State Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and state Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, are trying to help close the skills gap in Wisconsin by addressing a “bottleneck” at the apprentice level for skilled trades. A bill currently being circulated by the legislators for co-sponsorship would allow a ratio of skilled workers to apprentices of 1:1. In addition, the bill would allow the Department of Workforce Development to set the length of carpentry and plumbing apprenticeships after consulting with the advisory trade councils.

“This is a bill that is specifically related to a bottleneck in the trades industry that we found,” Kapenga said in an interview Tuesday. “It allows more apprenticeships to take place so that we can fill in the labor market in the skilled trades area more quickly.”

“Right now what is happening that there are trades that, after the seventh guy, after a third apprentice you can only have one apprentice for every six journeymen,” Kapenga said. “It’s totally limiting how many apprentices can be out there and training to get to the journeyman stage.”

Kapenga said that the some of the journeymen to apprentice ratios for the different trades don’t make any sense. “I have no idea how they came up with it,” Kapenga said. “I’m sure they had very good reasons but, whatever it is, is doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“We’re just going to go across the board 1 to 1 and we’re even allowing the flexibility for trade councils and DWD to go beyond that,” Kapenga said.

Kapenga cited the impending Foxconn development as a need for creating more apprenticeship opportunities.

“We have got to get more apprentices in the pipeline that are higher than 1 to 1. Let’s have two apprentices to one journeyman,” Kapenga said. “If they feel that’s doable, and that it’s safe to do, let them do it.”

Kapenga said he recognizes that this is not “the silver bullet” for fixing the skills gap in Wisconsin. “We have to look at what levers we can pull,” said Kapenga. “It definitely will help. And I think with some really strong welfare reform measures put in place that will help people get back in the labor market, they’re going to be looking for options and I think skilled trades is a very viable option.”


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