Wisconsin. People participating in educational apprenticeship programs should be eligible for the same tax deductions that students in other types of education receive.”
Finally, I brought forward Assembly Bill 745. This bill would give high school seniors who are on track to graduate the ability to join adult apprenticeship programs. These apprenticeships often require rigorous classroom work in addition to practical job training.
Students who enroll in this option will be affirmed in their choice of career. As some of their peers are taking classes at local colleges or taking advanced-placement courses at school, students interested in the trades will have an advanced option that honors their choices as well. Finally, this gives students who choose to go into the trades a means of attaining a higher salary sooner, since they will be able to go through an apprenticeship faster and start collecting a full journeyman’s salary. Helping young people step into a stable and rewarding career will also make them more likely to become contributing members of society.
One theme came up through all of our testimony: By bringing schools, communities, and the business community closer together, we are building networks of support that let students make the choices that suit them best. It is time to confirm that all work has merit, worth and dignity. This package of bills is a step in that direction.