20 Oct UW and business leaders outline need for educated workers
Madison, Wis. — “Brain drain” in Wisconsin, education’s effect on the state economy and fewer graduates qualified for jobs in the technology industry were a few of the many topics covered yesterday in a public discussion with the Education Access Panel.
The panel first discussed the relation between the “knowledge economy” and creating jobs in Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor John Wiley began by citing an article titled “America’s Looming Creativity Crisis” from The Harvard Business Reader. The article commented on the on the essential elements of a knowledge economy, concentrating on creativity.
“We have no choice, but to invest more heavily, and re-invest, in education at all levels.” Wiley said.
UW System President Kevin Reilly later cited the same article, addressing the need for “talent, technology, and tolerance.”
John Neis, co-founder of Venture Investors LLC, agreed. He said investors seek educated individuals that will help sustain companies’ competitive edges in technology.
Wisconsin’s secretary of workforce development, Roberta Gassman, expressed the importance of the connection between education and future jobs. She said that Wisconsin has seen a rise in low-paying service jobs and that many of the state’s lost manufacturing jobs will probably not return. That, she said, establishes the necessity to build Wisconsin’s economy on education.
Dick Vander Woude, manager of public affairs for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, maintained that his goal was to do just that. “The real mission … was to try to bring the public’s awareness and appreciation for great education at any level up to a level that would sustain it and develop it in the future,” Vander Woude said.
He added that if Wisconsin’s economy does not grow, it will not be able to afford superior schools.
The panel also focused on “brain drain,” the movement of Wisconsin-educated people to other states where they see more promising career choices. Paula Bonner, president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, said Wisconsin is retaining 40 percent of its alumni population. She said that among those who haven’t returned, the major concerns are culture and salaries.
Bonner emphasized the importance of retaining the younger alumni, who are generally well-versed in technology and have received cross-disciplinary training, which is important to economic growth. Reilly mentioned the correspondence between bachelors’ degrees and per-person income, saying, “It’s not a secret. That’s one of the main ways you get your per capita income in, by producing and/or attracting more people with baccalaureates and higher-level credentials.”
Audience member Kurt Koening told the panel that his Wisconsin software company is being undercut by the competition’s outsourcing, but would willingly pay higher wages to qualified Wisconsinites if the supply was there.
Wiley and Gassman responded that the state will have to work more to provide better schools and a larger supply of highly educated employees to such companies. Wiley said Wisconsin needs to lower taxes and raise user fees in order to keep qualified employees from leaving.
“This is a high-tech state, in a sense,” he said. “Our personal income taxes are too high … by national standards … and we have to pay a higher salary to make up for that. Our property taxes are higher … but those are the only two.”
Wiley also sees a need to retain young technology workers by making the right jobs available. “our economy is disproportionately weighted with old-economy jobs,” he said.
Katy Williams is a Madison-based freelance writer for WTN.