Walker works it Wisconsin-style

Say what you want about Gov. Scott Walker (just keep it clean, my Madison friends), he hasn’t let the threat of a recall election stop him from doing essential work. These days, that includes addressing the so-called skills mismatch that leaves so many good-paying jobs unfilled.

With the introduction of the “Wisconsin Working” plan (phase I), the Walker administration has taken its first crack at it, blending some of his own ideas with a few notions of merit from the Legislature.

The plan is a blend of more relevant (we hope) workforce and skills training and better ways to connect those who file for unemployment insurance with unfilled job positions.

The creation of a College and Workforce Readiness Council, for example, could bring shorter and less expensive degree programs, especially those designed to fill high-need positions.

Also part of the administration’s package is the Wisconsin Wins legislation put forth by State Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee. Part temp-to-hire and part skills training, the program would allow state residents receiving unemployment to take part-time training jobs with employers that potentially could lead to full-time employment, and allow job seekers to get training so they can demonstrate their skills (and ability to pick things up) for prospective employers.

An inspired concept offered by State Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, would remove employment barriers for veterans. One hurdle is an initial license fee for certain veterans, and another does not permit military training to fulfill requirements for specific state licenses.

The Governor is directing the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to partner with Milicruit and create a Wisconsin-specific platform for online veterans job fairs. State agencies in Wisconsin and other Midwest states recently partnered with Milicruit to hold a regional online job fair, which according to preliminary data attracted 2,773 visitors and 34 employers, and generated more than 6,600 online chats and more than 2,500 email exchanges between employers and veterans.

These efforts are long overdue. The unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is estimated at between 13% and 15%, which is scandalously high.

Finally, Walker offers what will hopefully be a better-coordinated strategy for linking unemployment insurance claimants with expanding businesses. Those “coordinates” include the Department of Workforce Development, which will double the number of job fairs it holds (to about 100) and add staff to assist with re-employment services like training sessions, skills tests and work-readiness certifications, employer matching, and career assistance.

No matter what happens in this recall effort, I would hope that former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk or Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett or whoever emerges to challenge him would maintain and build on this new policy thrust. The same goes for lawmakers of both parties who might have their own ideas to improve on what the administration has spelled out.

When it comes to attacking unemployment, this is no time to be a legislative wallflower, or let the state’s political turmoil create gridlock. For this state, job creation is job one.

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