MADISON – As the state’s largest developer of human potential, the University of Wisconsin System is in a unique position to help grow a stronger Wisconsin economy, President Ray Cross told the Board of Regents Thursday.

“We are part of the solution,” Cross said, adding that the UW System must “take the lead with our partners in the legislature and the private sector to do what is necessary to fully implement the Talent Development Initiative and address the challenges.”

The Talent Development Initiative, first introduced to the Board in August, is a vision for how the UW System can align its resources in three critical areas – the talent path, the talent infrastructure, and the talent-based economy – to better meet the current and future needs of the state’s employers.

Wisconsin is facing an unprecedented “flattening” of its workforce in coming years as the state’s population becomes increasingly older, according to Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. Leading a presentation on demographic trends, Berry told Regents the result will be a smaller workforce that must increase its overall productivity for the state’s economy to grow.

Berry also pointed out the strong correlation between employment and the creation of new businesses, and the role that higher education can play in encouraging a culture that values risk-taking and innovation.

The availability of talent “is consistently the No. 1 or 2 issue in every conversation we have with a company that has a long-term investment in our community,” said Todd Battle, president of the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, noting that concerns are being expressed over whether the talent pipeline can keep up with businesses’ demands and investments.

Secretary Reggie Newson, of the state’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD), shared a report indicating that by 2030, more than half (51%) of all new and replacement jobs are projected to require at least an associate degree, with 41% requiring a bachelor degree or more. Currently, about one-third (36%) of working-age adults in Wisconsin have at least an associate degree and one in four has a bachelor degree or higher. This mismatch in the talent pipeline must be addressed for Wisconsin’s economy to grow, Newson said.

“We need the alignment of workforce and economic development and education, pre- and post-secondary education, to the specific demands and needs of business and entrepreneurs in Wisconsin. We want to incentivize that behavior across the state,” Newson said.

Over the next decade, the DWD projects that the highest-demand occupations for degree-holders will be in healthcare, education, computer analysis, accounting, marketing, and managerial professions.

UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank, the former acting Secretary of Commerce, said that to succeed in today’s highly competitive economy, U.S. businesses must be nimble, innovate, and have new ideas. “That is what our institutions provide in terms of the people that businesses need to hire and, particularly for research universities, the ideas and the collaboration on innovation that they need.”

“We produce the people whose incomes are going up, who are necessarily the leaders who are going to create jobs, come up with new ideas, and lead the businesses that are going to be successful in this country in the future. That’s the main argument for what we do and why we’re so important,” Blank said.

Blank was part of a chancellor panel that included UW-Stout’s Bob Meyer, UW-Green Bay’s Gary Miller, and UW-Platteville’s Dennis Shields.

The focus of Thursday’s meeting was how the UW System should align its resources to better meet the needs of the state.

Media Contact

Heather LaRoi UW System 608-265-3195