When the ManPower Group conducted a study in 2018 indicating a significant gap in workforce supply and demand throughout Southeast Wisconsin, RCEDC (Racine County Economic Development Corporation) and partnering organizations took it upon themselves to tackle this gap head on.
Understanding the gap would only grow as businesses continue to migrate to the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor, the Greater Racine County (GRC) initiative was developed to attract and retain qualified talent to supplement the needs of current and future employers.
As the workforce gap continues to grow, the need for an educated workforce becomes more critical. Among several elements affecting workforce recruitment, higher education is arguably one of the most important. With local institutions such as Carthage College, Gateway Technical College (GTC) and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, never has increasing enrollment and graduation rates been more critical to the economic vitality of the region.
Robert Ducoffe, Provost and Vice Chancellor at UW-Parkside said some students may not be as willing to enroll in 4-year universities because they hear so many stories about student debt.
“Students and their parents are hugely concerned with the cost of higher education,” said Ducoffe. “The cost to attend a university increased nearly eight times faster than wages did in the U.S. between 1989 and 2016. Colleges are getting more expensive relative to what people are making.”
Recently ranked No. 3 on Affordable Schools’ 20 Best Affordable Schools in Wisconsin for a Bachelor’s Degree, UW-Parkside established itself as a prominent force in recruitment.
“I am proud of my alma mater for this recognition, which allows greater opportunities for students to enjoy this institution while being mindful of the realities of student debt,” said Jenny Trick, RCEDC’s Executive Director. “UW-Parkside has a long practice of interfacing with community and business leaders to ensure the graduates are well prepared, have access to local internships, and stay in Southeast Wisconsin after graduation.”
With former Governor Scott Walker’s tuition freeze in place, colleges and universities were required to get creative and get collaborative with outreach initiatives and communicating the importance of higher education to prospects.
According to Ducoffe, there are several elements that contribute to UW-Parkside’s recent influx of success including; the University of Wisconsin System’s 15 to Finish Campaign, the University of Wisconsin Extended Campus (UWEX), UW Flexible Option and a strategic framework aimed at increasing UW-Parkside’s graduates by 50 percent by 2025.
“We are currently graduating about 800 students a year,” said Ducoffe. “Our goal by 2025 is to graduate 1200 students a year because we know that employers need those extra 400 graduates every year.”
The market in Wisconsin is another important piece to the workforce puzzle. The ManPower Group identified industries in Racine County that need the most attention, such as healthcare, manufacturing and STEM.
Similarly, Ducoffe said UW-Parkside is focusing on collaborating with other campuses to lift up programs that are sentiment to market needs, and to do it faster. Even with all the efforts across Wisconsin and especially in Racine County, Trick believes there is still more that could be done to bridge the workforce gap.
“We are grateful to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation with its early efforts to recruit talent to Wisconsin,” said Trick. “To build on their positive momentum, I would suggest more resources be dedicated to this effort that allows Wisconsin to stand out to the talent needed by our employers.”