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Madison Water Sport Expo

Boats at the Madison Water Sport Expo at Brittingham Park in Madison last year.

Certain readers will not be surprised, but I have no college-based training in journalism.

My college years were spent in the study of psychology, English lit and creative writing — the latter of which I guess qualifies as journalism training if, like the president, you believe we’re all just making this stuff up.

But if you believe, like I do, that there are a lot of jobs out there that can be learned on the job, then all this focus on “workforce development” by industry and by industry-friendly politicians can feel like the shifting of the costs of doing business from businesses to aspiring employees and taxpayer-funded colleges.

The latest example of this trend springs from the alleged “crisis” in Wisconsin’s marine industry. People who own marinas complain that they can’t find enough people to repair their customers’ boats. Graduates of the state’s only marine-engine program, at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Ashland, have multiple offers upon graduation. One business owner says his company has been looking for a technician for more than five years.

Given that WITC’s program is only three semesters long, I imagine it might have been more cost-effective — and profitable — for the long-understaffed business to hire a couple of people and teach them how to repair boats, than to wait five years for already-trained applicants to come along.

Michelle Shrider, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Wisconsin Marine Association and general manager at Washburn Marina, said, “Rarely will I hire and completely train.

“Not that I don’t want to but ... we are so short of skilled techs that I can’t take them off jobs to train a new person,” she said, but her business does set aside $2,000 per year, per tech, for continuing training.

I’m not suggesting companies hire any yahoo off the street, or that people with no training should be cracking open folks’ chests to perform heart surgery, or cracking open the cylinders of a $70,000 Lexus.

Someone who shows sign of having half a brain, a good work ethic, and an interest and natural aptitude for the job you want done could eventually be far more valuable to the bottom line, though, than a guy who coasted through his tech college diploma program with straight Cs.

Even better is a loan-forgiveness kind of arrangement WITC marine repair tech instructor Tim Edwards said “some of the dealers are taking a very serious look at.”

It would have companies loan students the cost of attending the marine repair program. Graduates who then worked successfully at the loan-fronting companies for a set period of time wouldn’t have to pay the loans back.

I need look no further than my family for proof that my career in newspapers isn’t just a one-off borne of a lot of luck and a few gullible human resources staffers. Every one of my four siblings found employers willing to train them to do something for which they had little to no college education.

As long as other employers fail to make similar investments, there will be a shortage of skilled workers — specifically because there’s a shortage of companies willing to create them.

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Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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