Candidates focus on the skills gap.

By Bryan Wilson, April 16, 2014

The skills gap is on the agenda for the 2014 gubernatorial elections. Rather than debating whether there is a middle-skill gap, candidates are competing over who has the best plan to close it. Here’s a look at races in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In Pennsylvania, gubernatorial candidate Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (D) unveiled a plan to create 10,000 new apprentices. She would do this by offering a 50 percent tax credit for every dollar an employer contributes to an apprenticeship program and an additional credit when an apprentice completes a program and is hired. She would also triple funding for the state’s sector-based Industry Partnership Program, and increase investments in community colleges and career and technical education. Finally, she would consolidate the number of state workforce programs and place them under a single office in the Department of Labor and Industry.

Katie McGinty, also running in the Democratic primary, would restore $42 million in state funding for workforce training, expand online training programs and allocate $3 million to expand apprenticeship programs by offering $1,000 stipends to employers who create new apprenticeships, with a target of nearly tripling the number of apprentices.

Tom Wolf, another candidate in the crowded Democratic field, proposes grants to create more apprenticeships and other paid work-based learning opportunities in manufacturing for community college students.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R), who is running for reelection, requested $5 million in additional funding from the legislature for three middle-skill job training programs for employer-driven training.

In Wisconsin, gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke (D) says workforce development is the most important part of her jobs plan. She calls for increasing the production of postsecondary certificates and degrees, especially for middle-skill jobs. She proposes a cluster-based strategy that would coordinate workforce and economic development around targeted industry sectors. She would create a Wisconsin Talent Development Fund and allocate grants to intermediaries who would convene employers and training providers to address the skills gap in their cluster. She points to the Work Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership as a model intermediary. She would create workforce supply and demand forecasts based on skill clusters. Burke would also expand Wisconsin’s youth apprenticeship program, and enhance career and technical education and career planning in schools.

Governor Scott Walker (R), who is running for reelection, also speaks about the importance of closing the middle-skill gap. He champions increased investments in Wisconsin’s technical college system and more funding for customized training for individual employers. This year he requested and the legislature appropriated a $35 million enhancement for Wisconsin’s Fast Forward program to: support dual enrollment programs between school districts and technical colleges that target high demand jobs; increase technical college capacity to eliminate waiting lists in high demand fields; and support programs helping people with disabilities enter the workforce. Governor Walker has also supported the expansion of Wisconsin’s youth apprenticeship program and increased funding for career and technical education, and the creation of a new skill-based labor market information system to better connect job seekers and employers.

Candidates in other states are also promoting plans to close the middle-skill gap. As the election cycle continues, NSC will keep you posted.