Innovation Center Stoughton will be a shared space and community hub connecting regional resources, employers, entrepreneurs, residents and workers. It will have state-of-the-art training space, shared-use equipment, business incubation, coworking and offices and will connect other experiential learning spaces as a network bringing service providers and their resources to ICS stakeholders.
ICS will bridge the gap between available jobs and underemployed individuals. Many in our area want to be more fully employed or differently employed if only barriers such as care for loved ones, transportation, affordable housing, or skill development are addressed. This approach has proven successful in other parts of the country, such as when machinists were facing layoffs at a company in Pittsburgh and needed to learn some modern machinery. They knew parts of the work, but lacked the digital fluency to operate at a professional level with CNC equipment. A new CNC water jet company was opening at the same time. After an 80-hour intensive training program through their local makerspace, all 12 participants were able to secure jobs in less than a day.(8)
We will target underserved groups and those in transition, such as youth/young adults, those changing careers, and those looking for an “encore” career later in life. We will partner with Madison College, UW-Madison, SASD, Oakhill Correctional, and others who serve these groups to develop tailored programming that moves them toward their career and life goals. For example, the only vocational programs currently offered at Oakhill are Building Service and Horticulture. There is ample opportunity to provide programming through ICS that helps prepare justice-involved persons with in-demand skills to transition to the workforce.
Innovation Center Stoughton will be a space for residents to interact and learn of work opportunities, employers to connect and train new hires and current employees using state-of-the-art equipment, and those seeking work to meet employers, learn new skills, and try out potential jobs through experiential learning while securing credentials to demonstrate their new skills. We will use the Fab Lab as a model. SASD’s Fab Labs have grown and matured to the point of having demonstrated impact on those graduating with Fab Lab experience. Employers know that students who have gone through Fab Lab programs are better employment candidates because they’ve developed in-demand skills and employers often contact the Fab Lab for help finding workers. Yet the Fab Lab/high school isn’t equipped to play match-maker to meet employers’ demand for workers. ICS will be an expansion of the Fab Lab model focused on addressing these workforce challenges, and thus better suited to this role.
ICS will offer micro-credentialing in partnership with Madison College’s Digital Credentials Institute. Digital credentialing utilizes technology to formally recognize and verify learning achievements and skills development. Employers are looking to skills-based credentials to find quality employment candidates, and young adults are using these instead of or even in addition to longer-term degree programs to showcase their knowledge and skills in a way that is more aligned with job requirements and much faster to acquire.
Nurturing people to be creative problem solvers and engaged, productive contributors to society is critical. A resource like ICS is needed to equip the region to be resilient in the face of 21st century challenges, while solving immediate workforce needs.
ICS will partner with K-12 schools, colleges, senior and youth centers to get students of all ages interested in work in the trades, STEM, and developing problem-solving, solution design, collaboration, implementation, and tech skills needed for today’s economy, whether as an employee or entrepreneur. ICS will be an experiential learning environment in which to be creative, learn new skills, and gain exposure to a variety of career paths and ways to make a living. This “K-to-Gray” approach will increase the number of people interested and able to participate in the workforce.
ICS will attract new residents, increase labor force participation, spur the creation of new businesses, processes, products and innovations in advanced manufacturing, energy efficiency and production. ICS will give the community access to try out and explore new technologies, skills, and ideas in a safe, low-risk, low-investment space so they can quickly learn if it’s something worth pursuing while receiving credentials for what they’ve learned and clear language to talk about the skills they’ve developed.