Gov. Scott Walker addressed job growth, responsible mining and the pressing need for skilled labor on Tuesday while speaking to a full house of almost 300 people at the Milwaukee War Memorial Center.
The Milwaukee Rotary Club sponsored the appearance, during which Walker fielded questions from an audience without a protestor in sight.
Will skilled labor save Wisconsin?
The governor thinks so. Walker said he's noticed a trend among small manufacturers — while there are jobs galore available and employers are desperately in search of employees, there are just not enough people to fill these jobs with the right credentials.
"One of the most frustrating things for me, is employers telling me that they have jobs, but they don't have enough skilled workers to fill those jobs, particularly in manufacturing," he said.
Walker said he believes this "disconnect" stems from parents of today's young people remembering manufacturing in a less than friendly light.
"Sometimes I think it’s because their parents who worked in manufacturing remember 15, 20, 25 years ago, that manufacturing meant dirty jobs, meant layoffs when jobs went to China and Mexico and instead, that’s not happening," Walker said. “We need to tell our young people, not just that there are jobs available, but there are good, decent careers in manufacturing.”
Walker proposed bridging this gap by working toward dual enrollment. This would allow high school students to simultaneously take classes that would go toward high school graduation and a technical school degree.
“If we get ahead of the curve, particularly as a state, if we aggressively move more people into those jobs, those careers, it’s not only good in terms of unemployment, it will make us competitive as a region, as a state, with anyone in the world,” he said.
He also proposed extending unemployment benefits for recently hired workers in select cases. If someone was required to have a few weeks of unpaid training on a new job, Walker proposed that their unemployment check would not stop until they are officially on that company's payroll.
Environmentally responsible Wisconsin mining
While Walker said clean air, land and water are paramount to Wisconsin's tourism and agriculture industries, he said there has to be a way to find a balanced approach to sustain the environment and create more jobs, particularly in the mining industry.
He proposed that if Wisconsin expanded into mining, 2,300 people could find work.
"Those are good paying, generational, long-time jobs that can help put our people back to work," he said.
But Democratic Party Communications Director Graeme Zielinski said Walker is missing other opportunities to develop energy jobs that respect the environment. Zielinski was not able to attend Walker's speech but responded to elements of his message afterward.
"He turned his back on the train, on solar energy, he’s turning his back on wind energy, he’s cutting funding programs that create clean energy jobs here — there may be a path for creating more clean energy jobs here but he has shown no leadership on this, he’s making this up as he goes along," Zielinski said.
Using the state’s flag, Walker pointed out the miner and badger on the front to further elucidate his point that Wisconsin is not the badger state because of the animals, it's the badger state because of the heritage.
"Because the people who came to this state came here with the goal of living the American dream by earning a living mining," Walker said.
A 250,000 job promise
A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article published Saturday pointed out that Wisconsin has lost private-sector jobs for six consecutive months, and positioned that trend against both positive national trends and Walker's promise to create 250,000 private-sector jobs during his term.
"I have a goal, and I still do, ... to (help the private sector) create 250,000 jobs," Walker said.
Zielinski said he doesn't believe Walker will reach his goal because he's "well behind that," but Walker reminded everyone his claim since he ran for governor was 250,000 by 2015.
"Remember, the goal was to help the people of the state create 250,000 jobs by 2015. It's 2012," he said. As a parallel, Walker talked about Vince Lombardi and how it took four years for the Green Bay Packers to reach the World Championship.
"Just like how we have plans to go from major losses of 150,000 jobs, leveling things out in 2011, and hopefully start the path to see things move in 2012 and beyond," he said.