Skills Gap Holds Back Wisconsin’s Economy, Sullivan Says

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.

You can read Sullivan’s report by clicking here. The video of the hour-long session with Sullivan may be viewed by clicking here.




This Post Has One Comment

  1. Oscar Miller

    The lack of skilled workers in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation can be linked to outsourcing. As manufacturing was in decline due to loss of skilled jobs, there was really no concern by manufacturing to sound the alarm. Also during the same time, technical colleges revamped most their focus away from teaching those unneeded skills.

    Now the trend is to bring manufacturing back. Along with that, the new economy now requires new skill sets. In this article and many others, critics are complaining middle and high schools need to prepare students with skills when they enter the workforce. Has anyone told schools exactly what those skills are?

    I am a technology & engineering middle school and high school teacher. Since 2009, Project Lead the Way curriculum was adapted for middle school and high school. It is a pre-engineering curriculum and it does provide students with many skills. However, I have yet to hear my principal announce to all teachers to teach these skills, much less telling teachers what those skills are. Is there a list of these new skills known for each discipline to help them carry out this task?

    The fourth PLTW course, Computer Integrated Manufacturing, was started this fall. This course is the most expensive to support. The single most expensive item is a CNC machining center. My partnership team selected this class because of the amount on manufacturing done in the county. Three of those committee members formed a sub-committee to contact and invite local manufacturers to help support in purchasing a $40K machining center. This was begun in March 2012 and to date only $10k was raised. The most common response is “let’s wait and see what will happen and then we may support it.”

    My school board will decide 9/17/2012 if they will cover the remaining $30K. I should not have to remind you what is happening to school budgets, so paying for this machine may not happen.

    What is my point? Manufacturers and state officials are calling out to schools to teach these skills, but how are schools like mine to teach these skills without the support of manufacturers and the state? The task that is being demanded of the schools is huge, but it won’t get done with the state and manufactures waiting on the sidelines for a miracle to happen. Where is the collaboration to solve this problem?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.