Tim Sullivan has a simple definition of the skills gap in Wisconsin. “We have jobs available but no workers qualified to fill those jobs,” Sullivan told Mike Gousha, Marquette Law School’s Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy, during an “On the Issues” session on Thursday. “Quite frankly, it stifles economic development.” Sullivan called the gap “probably the most important thing to kill economic development” in Wisconsin.
When Bucyrus International was sold in 2011 to Caterpillar, Sullivan, who had been CEO and president of the South Milwaukee-based industrial giant, came away in a good personal position. He could have chosen to leave the spotlight. He decided not to seek public office, despite encouragement to do so. But he did not walk away from his willingness to be involved in trying to close that skills gap and change other things that are hurting economic development in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
Now an unpaid special consultant to Gov. Scott Walker on workforce development and education issues, Sullivan recently issued a report, “The Road Ahead: Restoring Wisconsin’s Workforce Development” that is likely to spur legislative proposals and changes on other fronts in coming months.
Describing what he found in compiling the report, Sullivan told the audience in Eckstein Hall’s Appellate Courtroom that there are more than 600 agencies in the state working on economic development which ought to be reduced to nine and that there is no one with a handle on reliable, up-to-the-minute data on available jobs in the state when software systems that can provide such information are being used elsewhere and can have large benefits.
Sullivan also called for Wisconsin schools to do more to help students, from middle school on, do the right things to prepare for jobs that are likely to be in demand when they enter the workforce.
He said Wisconsin universities and colleges should do more to connect their research and initiatives to business and job creation in the state and should re-commit themselves to making it easier for students to complete college in four years.
Bucyrus boomed in recent years as demand soared for the mining equipment it made. Sullivan continues his interest in mining. Asked by an audience member of there is going to be mining in northern Wisconsin in the future, Sullivan said yes. He said a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to develop revised legislation. In 2012, mining legislation did not make it out of the Legislature. “We’re going to resolve it,” Sullivan said. “There will be a mining bill in Wisconsin.” He said, “We can get the thing right environmentally,” and mining will be an economic boon to the state.
Asked about his own future, Sullivan said he expected to step away from his consultant’s role by the end of 2012 and that he was not ready to retire. But he said he had not yet made decisions on what was ahead.