How the next state budget could affect Western Tech

Published On: Feb 11 2013 06:24:11 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 11 2013 07:05:23 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Closing the skills gap in Wisconsin is becoming a bigger priority.

Many employers have complained to state government about job openings sitting vacant because there are not enough skilled workers to fill them.

Part of Gov. Scott Walker's upcoming budget is aimed at fixing that.

The big focus is investing in programs that train workers for high-demand jobs, like a new program at Western Technical College that teaches students how to make homes more energy-efficient.

On Monday, students tested a Norwalk home’s efficiency.

"What we do is we go around and test for holes in the walls, just areas that could use improvements for insulation," said Josh Martell, one of the first students in the new Building Systems Technology Program at Western Technical College.

"We look at energy efficiency. We look at renewable energy systems. We look at home performance testing, which is what we're doing here today," said his instructor, Joshua VandeBerg.

The new initiatives for Wisconsin technical colleges rolled out in Walker's next budget would encourage more programs where students are trained for high-demand fields.

"The demand is definitely out there,” said Martell. “I believe it's really an untapped market. Homes -- everybody has a home. Everyone wants it to be performing well and energy efficient. And with the degree that I'm going for, it's something that I can help them achieve.”

The budget would also give technical colleges more flexibility over millions of dollars in existing funds.

Western Tech President Lee Rasch said more flexible funding would mean more flexible class schedules.

"If we have some flexibility on the grant resources, we're going to be putting a lot more emphasis on flexible learning -- more evening, weekend, online instruction," said Rasch.

The budget also calls for phasing in performance-based funding for all state aid given to technical colleges. The funding formula would focus on job placement and programs in high-demand fields.

Rasch said it would be relatively easy for the school because they already track job placement and wages for their graduates.