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WTN Interview: Roberta Gassman

Editor’s Note: Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development, (DWD) is charged with building and strengthening the state’s workforce. The department has several initiatives underway to create high-end jobs, increase wages, address workforce shortages and provide re-employment and re-training services to Wisconsin workers. Secretary Roberta Gassman in an interview with the Wisconsin Technology Network talks about how DWD is investing in people and how technology plays an important part in achieving the directives set forth in Governor Jim Doyle’s “Grow Wisconsin” plan.

WTN: How is DWD Investing in workforce development to spur economic growth?

Roberta Gassman: Wisconsin’s workers are known for their strong work ethic, which is evident in our high labor force participation rates. Governor Doyle wants to build on these strengths and increase opportunities for high wage jobs by utilizing our schools, universities and technical colleges and enhancing skills training by targeting over $50 million to train tomorrow’s workforce.

DWD will focus on strategically deploying federal training funds to achieve the greatest impact. In the past, funds were distributed to local workforce boards and through the Council on Workforce Investment with limited direction on their allocation. DWD and the local Workforce Development Boards have developed performance measures and goals that strategically allocate training dollars to increase the job skills of workers to compete for and secure high-wage industry jobs.

These initiatives also build on the Governor’s $14.8 million budget appropriation to the Technical College System to train health care workers. These investments will provide workers the skills they need for better paying jobs and give Wisconsin’s companies the highly skilled labor force they need to remain globally competitive.
WTN: What DWD initiatives best outline and highlight the Governor’s invest in people strategies?

Gassman: Wisconsin’s annual salary of $31,500 ranks 30th in the country. By the end of the decade we want to have raised our average wage above the national average. Governor Doyle will soon be announcing his appointments to the Minimum Wage Advisory Council, which will make recommendations on raising the minimum wage. I have also convened a Health Care Workforce Development Task Force to find ways to improve our shortages and come to grips with recruitment and retention issues affecting the health care industry.

WTN: Is technology a top priority for DWD in the next 12-24 months?

Gassman: DWD will use technology to address the challenge of reduced resources and expand its use of the web and Internet browsers to simplify program and service access for employees, partners, and citizens. DWD publications and related web sites will be available in multiple languages; accessibility for people with disabilities will be improved; and, document management, imaging and workflow will be expanded to save resources associated with paper storage, handling and retrieval.

WTN: Are there any new and exciting technology initiatives on the horizon?

Gassman: For the first time DWD will use a purchased framework as a base for a major IT system. We expect that Cúram software will allow us to replace and enhance the Unemployment Benefits system more quickly and less expensively than would otherwise be possible.

WTN: What technology applications do you currently see in Wisconsin helping other Wisconsin communities or businesses?

Gassman: DWD is focusing on reducing the costs of providing services, increasing efficiency, and improving citizen access to government. Tools like web services and middleware make it easier for applications to talk or link together for more integration of systems within agencies and across governmental units. Portals like make government information and services more user friendly and allow customer input to be submitted electronically before administrative rules are finalized.

We see greater exchanges of documents electronically and more electronic collection and disbursement of money. Web-based applications providing interpretation for the deaf and hard of hearing are available in several Wisconsin Job Centers and using video conferencing and webinars cut down on travel and increase communication.

WTN: Any projections on what are the “hot” technology jobs in the next 12-18 months?

Gassman: This year under Governor Doyle’s leadership, DWD has focused on the issue of better preparing Wisconsin’s workers for technology jobs. Based on new industry and occupational projections we found it imperative to increase funding for technology training. DWD led an effort, in collaboration with the Department of Commerce, regional Workforce Development Boards, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Technology Council to submit a grant to the U.S. Department of Labor for $3 million in federal funds to train Wisconsin workers in high tech jobs. This initiative will keep our highly motivated workers trained as our technology changes. Seven ‘anchor’ employers have consented to provide ‘in kind’ funds for training of their employees and hiring new employees. Among the occupations targeted are: engineering; business administration; computer science; CAD drafting; software engineers; network administration; database administration; and, web development.

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