DWD secretary highlights efforts to train, retain skilled workers in WI

Department of Workforce Development secretary stops by La Crosse

Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen made a stop in La Crosse Wednesday to highlight efforts to train and retain skilled workers in the state.

“We’ve been outreaching to chambers throughout Wisconsin to talk about workforce issues, to connect with the business community, and identify needs and certainly places where we as a department can help them develop a workforce to meet jobs available in area,” Allen said.

After a round-table discussion, he toured City Brewery to highlight its apprenticeship program as one way grow Wisconsin’s workforce.

The City Brewing Co. currently employs seven active apprentices, and has three recent graduates in its maintenance, electrical and steamfitting programs.

Maintenance mechanic Zach Dutton said an apprenticeship at the brewery opened up a world of opportunity.

“The possibilities out here are endless,” he said.

He secured the position out of high school, and is now in the third year of his six-year apprenticeship.

“I love it because as a kid I didn’t really want to go to college. Basically what they do is they gave me college,” Dutton said.

In exchange for his work, he is able to go to school.

“That is where we learn basics behind mechanics, and we come here and refine and do it hands-on,” Dutton said.

“An apprenticeship is really a career track, giving you basic skills to do a job,” Allen said. “We’re giving an opportunity for young people to come in at an entry-level position.”

Allen said apprenticeships like the ones at City Brewery can give workers skills they need to fill the area’s biggest job demands.

“What we want to do is build a workforce, and we’re going to have to build that from the ground up,” he said.

And once workers learn their trades in Wisconsin, Allen said they’re more likely to stay.

“Wisconsin is a place that has a great quality of life,” he said. “We need to do a better job of promoting ourselves in this state.”

Don Woodhouse started as an apprentice at the brewery 35 years ago.

“I loved the program,” he said.

He’s still there, watching over the new workers.

“It’s great to see how they’ll grow and how they’ll take to it,” Woodhouse said.

“It’s a great place to work; everybody’s real friendly,” Dutton said. He also said he’s planning on sticking around.

“You work around beer,” he said. “There’s nothing better.”

Allen said along with traditional apprenticeships like construction and plumbing, the DWD is opening up opportunities in areas like health care, information technology and finance for its registered apprenticeship programs.

More information on apprenticeships can be found on DWD’s website.