Wisconsin Dems, GOP Agree on Need to Close "Skills Gap" - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Wisconsin Dems, GOP Agree on Need to Close "Skills Gap"

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) –Governor Scott Walker said in his annual State of the State Address that creating jobs remains his top priority as the new legislative session begins.

Walker pledged to create 250-thousand jobs while campaigning ahead of the 2010 gubernatorial election.

He also said last week the 250-thousand job goal is still attainable.

But Walker, as well as Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, agree that closing the "skills gap" is necessary if Wisconsin is to realize its full, economic potential.

"There are some jobs in Wisconsin that are unfilled," said Assembly Rep. Jill Billings (D, La Crosse).

The skills gap refers to a lack of trained workers in the state, which employers say prevents them from being able to hire more people and fill job openings.

A report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel puts the number of jobs unfilled due to the skills gap at 35-thousand.

"If people go back to work, that's going to help Wisconsin small businesses," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca(D, Kenosha). "Because if people are working and have more money in their pockets, they're going to spend on remodeling their homes, new clothing for their kids and they'll address other needs they have in their household."

"That type of economic stimulus is badly needed," Barca added.

He said the state also shouldn't completely rule out devoting more funding to worker training.

Most money given to workforce development currently comes from federal grants.

"We have a budget surplus," Barca said."But since it's not a big surplus, we have to determine where those resources can do the most good for the middle class. Clearly one area that would be most vital is providing that skill training."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R, Rochester) also suggested he might be open to devoting more state funding to training workers.

"I'm open to any idea," Vos said. "The biggest concept we want to fulfill is that any worker who wants to work has a chance to do that."

"Typically, worker training is an area that the federal government has taken the lead on, but if there are gaps where the federal government hasn't been able to do what's necessary, I'm definitely open to looking at those," Vos said.

"But our resources are tight," Vos added. "So my preference would be to spend the money we have more wisely as opposed to just adding more to the pot."

State Senator Jennifer Shilling (D, La Crosse) did not indicate whether she would support state taxpayer money going to worker training.

But she said one way to better train future workers is through increasing funding to schools.

"We need to look at our university system and our technical school system," Shilling said. "In the last budget they took significant cuts to their funding."

"So certainly as the Governor starts to talk about his budget this year, I'm hoping he'll start to prioritize our technical schools, our university system and even our K through 12 schools," Shilling said."We need to look at investing in people here in Wisconsin. They're the work force in this state."

The Governor is scheduled to release his budget proposal in February.

He has indicated he might be open to giving additional, performance-based funding to schools.

"In our budget, we will lay out plans to provide a financial incentive for high-performing and rapidly improving schools,"Walker said in his State of the State Address.

"We have a fantastic university system, a great technical college system and a great K through 12 system," Vos said.  

"One of the priorities we're going to discuss over the spring session is doing a better job of matching people that already have the skills with positions that are out there, as well as taking the open positions and seeing how we can fill them," Vos said.

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