The following is an opinion column written by Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, a candidate for governor in the recall election against Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Investing in Our Human Potential Yields the Biggest Returns
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
Last year Wisconsin had nearly the largest per capita cut to education in the nation and we lost more jobs than any other state. There is a connection.
Millions were cut from our technical colleges and now companies can’t find workers with the needed skills to fill available jobs. There is a connection.
Like the rest of the country, Wisconsin is facing a “mini-wave” in the return of jobs in manufacturing. Companies are hiring, but finding qualified workers is hampering our state’s job growth.
“Here we stand with this need,” Generac Power Systems CEO Aarron Jagdfeld recently told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We have opportunities for people, but don’t have the skill set we need in the work force. They don’t even teach basic industrial education in high school anymore.”
If we want to bring jobs back to Wisconsin we need a new game plan. Investment in our human potential is key to Wisconsin’s economic growth.
Education is the primary driver of economic prosperity. Incomes climb with educational achievement. Wisconsin lags the nation in the percentage of the population with a college degree and we lag the nation in average income. Wisconsin is not keeping up.
A recent economic development study emphasizes that investment in our workers – investment in our human potential — is key to Wisconsin growth.
“Developing the skills of Wisconsin’s workforce … will help the economy recover more quickly and prepare the state for better times ahead,” the study concludes.
Jobs, education, and great places to live all go together. Two years ago Des Moines, Iowa, topped the Forbes list of “best places for businesses and careers … with the most economic opportunity”, and also topped the Forbes list of “best places to raise a family”.
What made Des Moines the “best place” to raise a family? Good schools, affordable housing, a strong sense of community, short commutes and low crime.
What helped make Des Moines the “best place” for business? A well-educated labor force – 33 % of adults have college degrees and 92% have high school diplomas.
What is good for families is also good for business and education is basic to both.
If we want our economy to thrive, we must restore the money that was cut from education – bring back the teachers that were laid off, restore the courses that were cut, return to smaller classes.
We must fully fund our technical colleges and the UW system and expand needs-based financial aid. We must keep tuition affordable so everyone who wants to can go to one of the technical colleges or UW campuses.
We have to make teaching an honored profession again so the best and brightest of our college graduates choose the career of teaching the next generation.
The job of government is to provide a supportive environment for a growing economy including the education of our children, making our communities safe, training our workers in the latest technologies, keeping our environment clean and healthy, modernizing our transportation and communication networks, and supporting a quality of life we enjoy.
We need a balance. The public sector provides support and the private sector provides the jobs. We are in this together, public and private. We need to understand this is a vital partnership.