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Jul 6, 201709:40 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

In era of ‘new collar jobs,’ Wisconsin can compete for business

(page 1 of 2)

With a half-dozen or so states reportedly in the running for a $10 billion Foxconn facility in the United States, Wisconsin’s chances of landing the plant are at least known: It’s still a longshot, but possible.

Even if Wisconsin does not become a U.S. home for Foxconn, a Taiwanese company best known for assembling Apple’s iPhones, it has the right ingredients to attract similar firms. That’s important in an age when “new collar” jobs offer a way up for workers with technology skills but little or no college education.

About two-thirds of American adults do not hold a college degree, which has left many in the cold as the number of traditional manufacturing jobs has declined — not only in the United States, but also in Wisconsin, which has lost about 150,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000.

That doesn’t mean those workers lack skills or the desire to rise and shine every business day. Many simply haven’t found the right fit in an economy that continues to transition, even as it grows.

A Foxconn plant in Wisconsin could potentially offer that kind of fit. If speculation is correct that Foxconn wants to build a display-making factory for electronic devices and television sets, the kinds of workers needed would be people accustomed to a manufacturing setting but armed with specific skills that don’t always come with a college degree.

Wisconsin’s education system is getting better at producing those kinds of workers. Four-year degrees are still important for many people, but two-year degrees, certifications, apprenticeships, and other skills-based training opportunities are opening doors for younger and older workers alike.

It has begun to seep down into high schools and even middle schools, some of which are now home to fabrication laboratories — or “fab labs” — that offer students hands-on experience in technical areas sought by many businesses. In fact, Wisconsin has one of the largest concentrations of fab labs outside Massachusetts, where the concept was born.

Researchers at LinkedIn, a business-oriented social media site, produce an annual ranking of “hard skills” most in demand. In 2016, the list was topped by cloud computing expertise, data mining and statistical analysis, smartphone app development, data storage engineering and management, user interface design, and network security expertise.

By the way, the “soft skills” shopping list compiled by LinkedIn was headed by communication, curiosity, adaptability, teamwork, empathy, time management, and open-mindedness. In other words, you might be a talented tech “geek” but you better come equipped with some social tools.


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About This Blog

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.



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