New joint WEDC position to coordinate statewide talent attraction efforts

The University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. have created a new position to lead state talent attraction and retention efforts.

Increasing college student internships and getting more out-of-state Wisconsin graduates to put down roots here are some of the key goals of a new position at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

The position is the latest collaboration between the University of Wisconsin System and the state’s job-creation agency to address a growing worker shortage in the state, which the Wisconsin State Journal highlighted in its recent “Workers Wanted” series.

“WEDC and UW are already working with our partners around the state on workforce development issues, and dedicating one person to coordinate those efforts will clearly strengthen that collaboration,” WEDC deputy secretary Tricia Braun said.

The new talent initiatives director will serve as another liaison in the mold of David Brukardt, who has run the UW System’s Office of Economic Development since 2012. Brukardt has offices both at WEDC headquarters and in the UW System president’s office, and so will the new director.

“Making initial contact with alumni, and then making regular contacts with these people so they’re aware of the opportunities that are here,” Brukardt said of the job responsibilities for the new position. “If my role has been to reach out to business, this new role will be helping us to do that.”

Wisconsin has historically struggled to attract people to the state and to keep college graduates who aren’t from here originally. According to a 2016 UW-Madison report, among bachelor’s degree alumni from the previous decade who were originally from Wisconsin, 78 percent still lived in Wisconsin, while only 9 percent originally from other places remained.

Meanwhile, about 60 percent of UW System graduates participate in internships before graduation, Brukardt said. UW System president Ray Cross has set a goal of 100 percent of graduates participating in internships before graduation, recognizing that early interaction with local businesses could increase the chance that UW graduates stay in the state.

However, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison recently found the overall design of most internship programs around the world to be haphazard and inconsistent, and that it takes considerable resources to make an internship program effective.

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“Trying to knit together some closer relationships is not a bad thing in terms of regional workforce development and boosting local entrepreneurs,” said Matt Hora, director of WCER’s Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions. “It’s something that should be pursued, just not at the expense of the other educational missions of the colleges and universities in the System.”

The new position reflects a growing connection between the university and the business community, which businesses have been seeking, said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

“There’s a broader recognition that the turnaround time in business and workforce has accelerated and the UW System has to respond,” Still said.

Brukardt said the university has three missions: teaching, research and community outreach, and that the emphasis on connecting more students with local businesses “is really wrapped up in that third piece of the university’s mission.”

“It’s a piece of what we do and professors, no matter what their discipline, have told us that having their students working on real-world problems, exercising critical thinking with businesses and outside contacts make them better students,” Brukardt said.

In addition to connecting with alumni and boosting student internships, the position will coordinate with young professional groups around the state. The agency has sponsored a Young Professionals Week since 2015 with participation growing from eight to 25 groups, Braun said.

The director will also work with WEDC on its new $1 million Think-Make-Happen marketing and branding campaign, which will advertise the state’s lower cost of living, shorter commutes and environmental amenities compared with places like Chicago and Minneapolis that attract young people.

WEDC advertised the position last week in the $57,000-to-$85,500 range. The agency hopes to start someone by the end of the year.

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