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Wisconsin's workforce progress worth celebrating

Gov. Scott Walker this month proclaimed September as Workforce Development Month, giving us all a reason to celebrate the economic success Wisconsin has enjoyed under his leadership.

Much of this success can be attributed to the exceptional talent and dedication of Wisconsin's workforce, along with the strong partnerships the state has cultivated with other private and public organizations.

As the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, I am responsible for carrying out the governor's agenda to develop the talent that advances Wisconsin's economy.

By many indicators, our state's economy is stronger than ever. Wisconsin's unemployment has hit record lows recently and has been under 3 percent for six consecutive months. Prior to this year, Wisconsin's unemployment rate had never been below 3 percent.

Our labor participation rate is 68.9 percent — fifth-best in the country — and our state continues to add to its workforce at a strong pace.

All that good economic news does pose a challenge for many Wisconsin employers, many who are having difficulties finding candidates with the skills needed to fill their vacant positions or to expand their operations.

To meet these workforce challenges, DWD is working to get everyone who wants a job, no matter their talent level or employment history, into gainful employment.

We have been finding innovative ways to engage students on their career path early by investing in youth apprenticeship and creating a bridge so they can get a lifelong credential through our registered apprenticeship program. We have also been expanding employment services offered to individuals with disabilities through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to eliminate barriers they may have toward a rewarding career.

We have partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Department of Tourism to attract veterans who are transitioning out of military service to Wisconsin. Additionally, the governor's signature worker training grant program, Wisconsin Fast Forward, has improved the lives of working families across the state.

To date, 264 grants totaling nearly $25 million have been awarded and nearly 18,000 workers have been trained or are currently in training programs.

This year also marks the 10-year anniversary of the Job Center of Wisconsin website, DWD's online labor exchange connecting job seekers to employers with open positions. Since 2008, we have been making connections between candidates and employers easier than ever before.

With recent upgrades in the last few years, job seekers were able to create and store resumes and work applications based on their skills, and employers could search for suitable job seekers with the click of a button. These innovative improvements demonstrated a commitment to keep pace with the needs of Wisconsin employers and job seekers.

In August alone, the JobCenterofWisconsin.com had 3.1 million page views. More than 1,500 employers conducted 4,848 candidate searches. On a daily basis, between 90,000 and 100,000 job listings were available on the site.

Throughout September, in celebration of Workforce Development Month, DWD officials and our partners will hold business tours and workforce appreciation events highlighting proven workforce strategies, soliciting feedback from our partners, and acknowledging our dedicated staff, whose hard work is vital to Wisconsin's economic success.

With projections showing nearly 100,000 job openings to fill annually through 2024, there is more work to be done, and I am confident that under Gov. Walker's direction, we will continue to meet those challenges and move our state forward.

Ray Allen is secretary of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

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