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Report: Technical Colleges Critical in Closing ‘Skills Gap’

A new report on Wisconsin’s workforce development challenges gives further evidence of the value of a technical education, and the role the state’s technical colleges can play in closing the job market “skills gap.”

The Sullivan Report, released in August, found that despite a tight job market, in 2011, 88 percent of Wisconsin Technical College System graduates were employed within six months of graduation, with 71 percent employed directly in their fields of study.

The figures are even better for Chippewa Valley Technical College graduates. Among 2010-2011 graduates, 92 percent found employment, with 89 percent in their field of study.

The report found only 44 percent of four-year college graduates between 2006 and 2010 working closely in their fields of study.

The report was written by Tim Sullivan, former chairman of Bucyrus International, who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker last February as a special consultant for business and workforce development. Sullivan was asked to study the “skills gap,” the term given to the problem of Wisconsin jobs going unfilled for the lack of trained applicants, despite the high unemployment numbers.

Sullivan found technical colleges play a unique and important role in Wisconsin.

For example, of those technical college system graduates working closely to their field of study, 86 percent were working in Wisconsin. “Which means the taxpayers are getting a return on their education investment,” Sullivan wrote.

Sullivan found the median salary for all new technical college system graduates is $36,033, with the median being as high as $60,000 in some fields.

Sullivan even signaled out CVTC and its neighbor to the north, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Rice Lake, noting that CVTC ranked tenth and WITC sixth in a 2010 national survey of community colleges.

“Despite these promising numbers, some Wisconsinites regard WTCS as the lesser postsecondary option; however, the 34,000 students in WTCS who already have a four-year degree might not think this is the case,” Sullivan wrote. “Many people are starting to take notice of WTCS as an affordable pathway to a good-paying job.”

Sullivan went on the praise the system for focusing on providing students with the education they need rather than “measuring time spent in a seat.”

“Mr. Sullivan’s report highlights what we have been focused on all along: providing a high quality and applied education to students, while meeting the needs of the workforce and the community,” said CVTC President Bruce Barker. “We will continue to strive to be part of the solution in efforts to close the gaps between worker training and market needs throughout the state and region.”