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Partnerships key to workforce of the future: Consultant

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Jim Leute
August 22, 2013

BELOIT—Rock County is far more engaged on workforce development than most other communities, and that's essential for a future economy that's immune to high unemployment and skills gaps.

That's the opinion of Rebekah Kowalski, a global consultant who helps governments, educators, employers and individuals work together to develop and foster a competitive workforce.

Kowalski, vice president of ManpowerGroup's global strategic workforce consulting practice, was the keynote speaker Thursday at the seventh annual Business Education Summit in Beloit.

Economies—local, state, national and global—have changed, and communities that don't recognize that will be left behind, she said.

Economic eras also have changed, she said, noting that economic models built significantly on raw materials—stone, bronze, iron—evolved into eras based on domains: industrial, space and information.

World economies, she said, are moving into the human age, an era built more on the ingenuity of individuals and their communities than capital or technological resources.

“It's a seismic shift and with it comes all sorts of uncertainty,” she said.

It's happening against a backdrop of high unemployment and a significant disconnect between what employers are demanding and employees—existing and potential—are bringing to the table, she said.

“Economic cycles are getting tighter and tighter, and jobs that have been around forever are disappearing,” she said. “The future will include jobs that we can't even imagine today.

“That highlights the importance of lifelong learning and development. Individuals have to be greedy learners.”

The challenge is for all economic stakeholders to figure out what skills will be needed in the future and then work together to develop that workforce, she said.

“It's hard to know what's ahead, but it's a communal responsibility to figure it out,” she said, noting that Rock County already has an impressive partnership of government agencies, educators, businesses, economic development officials and others working together.

Other speakers at Thursday's summit discussed examples of those partnerships.

James Otterstein, Rock County's economic development director, outlined “Inspire Rock County,” a web-based career and readiness platform that leverages career development tools, social media elements and workforce data into a website used by employers, educators, students and parents. Every public school district in the county is on board, and the system is expected to go live this fall.

Susan Dantuma of Blackhawk Technical College discussed the county's successful youth apprenticeship program that places high school juniors and seniors in paid and mentored positions with local employers.

Bob Borremans, executive director of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, outlined the county's “Work Today” program that requires a heavy commitment from the private sector to provide work-based learning in an effort to tighten the local skills gap.



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