Worker shortage must be key issue in 2018 elections

CANDIDATES FOR WISCONSIN GOVERNOR last week were debating the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Congressional hopefuls weighed in on a provocative book about President Donald Trump. And over at the statehouse, top lawmakers were calling for the resignations of election and ethics administrators who haven’t done anything wrong.

Election years can be easily sidetracked by partisan squabbles and dramatic accusations, and it appears 2018 will be no different. But voters should strive to focus on what really impacts their lives and the future of their communities.

Few issues are as daunting and important as our state’s looming workforce shortage. How will Wisconsin fill the jobs of the future when our population is graying fast and failing to train and attract enough young workers?

More people are leaving Wisconsin than moving here. Job openings are outpacing new hires. Within five years, 65-year-olds are projected to outnumber 18-year-olds in our state for the first time. Wisconsin is expected to need 45,000 additional workers in just seven years for jobs in health care, information technology, the sciences, sales, customer service and other high-demand fields.

These and other challenging trends — highlighted last fall in the State Journal’s two-week, four-part series “Workers Wanted:

Wisconsin’s Looming Crisis” — demand a strong and sustained response from anyone who hopes to hold public office.

What will the leaders of tomorrow do today to ensure Wisconsin’s prosperity?

We want to know. And we’ll be asking local, state and federal candidates that question throughout the 2018 election cycle.

Improving and investing in education is key, with more focus on career opportunities. Keeping and welcoming more immigrants shouldn’t be so difficult. Connecting more college graduates to Wisconsin companies while offering incentives for them to stay will help.

Wisconsin must do a better job of promoting itself as a place for innovation, while investing in broadband technology that connects rural communities to the global economy. More workers need the skills employers require.

Wisconsin has a lot going for it: a lower cost of living, shorter commutes, good schools for young families, outdoor beauty and recreation, amazing research and a growing technology sector.

What will the candidates this spring and next fall do to help ensure Wisconsin is a vibrant place that young, talented, hardworking people want to call home?

Listen carefully to each candidate’s answer. — Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 7


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