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Wisconsin DWD secretary-designee touts efforts to boost workforce, economy

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) -- Efforts to boost central Wisconsin's workforce and economy took center stage Thursday, during a visit to Wausau by the state's Workforce Development Secretary-Designee Amy Pechacek.

While in Wausau, Pechacek visited the Wisconsin Automotive & Truck Education Association, or WATEA, where she learned of the organization's initiatives to help people overcome barriers to employment.

“There are several barriers facing many folks in our state that are preventing them from engaging back into the workforce post-COVID-19,” Pechacek said. "That includes access to childcare, access to affordable housing, and access to transportation.”

WATEA officials said the organization continues to help people overcome those barriers, which has garnered the attention of the state.

“We run a program called the Wheels to Work organization," said Kent Olson, WATEA co-chairman and owner of Olson Tire & Auto Service in Wausau. "We have a Commute to Careers program that helps people overcome short-term obstacles to their transportation issues.”

WATEA also offers programs that help target younger talent to funnel them into jobs that are high-demand.

"We also run some fast-forward programs for the Collision Development Training program, " Olson said. "That runs for the high school and the technical college, to help design and develop young auto technicians and collision and diesel technicians as well.”

Pechacek also used the visit to discuss a new Workforce Innovation grant rolled out this week by Gov. Tony Evers.

“This is a $100 million grant opportunity for regional economies," she said. "That is really an investment to help job seekers and employers.”

With new grant opportunities, WATEA said it plan to continue doing its part to boost the local economy.

“The opportunity to get people involved at a younger age is helpful, and second these are jobs that will never be exported," Olson said. "If we can get them on the career pathways, develop their skills, and implement some proactive training programs we can get them employed and get them earning family-sustaining wages.”

Throughout the month of September, which is Workforce Development Month, DWD officials said they will continue to visit with and recognize employers and organizations across the state that are overcoming challenges related to the workforce.

Rashad Williams

News 9 Reporter

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