Gov. Tony Evers announced a $1.1 million investment in internship programs for University of Wisconsin System students last week to combat Wisconsin’s exodus of young workers.
A 2022 study expects Wisconsin’s workforce to shrink by 2030 as older workers retire and young workers leave the state. Evers hoped to counter this trend by funding a Department of Workforce Development (DWD) program called Wisconsin Fast Forward (WFF), which provides grants to UW System schools to connect them with local businesses and fund internship programs for students.
WFF made its return in 2021 after being inactive due to COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, according to a program report.
“Recruiting and retaining talented workers, maintaining our state’s economic momentum and preparing our workforce for high-demand fields of the 21st century are major priorities in my 2023-25 biennial budget,” Evers said in a statement last week.
WFF’s 2021 annual report notes the program shifted to “focus on policy issues related to ‘Returnships,’ an innovative programming opportunity at UW-Milwaukee in which disadvantaged students have access to stipends that facilitate participation in internships.” State grants issued in 2022 and 2023 expanded this program.
Internships connect schools and students with local companies and award students opportunities to explore fast-growing fields of the future, according to the governor’s office. Evers highlighted four main areas of investment: green energy and clean water, agriculture, cybersecurity, and humanities and social studies.
“Students who intern for a Wisconsin company are more likely to stay in the state after graduation, making internships a valuable workforce retention strategy,” DWD Secretary Amy Pechacek said last week.
UW-Milwaukee received $590,624 total for programs in green energy, clean water, humanities and social studies. For green energy, the university will partner with local businesses to award paid three-month internships to 42 students.
For humanities, the aim of the program is to expand paid internship opportunities in areas where students are usually only offered unpaid internships — a barrier for many students.
UW-Stout also received $298,771 to build a cybersecurity internship program that would provide more than 40 students with internships in cybersecurity.
The tech sector is a growing industry for young employees entering the workforce, according to Pechacek. Student enrollment in data science and computer science programs have risen starkly at UW-Madison and other schools across the UW System.
Additionally, UW-River Falls received $244,426 to create programs for student agriculture internships. The funding gives 20 students an opportunity to be placed in 14-week summer or academic year internships in the agriculture industry.
UW System President Jay Rothman applauded the internship program funding in a statement last week
“As Wisconsin’s talent generator, we educate students to think critically while they also learn valuable skills needed in the workforce,” Rothman said. “These internships will help students kick-start their careers while meeting employer demand for talent.”
Gabriella Hartlaub is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state politics and life & style reporting.