Once upon a time, Wisconsin was a shining beacon for workers’ rights, leading our country with policies that protected workers’ safety, encouraged fair wages and promoted a relationship between employees and employers rooted in shared prosperity.
Unfortunately, over the decades, too many leaders have disregarded that proud history in favor of policies that have undermined opportunities for workers and the needs of their employers. Covid-19 has exposed and accelerated the effect of those policies. As our state emerges from the pandemic, it’s time to take stock of how we can have a workforce-development model that provides genuine opportunity for all in a 21st century economy.
Recently at the Milwaukee headquarters of Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership | Building Industry Group and Skilled Trades Employment Program – or WRTP | BIG STEP – U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh met with workers who have defied odds and overcome barriers to employment. He stressed the importance of pairing high-quality training with effective workforce-development partnerships. A passionate believer in President Joe Biden’s blueprint for American prosperity, Walsh noted that a strong economy is always built on a healthy middle class, and that in turn is most effectively and equitably built by strong unions.
A critical component of this is training. Historically, jobseekers were expected to invest their own time and money to meet the competency needs and skill demands of employers. This was a viable arrangement when employer needs remained static over long periods of time. Today, however, workers are required to adapt at a much faster pace. Jobseekers often cannot keep up with what employers need to remain able to compete in regional and global markets.
On average, the U.S. spends about one fifth of what other advanced economies do on workforce and labor-market programs. To ensure economic prosperity for businesses and workers alike, we need a greater investment in training. Plans that offer affordable learning opportunities to working parents, along with high-quality, rapid training that’s responsive to employer needs will pay enormous dividends.
The benefits of comprehensive and ongoing workforce development are well-understood by high-road employers, companies that pay family-supporting wages, compete based on the quality of their services and products and cooperatively engage workers and their representatives. Organizations like WRTP | BIG STEP and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO are natural partners for these employers.
As our state and country recover from the devastating hardships of a deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and a reckoning on race that reveals deep disparities, we need to work together to recognize that our workers are our most valuable resource. Empowering them will build an economy that works for every person and industry.
This means funding high-quality training and skill-building programs to teach, support and build the next generation of pre-apprentices, apprentices and journey workers who will renew and reinvigorate the union workforce that’s essential for a strong middle class.
Together, we can build back a stronger, more resilient, and equitable Wisconsin that provides new opportunities for workers and the companies that employ them.