WEDA’s Fall Legislative Initiative Aims to Advance Workforce Development

Wisconsin’s economy is healthy and growing. Unemployment is at near-record lows and the state’s business climate continues to improve. Yet, Wisconsin faces a significant workforce shortage problem, one that threatens to stall economic growth.

A highly skilled workforce is a necessity to compete in today’s global economy and is critical to sustainable growth. Unfortunately, Wisconsin employers are struggling to fill jobs with qualified workers. As Governor Scott Walker has repeatedly said, Wisconsin’s biggest economic challenge is not creating new jobs, but finding people to fill existing jobs.

WEDA is committed to working with the governor’s office and the State Legislature on policies to grow the state’s skilled workforce and help provide workers with the necessary skills to meet the evolving workforce needs of employers. In fact, WEDA has made it a top legislative priority to close the state’s skills gap.

While WEDA remains fully engaged on the now overdue state budget bill and several other key legislative proposals—such as TIF legislation and the dark store tax loophole bill— we are also placing an emphasis on advancing critical workforce development legislation this fall.

Although significant progress has been made over the last several years to address Wisconsin’s workforce shortage, the state’s training and talent retention programs still lack the necessary flexibility and alignment to meet the needs of employers. In short, Wisconsin’s workforce development policies have struggled to keep pace with the rapidly evolving economy and the state’s changing demographics.

Wisconsin’s workforce is aging and recent data shows the state has a negative net migration rate. The state’s aging population coupled with a slowing birth rate and the so-called “brain drain” is making it increasingly difficult to sustain an adequate supply of skilled workers to support Wisconsin’s growing industries. Moving forward, Wisconsin must continue to implement effective policies to train, attract and retain enough skilled workers to fuel the state’s economy.

There is no silver bullet that will adequately address Wisconsin’s workforce challenges. Rather, a comprehensive approach is needed to adequately strengthen the workforce and secure needed talent. WEDA has a key role to play in this effort and will be proposing a package of legislation to fund effective worker-training programs, retain recent Wisconsin college graduates, and encourage skilled professionals to relocate to Wisconsin.

The legislative package, which is still evolving and far from a finished project, is comprised of the following three proposals:

  • Workforce Training – Create a program that would provide direct funding to the private sector for customized workforce training. Under the program, new or expanding Wisconsin businesses would receive a refund for a portion of employee withholding taxes paid by the business for newly created jobs. Few restrictions would be placed on the funding, as long as businesses use it to enhance employee training programs and upskill their workforce.
  • Talent Retention – Create a grant program that would award annual cash grants to individuals who have recently graduated from a Wisconsin college or university with certain high-demand degrees – such as information technology, engineering or custom manufacturing – and live and work in Wisconsin. The amount of individual grant awards would be based on education level obtained and eligibility for the grant would be limited to up to three consecutive years.
  •  Talent Attraction – Create a grant program that would award annual cash grants to individuals who recently relocated to Wisconsin, purchased a home, and are employed in the state in certain high-demand fields. The amount of an individual grant award would be tied to annual mortgage interest payments and eligibility for the grant would be limited to up to three consecutive years.

WEDA will officially unveil the workforce development legislative package at the 2018 WEDA Fall Conference on Talent Training, Attraction and Retention. The conference is specifically designed to gather feedback from public and private sector stakeholders and further develop WEDA’s legislative proposals to address the state’s workforce challenges.

WEDA welcomes input from members on the proposed legislative package prior to the conference and would be happy to answer any questions. Please direct comments and questions to