New workforce development strategies encompass educators, career readiness

By Ashley Haynes - Freeman Staff

April 26, 2018

Waukesha County teachers attend a Careers Uncovered program through the Waukesha County Business Alliance. Educators take a day to learn about Tri-North Builders, a construction management company, so they can share useful information with their students.
Submitted photo

WAUKESHA — It’s an issue we hear about over and over again. Employers in skilled trades industries such as manufacturing and construction, as well as in areas such as information technology, can’t find workers to fill their open positions.

It’s a dilemma that organizations like the Waukesha County Business Alliance have been trying to alleviate in partnership with local school districts for years. With the help of a new director of talent development, the Alliance has unveiled a workforce development strategy to address the pressing shortage of skilled workers. The strategy falls under the “Develop” pillar of the Alliance’s mission, which involves getting educators informed on local businesses and exposing students to as many career opportunities as possible.

“Our goal is to make sure that employers have skilled talent coming to them and that students understand that there are great

careers available for them right here in Waukesha County,” said Suzanne Kelley, president and CEO of the Alliance. “The strategy comes directly from feedback from the business community.”

The first component of the workforce development strategy involved educators visiting local businesses first-hand so they are knowledgeable about different career pathways. Through a program called Careers Uncovered, groups of 10-15 educators visit these companies. So far, there have been Careers Uncovered programs at local construction and manufacturing companies.

“We have always encouraged parents and educators to be involved with our programs. As we were starting to really understand the needs of academic and career planning, we saw some larger need,” said Robyn Ludtke, director of talent development.

The next part of the workforce development strategy involves the implementation of a college and career readiness measurement framework that will allow businesses to gauge whether a potential employee is the right fit for them. Called a Workforce Readiness Dashboard, the framework will look at traditional milestones such as test scores, but also encompass factors such as school attendance, a student’s certifications and their involvement in other organizations as well as life skills. The finished product is expected to be ready for use in the 201819 school year.

“We started getting feedback that the business community was really interested in seeing some some measurements in career skills and business skills,” said Ludtke.

The final component of the workforce development strategy is the formation of a quarterly Superintendent Roundtable, which will give Waukesha County superintendents the chance to connect and discuss workforce needs in high-growth industries. Ludtke says it has been common to find a disconnect between how quickly educators can implement a curriculum to address workforce needs. Ludtke says the Waukesha School District is one that has really figured it all out when it comes to identifying the needs of today’s workforce.

“Ongoing work with the business community and our staff is really bringing everything together,” said Todd Gray, superintendent of the Waukesha School District. “We’ve responded by broadening and deepening our curriculum.”

Gray mentioned that 240 students are enrolled in classes related to career and technical education.