WEST BEND — Wisconsin U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin sat down on Tuesday with leaders of Moraine Park Technical College, the West Bend School District and the Kettle Moraine YMCA to discuss how the organizations work together to provide an education to area students looking to enter a workforce that needs employees.

Baldwin, D-Madison, said partnerships, such as the one in West Bend, are key, and show the need to invest in education from pre-kindergarten through college. She stated that she worked to pass the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill, which she said will help create new jobs various fields, such as water infrastructure and broadband expansion, as well as the U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act, to help bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

“We’ve got to remove any barriers people are having to access this great career program and the partnerships are a real building block. Any one entity we heard from cannot do it alone,” said Baldwin.

She added that the organizations have also opened up opportunities for students to fill these critical economic needs in the community.

“I look at today where we’re seeing these workforce shortages in so many different areas where Moraine Park trains, and then we’re passing very ambitious legislation on infrastructure and bringing that critical manufacturing, we’re going to have more jobs to fill,” said Baldwin.

One component of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda includes tuition-free community and technical college, which would allow these institutions to expand and create ways for students to earn an education without debt.

During the roundtable discussion, County Executive Josh Schoemann touched on a few barriers faced by young people in Washington County’s workforce. Many of the young workers are unable to find affordable local housing due to the rising cost of buying a home and being saddled with student debt. This further poses an issue to the county’s workforce as young people do not return to Washington County, leading to workforce shortages.

West Bend East High School senior Mason Higgins and West High School junior Brady Davidson also participated in the roundtable to share their experiences. Higgins, who is in the Youth Apprenticeship Program, took nearly all the manufacturing courses available to him at the high school. He attends classes at MPTC. Upon high school graduation, he will be just one or two credits away from a degree.

Davidson has also enrolled at MPTC courses as a high schooler. “I find a lot of value in that because I can take the classes at the high school for free and I can use them here,” said Davidson.

East High School Career and Technical Education Teacher Jacob Gitter said the classes set up a “pipeline.” He starts out with the students, sparking their interests and helping them enter the workforce as soon as possible.

“I’m getting them hooked and interested and giving them some of the skills, but they’re going to come here if they want to increase their skills,” he said.

Kettle Moraine YMCA CEO and MPTC Trustee Rob Johnson also explained the role child care centers, such as 4K offered at the YMCA, play in the workforce. The organization sent a request to Baldwin’s office to support the expansion of the Feith Family child care center. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they were one of a few area organizations to continue to provide child care. While their numbers dropped off, they are now back at capacity and in need of workers. While the center offers middle or low child care rates, they raised employee compensation 30 percent.

The expansion would not only provide access to child care for workers looking to return to the workforce, but also create jobs. MPTC offers courses needed to become certified for these child care facilities.

Baldwin said she will bring real stories like these back to her colleagues in Washington to emphasize the importance of passing legislation and “making community and technical colleges a big priority.

“These institutions are going to help us make our infrastructure bill successful and our innovation competitiveness bill successful,” she said.