Press Release: Gov. Evers Declares 2024 the Year of the Worker

Office of Governor Tony Evers
Gov. Evers Declares 2024 the Year of the Worker
Governor’s declaration builds on administration’s work to bolster state’s workforce in high-demand, high-need industries
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers tonight focused largely on addressing the state’s generational workforce challenges during his 2024 State of the State address. Gov. Evers declared 2024 the Year of the Worker in Wisconsin and announced new efforts by the Evers Administration to build a workforce prepared to meet the needs of a 21st-century economy, including launching the state’s first teacher apprenticeship pilot program, creating the Governor’s Task Force on the Healthcare Workforce, and establishing the Office of Employee Engagement and Retention for the State of Wisconsin workforce, which will focus on recruiting and retaining state employees.

This past year has shown there’s much we can accomplish when we work together. Today, there are pressing issues that demand our work bridging partisan divides continues. 

“I, again, am calling on this Legislature to address what I believe are the two greatest challenges facing our state: the first, our decade-long struggle to retain, attract, and train talented workers to address our state’s workforce shortages; and the second, the Republican majority’s disinterest in working toward a meaningful, bipartisan plan to do something about it.

“Folks, ‘no’ isn’t a workforce plan. Asking more kids to work isn’t a workforce plan. Giving more big breaks to millionaires and billionaires isn’t a workforce plan. These are not serious proposals to address generational, statewide issues.

“In April last year, our state unemployment rate hit a record-low of 2.4 percent. Last year, Wisconsin had the all-time lowest number of unemployed workers ever in modern history. And our state’s labor force participation rate also consistently remained above the national average throughout the year.

“So, it’s also time to retire the well-worn political talking point that Wisconsinites aren’t working or working hard—Wisconsinites work hard, and they are working.

“From my vantage point, three things are key to addressing our state’s workforce challenges: first, we must find a long-term solution to our state’s looming child care crisis; second, we must expand paid family leave; and third, we must invest in public education at every level, from early childhood to our technical colleges and universities.

“Wisconsin faces a looming child care crisis—costs to working families are skyrocketing, we don’t have enough child care providers, and the providers we have are struggling to keep the lights on. And the effects are intuitive—if a kid no longer has child care or a parent can’t afford it, someone’s going to have to stay home with them. Folks, lack of accessible, affordable child care is a statewide workforce issue.

“Without continued investments in Child Care Counts, our workforce will suffer mightily: 2,110 child care programs are projected to close. 87,000 kids could be without child care. We could lose over 4,880 child care jobs. That’s about a half a billion dollar economic impact on our state.

“I introduced a comprehensive workforce plan to stabilize our child care industry and prevent its collapse. Republicans rejected it. So, last fall, I directed $170 million in emergency funding to keep our child care industry afloat.

“I want to be clear: I directed the funding that I could, but it wasn’t enough. Wisconsin child care providers will soon receive their final payment from the federally-funded portion of Child Care Counts. So, the emergency $170 million I directed last fall as a stopgap measure now kicks in. Republicans are officially on the clock to make the meaningful investments necessary to prevent the collapse of an industry that’s essential for maintaining our current levels of workforce participation.

“Wisconsin, we also need to expand paid family leave.

“I’ve proposed investing $240 million to jumpstart a program that would provide most private-sector workers 12 weeks of paid leave. Republicans rejected my proposal. Twice. Paid leave is the right thing to do for kids and families, and it’s also what we need to do to compete for and keep talented workers.

“And, yes, doing what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state—and it’s what’s best for our families and our workforce, too. So, yes, we must invest in public education at every level, from early childhood to our technical colleges and universities.

“I will never expect Republicans and Democrats in this building to agree with each other—or me, for that matter—on the merits of every policy 100 percent of the time. That’s democracy. But there is no excuse for not being willing to work together on what everyone agrees is the most pressing issue facing our state.

“I’ve introduced a comprehensive workforce plan. Twice. If anyone on either side of this aisle has a better plan than mine that not only prevents the collapse of our state’s child care industry but also helps us compete against our neighboring states for talent and invests in public education at every level to prepare our kids for the future, let’s hear it. I will work with any legislator, any partner, any stakeholder who’s willing to engage in meaningful conversations on these issues to do the right thing for Wisconsin.

“In the meantime, my administration will continue to pursue every pathway and seek every avenue to address our workforce challenges without legislative action, just as we have for five years. And we continue that work here tonight.

