Walker fields concerns on workforce and education

Colleen Kottke
Associate Editor
Gov. Scott Walker shares a smile with a Wisconsin resident during the Governor's Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 10. The Governor has been traveling across the state holding listening sessions with small groups of residents.


Governor Scott Walker stopped in Waupaca Tuesday afternoon for a listening session as part of his 2020 Vision Project.

Gathered at the Waupaca Public Library was a diverse mixture of local residents including high school students, educators, small business owners, farmers, health care professional, retirees and a religious leader.

"That was really our goal for each of these sessions was to get a good sampling of people from each of the counties," Walker said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Farmer.

In the 2016 State of the State Address, Governor Scott Walker announced the 2020 Vision Project to hold listening sessions across the state to help plan for the future of Wisconsin.

Myriad of viewpoints

Walker says he's hearing a wide spectrum of viewpoints from the folks on all points of the political landscape.He said the feedback will help guide lawmakers as they approach the upcoming state budget and legislative session.

While the Governor says he has fielded questions on a diverse selection of topics, he said Tuesday's invitation-only listening session in Waupaca was similar to others across the Badger state.

"A lot of the discussion was focused around education and the workforce," Walker said.

Walkers says he has heard complaints from business owners concerning worker shortages in key areas.

"What we're really trying to figure out in the next 20 years is how do we address these workforce issues out there and how do we give all our students a head start on whatever career path they're on to careers that may be open," Walker said.

Other issues brought to the forefront in Tuesday's listening session also included infrastructure including roads and water resources.

"What I'm hearing from farmers and those in the ag industry - or just about every employer or business owner - that they're like to see smarter regulations and less paperwork," Walker said. "As a small business owner, it's tough to deal with all the different regulations in addition to all the challenges associated with running that business."

Immigration workforce on the farm

According to state figures, immigrants comprise about 40 percent of the workforce on dairy farms in Wisconsin. Due to the labor shortage on dairy farms, most farmers are grateful to have a dependable source of labor provided by Hispanic workers.

During the "Day without Latinos" rally at the state capitol in February, Hispanic workers and their supporters voice their concern about anti-immigration bills and a feeling of unwelcome by state lawmakers.

Although from a state standpoint, Walker says there isn't a specific piece of legislation that would help or hinder immigrant laborers.

"Immigration is really a federal issue. However, I hope that long-term there's a way they can implement a more sensible legal process in which people can come into America, particularly if they want to work," Walker said. "Right now the system we have is just isn’t very workable.

Walker says the future of the state's labor force is tied directly to education and job training.

"The work force in general is dependent upon education - particularly post-high school - but there’s also a whole series of things going on from trying to help people with disabilities or returning veterans," Walker said. "We're also recruiting the people from other states around the country, to come and work in the state of Wisconsin because we’ve got a worker shortage in a lot of different areas."

Before he took office in 2010, Walker said the problem was a shortage of jobs for those wanting work.

"Back then unemployment was at 9.2 percent and the problem was there wasn't enough jobs. Today there's not enough workers to fill the jobs," Walker said. "It's a nice problem to have - better than what I inherited back then - but we still have to address it."