Youth Workforce Readiness Task Force Issues Report

kulp2The Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Youth Workforce Readiness has issued its long-awaited report. The brief, six-page report summarizes testimony and ideas provided to the task force over the course of five meetings and presents the chair’s recommendations for potential legislative action.

The task force was created by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and was chaired by state Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford, pictured). Its mission was to explore new ways to encourage Wisconsin youth to pursue careers in the trades, manufacturing industry, and technical fields.

Recommendations put forward by the task force chair include:

  • Modifying state school report cards to value technical education course enrollments and the placement of graduates in technical college programs.
  • Encouraging the replication of entrepreneurship programs like the Cardinal Manufacturing program at Eleva-Strum High School in other state high schools.
  • Providing an exception to school district revenue limits for the purchase of equipment used in technical education programs.
  • Encouraging the integration of math skills in technical education curricula, and the integration of technical education projects in math curricula.
  • Modifying grant outcome goals for grants provided by the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to technical colleges so they are tied to regional workforce needs, and utilize regional reports rather than statewide reports. Grants could also be structured to allow for the funding of students’ travel costs, particularly in geographically large technical college districts. In addition, grant criteria could be modified to allow technical colleges to enroll students during the summer between their junior and senior years.
  • Directing the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to implement a clearinghouse for technical education curricula.

The task force heard a great of testimony emphasizing the need to encourage greater participation in career and technical education, youth apprenticeship programs, and other programs relating to youth workforce readiness. It also heard a good deal of testimony indicating that low participation occurs in part because technical education and careers often suffer from a “perception issue” that technical careers represent a lesser choice than four-year college or university training. Speakers suggested this was particularly the case in high schools with outdated technical education curricula.

Another common theme in the testimony was importance of private sector support and participation in the operation of successful technical education programs, with an emphasis on the need to form relationships and garner support from local industry partners. Such partnerships can not only provide opportunites for student learning but can help to offset the relatively higher expense of operating technical education programs, which often involve “hands on” education and utilize expensive machines.

Three frequently noted problems were: the shortage of qualified technical instructors; the need to engage young people interested in technical career pathways at an earlier age; and the barrier that transportation poses to participation of high school students in job readiness programs such as internships and job shadowing.

Other common themes were the need to emphasize “soft” skills (such as such as promptness, professionalism, ability to work in groups, and effective communication) in technical education programs, as well as math skills, particularly for those interested in advanced manufacturing.

It is expected that at least some of the recommendations will be considered as legislation when the Legislature returns for its 2017-18 session in January.