“Making sure our workforce is prepared to meet the needs of a 21st-century economy is a top priority for me. And my administration is going to lead by example. It’s why, tonight, I’m declaring 2024 the Year of the Worker in Wisconsin.

“We are working in earnest to reduce barriers to employment so we can try to make sure every available worker can join our workforce. I directed over $150 million to find innovative, long-term solutions to our workforce challenges, subsidize employment and skills training with local employers, and support Wisconsinites working to re-engage in our workforce. Because of that investment, we’ve been able to deliver workforce training and support services to more than 33,000 Wisconsinites across our state.

“I joined the Wisconsin Laborers about a year ago to announce Wisconsin had the highest participation in our Registered Apprenticeship program in two decades. In November, I celebrated National Apprenticeship Week and announced Wisconsin reached the all-time record-high number of participants in the Registered Apprenticeship program’s 112-year history.

“There are also high-need areas of our workforce we need to bolster and support. According to the Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin faces a potential deficit of 20,000 nurses by 2040. Between 2020 and 2030, Wisconsin’s healthcare industry will see nearly 32,000 annual openings across occupations. So, last year, my administration launched one of the country’s first-ever Registered Nurse apprenticeship pathways to help address the demand for nurses. And we launched a new initiative to train over 10,000 certified direct care professionals to address our state’s shortage of caregivers.

“But there’s more we have to do to address our healthcare industry’s chronic challenges. Next week, I’ll sign an executive order creating a new Healthcare Workforce Task Force focused on finding long-term solutions to our state’s healthcare industry challenges and make recommendations for me to consider in my next biennial budget.

“We also know we must work to retain and recruit talented educators who work every day to do what’s best for our kids. Recent estimates show only 67% of new educators in Wisconsin make it past five years. So, through the Department of Workforce Development, our administration is launching a new teacher apprenticeship pilot program with the Department of Public Instruction to provide more mentorship and support for new educators.

“Finally, as one of the largest employers in the state, my administration is also going to make sure the State of Wisconsin is leading the way and by example with new efforts to recruit and retain talented workers for our state workforce. I’m also announcing tonight I’m creating a new Office of State Employee Engagement and Retention to improve retention, mentorship, and engagement of our state workers across all of our state agencies.”

During Gov. Evers’ tenure, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has hit record lows, reaching an all-time low of 2.4 percent in April 2023, and Wisconsin continues to have an unemployment rate below the national average and a labor participation rate above the national average.

Additionally, Wisconsin’s Registered Apprenticeship Program reached a record 16,384 enrolled apprentices in 2023, an all-time record in the program’s 112-year history and surpassing the previous record-high participation in the program in 2022. Additionally, Gov. Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) celebrated record-breaking Youth Apprenticeships during the 2021-2022 school year with 8,357 participants and 5,719 employers. Youth Apprenticeship, which started in 1991 as the first program of its kind in the nation, is a strong connector to registered apprenticeship programs.

Still, with historically low unemployment and high workforce participation, coupled with a shrinking labor pool caused by several long-term factors, Wisconsin’s small businesses, farmers and producers, hospitals and healthcare sectors, schools, and other critical employers and industries continue to face significant challenges filling available jobs.

Throughout the year, Gov. Evers and his administration will continue efforts to reduce barriers to employment, support opportunities for advancement through Wisconsin’s leading apprenticeship programs, and recruit and retain talented workers to support critical industries of Wisconsin’s workforce. In coordination with his declaration of 2024 as the Year of the Worker, Gov. Evers announced several new initiatives to help address recruitment and retention of Wisconsin’s workforce, including targeted initiatives for careers in education and healthcare—two industries that have particularly struggled to recruit and retain talent.

Launching a New Teacher Apprenticeship Pilot Program
During his speech, Gov. Evers announced the creation of a pilot program for a new apprenticeship pathway in the field of education. Developed through a partnership of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and DWD, this new pilot program will build on Wisconsin’s apprenticeship models in other sectors and tried-and-true teacher apprenticeship models from other states. The pilot program will focus on student learning in a practicum setting and will allow students to earn a salary while developing their skills.

According to a 2023 report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the average annual teacher turnover rate from 2009 to 2023 was 11.5 percent, reaching an alarming 15.8 percent in the 2022-23 school year. The period studied included both the highest levels on record of teachers moving between districts and leaving the profession altogether. The report found that both rural and urban districts, districts with large populations of low-income students and students of color, and small school districts were the most impacted. Additionally, turnover was highest for teachers of color.

