Wyoming Moves Ahead with Workforce Development Initiative
Funding will go to projects in manufacturing, tourism, healthcare, technology and more
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Apr 13, 2023
The Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP), a program designed to improve work opportunities for residents through training and education, will advance to phase two with $26 million in total funding appropriated by state lawmakers. (Courtesy photo from the Wyoming Innovation Partnership)
By Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Wyoming is advancing a workforce development initiative to diversify the state’s economy and build a highly skilled workforce.
Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday that the Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP), a program designed to improve work opportunities for residents with training and education, will move to phase two with $26 million in total funding appropriated by state lawmakers.
“These funds will help us to expand and continue our efforts to build a well-trained workforce of the future in high-wage and high-growth fields,” Gordon said. “This is good news for our citizens, communities and businesses, which will all benefit from this critical effort to align education and workforce development.”
Funded applications came from the University of Wyoming (UW), the Wyoming Department of Education, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and all eight of the state’s community colleges. The applications also included projects in manufacturing, workforce development and agriculture in addition to projects from existing programs in tourism and hospitality, healthcare, entrepreneurship, energy, digital infrastructure and technology and consortial infrastructure.
The newly funded agriculture proposals fall under controlled environment agriculture, ranch management and precision agriculture, according to a statement from the governor’s office. Other proposals include advanced manufacturing and internship development for young adults and construction trades.
“We are still negotiating the award letters with our partner institutions,” Michael Pearlman, the governor’s spokesperson, told the Wyoming Truth. “A finalized list of the awards with amounts should be available in the coming days.”
The Wyoming Department of Education will receive $5,219,300, Linda Finnerty, department spokesperson, told the Wyoming Truth. The money will go toward scaling high school student-level computer science micro-credentials statewide, the development and piloting of student-level employability skills micro-credentials and the creation of a digital credential wallet that can be used by Wyoming residents.
“Issuing college credit for earning computer science micro-credentials to students encourages them to continue onto college after high school,” Finnerty said. “For some, it will encourage them to continue to pursue a college degree in computer science, which would support our current and future industries across Wyoming…. Having these skills makes students more employable in our workforce throughout their lives.”
Some projects funded in the WIP’s first phase will continue in the second phase, including a software development program at Sheridan College. This program started as a collaboration with UW but has grown to include Central Wyoming Community College, Northwest College and Western Wyoming Community College.
The WIP launched in 2021 with $27 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to “align education and workforce development and support innovation, entrepreneurship and research to help drive Wyoming’s economy,” the initiative’s website states.
The initiative could potentially help Wyoming address its “brain drain” issue, a phenomenon where hundreds of highly trained and educated folks leave the Cowboy State each year in search of better pay, job opportunities or living conditions elsewhere.
A 2020 report from McKinsey & Co., the most recent one provided that was shared with the Wyoming Truth, found that 66% of UW graduates relocated after earning their degrees, with many of them migrating to surrounding western states.
Under the WIP, UW launched several new programs, including its School of Computing, the Wyoming Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality (WORTH) Initiative.
UW’s School of Computing was founded in January 2022 to arm students with computing and digital skills. It is working with community colleges to offer more pathways for students to pursue technology-related degrees and developing partnerships with Wyoming companies.
Although the computing school has a few students working on projects, staff are in the midst of creating the first academic program – a minor in computing that can complement any major at UW. The goal is to have students enroll in this minor next fall, with more degree options, including majors in computing and applied software development following shortly, Gabrielle Allen, the school’s director, told the Wyoming Truth last year.
Other programs under phase one of WIP include the development of a new echocardiography program, a powerline technology program, a fiber optics program, a comprehensive curriculum about blockchain innovation and the addition of a virtual reality component into Wyoming’s education system.
The timeline for phase two is scheduled through June 2024, with the third and final phase — that has yet to be fully defined — expected to start July 2024.