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When talking to sources about Foxconn Technology Group’s manufacturing campus, the conversation invariably turns to the skills gap and yet the words creativity and curiosity are largely void from those conversations. The contract electronics manufacturer intends to build LCD screens in southeast Wisconsin in a 20 million square-foot manufacturing campus. The company has promised to hire 10,000 construction workers to build the facility and employ 3,000 people. And the intent behind Wisconn Valley: Grow the region as an industrial sector. If Foxconn gets the green light, the positions will likely be in the skilled trades and engineering. These two sectors have long seen a shortage of workers, according to the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. So where are we getting these workers? In Racine County, 15,000 people don’t have a high school diploma or general educational development (GED) diploma. Several initiatives and outreach efforts are underway. The county has outreach programs. Gateway Technical College has a GED/HSED program and is expanding the SC Johnson iMet Center. RUSD has its Academy program. And the YWCA has a diploma program. But people need to use these programs, have access to what that technology looks like, and understand that these jobs will require a somewhat different set of behaviors and skills. We used to make 10,000 widgets with 10,000 people. Now we make 10,000 widgets with 10 people and any number of robots. And those jobs are not the same type of jobs our grandfathers or even our fathers had.

What skills, behaviors are needed

According to Experts on the Future of Jobs and Job Training by the Pew Research Center, employers need ‘social’ and ’emotional’ intelligence, curiosity, creativity, and taking initiative… all things machines and robots can’t do. When I was writing for the Milwaukee Business Journal about manufacturing, they often held CEO roundtable discussions about employment that mirrored this need in our regional job market. In essence, social intelligence and emotional intelligence is often framed by employers as soft skills. They called for workers who can problem-solve, listen, communicate problems effectively to a diverse group of people, and manage their emotions effectively. But much of our workforce has not even seen the technology we want them to work with or trained on. “As basic automation and machine learning move toward becoming commodities, uniquely human skills will become more valuable. There will be an increasing economic incentive to develop mass training that better unlocks this value,” said Devin Fidler, research director at the Institute for the Future. In essence, we’re not so much focused on how to make something with our hands. Now our focus is on understanding what will the market need, is the product usable and is the robot making that product to those standards? Here are the anticipated needs: ;

Our educational goals don’t match our workforce needs

I would argue that there’s a bit of a disconnect between what is needed versus what Racine County’s economic development plan calls for to prepare our workforce for these jobs. The Racine County Economic Development Corporation has been working on this issue for quite a while with key stakeholders and recently came out with the Racine County Economic Development Plan. The workforce development plan calls for personal and professional growth. To meet the needs of employers, the plan calls for linking education and training that “provides for a competitive workforce.” But the section on education is heavily focused on testing, not developing “real-world work portfolios” that demonstrate curiosity, creativity, and resiliency.
  1. Improve educational attainment rates in Racine County as measured by nationally normalized tests;
  2. Increase number of graduates and improved graduation rates across all county high schools;
  3. Improve achievement on key standardized tests;
  4. Benchmark results from dual-purpose tests (i.e. WorkKeys);
  5. Increase number of county high school students earning college credit while in high school

Make Room For The Creative Process

Clearly, our economic development plan for the county centers around testing skills, which is not necessarily a bad thing if we had a need just for skills. And while we still need skilled workers, we also need thinkers, dreamers, and tinkerers that don’t just see problems as problems. In short, we need people to see problems as opportunities so that they can create solutions to those problems. So how do we do that? I would argue that Racine County residents are well positioned for these types of jobs since we’ve already got 6,260 patents under our belt. We have created mowers, baby bottles, fractional motors, prosthetic heart valves, sprayable cleaning gels, and containers for shipping feature-length films. We have a history of collaboration, creation and problem-solved in this county. It wasn’t that long ago that over 250 companies were spawned by the invention of the factional motor. And we did that through collaboration, sharing our knowledge and our experiences, and risk-taking. And I see a need to do more of that in the community, not just in manufacturing settings. We have to remember that we have created our way out of problems thousands of times over. Sure we can test our skills, but we need a broader framework in place that values creativity and innovation more. This type of thinking has been in our DNA for decades. And we now have an opportunity to demonstrate that through a community-wide effort to reconnect us with the technology we hope to be used. If we can start doing that, I see the potential for our workforce to respond to these needs.

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In addition to our education features, we’ll be kicking off a series of stories highlighting how parents, students, and educators are adapting to the impact of COVID-19 on education. If this is important to you, please consider donating to our education reporting fund. https://business.facebook.com/donate/1846323118855149/3262802717172659/

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.