This new pilot program will help address issues in turnover and retention while also bolstering and strengthening the state’s educator pipeline by reducing barriers and encouraging more young people to enter the field. Traditional educator preparation programs can be expensive, as they often involve an unpaid internship (student teaching), which may be cost-prohibitive for low-income students, nontraditional students, or individuals looking to change careers. Additionally, providing mentorship opportunities to teachers beginning their careers has been proven to help with retention. The apprenticeship model includes built-in mentorship during the program and will help new educators build networks of support and professional learning.

As part of the pilot program, participants will begin working as apprentices in Fall 2024. Individuals participating in the new pilot program will: 
  • be employed and paid by a school district participating in the apprenticeship program; 
  • begin the program by enrolling in a 2-year associate degree program; 
  • work with a mentor and cooperating teacher; 
  • build on on-the-job skill training with relevant coursework; 
  • complete an approved Educator Preparation Program; and 
  • apply for a full teaching license (Tier II).
Wisconsin Apprenticeship pairs structured, on-the-job training with classroom instruction, allowing apprentices to be paid to “earn as they learn.” Wisconsin was the first in the nation with a registered apprenticeship program and is unique among the 50 states in requiring employers to pay their apprentices for both time worked and time spent in required classroom instruction. This recognizes the importance of a dual training system that combines skills obtained on the job site with technical knowledge in the classroom.

Wisconsin has more than 200 apprenticeship occupations with over 2,600 employers. While traditional trade apprenticeships continue to be strong, emerging employment sectors and occupations, including healthcare, are building the depth of offerings and growing apprenticeship opportunities.

Learn more about the state’s apprenticeship programming on the DWD website here.

Creating the Governor’s Task Force on Healthcare Workforce
The governor also announced he will be signing an executive order in the coming weeks to create the Governor’s Task Force on Healthcare Workforce. The task force will be charged with studying the workforce challenges facing the state’s healthcare system, including recruitment and retention, identifying ways to improve patient care and alleviate the burdens on the healthcare workforce, exploring educational and training pathways to grow a sustainable healthcare workforce, and creating an action plan with solutions related to workforce development, industry innovation, education, and training.

According to a 2023 report from the Wisconsin Hospital Association, Wisconsin’s overall hospital vacancy rate increased from 5.3 percent to 9.9 percent between 2020 and 2021 and signaled the first nursing shortage in the state since 2007. Further, the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the healthcare workforce shortage by putting significant pressure on Wisconsin’s facilities and professionals, resulting in higher burnout and professionals leaving the healthcare industry. A report released by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found that 100,000 nurses nationwide left the workforce during the pandemic, with almost 900,000 stating they intend to leave the healthcare workforce by 2027. DWD estimates that if no remedial action is taken, the growing healthcare workforce shortage, coupled with slow population growth and an aging population that is not only retiring but also requiring additional medical care, will face a potential deficit of 20,000 nurses by 2040.

The task force will be comprised of representatives from the state’s higher education institutions, healthcare professionals, state government, local and Tribal governments, labor, patient advocacy groups, and other affected workforce sectors and industries. More information about the Governor’s Task Force on Healthcare Workforce will be available in the coming weeks. 

Establishing the State Office of Employee Engagement and Retention
Across the full state enterprise, from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to the Department of Corrections to the State Park System, the state of Wisconsin employs more than 30,000 individuals statewide. In 2019, in his first year as governor, Gov. Evers signed Executive Order #1, Executive Order #2, and Executive Order #59, which together were focused on building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive state government, prohibiting harassment and discrimination at state agencies, and ensuring that state employees were recognized and respected for their hard work on behalf of the state.

Tonight, during his State of the State address, Gov. Evers announced that his administration will build on these efforts with the creation of a new Office of Employee Engagement and Retention at DOA. This office will provide leadership across the enterprise and partner with state agencies and DOA’s Division of Personnel Management to focus on employee retention and satisfaction through coordination of employee engagement programs, supervisor focused trainings, professional development programs, employee mentorship programs, and employee recognition programs, among other initiatives. Elevating this work will enable the Evers Administration to better respond to workforce challenges across all of state government and ensure the state is retaining the best and brightest workers to serve the people of Wisconsin. 
An online version of this release is available here.