By Mark J. Bradley

Change is the very essence of life. It is inevitable and it is constant. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “When you’re finished changing … you’re finished.”

Mark Bradley

But not even Ben Franklin could have imagined the rate of change we are undergoing today. In his time, the body of human knowledge doubled every 1,000 years. Then, around 1900, with the proliferation of new technologies such as radio, gas-powered engines, airplanes and refrigeration, human knowledge began to double in just 100 years. The 1970s saw the birth of the information age with the inventions of the microprocessor and the personal computer. The body of human knowledge exploded and now doubles almost annually.

Public institutions help communities adapt to this velocity of change. One of the most important of these establishments is the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Wausau, a quality and affordable public university where thousands of area students have begun their college journeys.

Access to quality higher education is not just something nice to have for a privileged few. In today’s rapidly changing world, it is an essential public service for the greater good of the entire community. 

In 2018, 74 percent of companies participating in a world economic forum said the availability of a talented workforce is the primary factor that determines the location of new investments. A robust pool of talent improves competitiveness, enhances productivity and sparks innovation.

What kind of workers are these companies seeking? Increasingly, they are looking for employees with the “soft skills” one obtains from a broad-based college education. These include data gathering and interpretation, problem solving and critical thinking, creativity, verbal and written communication skills, the ability to speak more than one language, and the ability to work in diverse groups.

Possibly one of the most important of the soft skills business leaders seek is adaptability. They know the data. Thanks to emerging technologies, 65 percent of children entering primary school will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist. Roughly 54 percent of today’s workers will require “reskilling” or “up-skilling” over the next several years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 1.37 million U.S. workers will be displaced fully out of their roles in the next decade, requiring wholesale “reskilling.”

Colleges and universities throughout the U.S. see these challenges and are taking a multifaceted approach to tackling them. This includes UW-Stevens Point at Wausau.

That responsiveness to change may not be noticeable on the exterior as you drive past any UW-Stevens Point campus, including Marshfield and Wausau, but it is happening. Faculty and staff are redesigning their curricula, teaching methods, scheduling and advising to ensure their programs are relevant to today’s labor market, accessible to a broader set of workers and more hands-on. They are also using multidisciplinary degrees and work-and-learn experiences to offer students in any degree program the opportunity to combine traditional liberal arts skills with the critical job skills noted earlier. This approach improves the marketability of their degrees, their value to employers, as well as their ability to reinvent themselves as the economy changes.

Yet, UW-Stevens Point at Wausau faculty and administrators do not expect to meet the workforce needs of our community on their own. They often act as connecters in the educational ecosystem. They broker partnerships with area high schools by offering an annual career expo. This fall, hundreds of area high school students will take UW-Stevens Point courses, reducing the cost and time toward completing their bachelor’s degrees.

UW-Stevens Point at Wausau also collaborates with universities around the state to expand opportunities to complete high-quality degrees throughout the UW System. University and academic leaders continually work with area employers to understand their needs. As a result, the Wausau campus now offers an MBA, the master of business administration and decision-making, bachelor’s degrees in business administration, nursing and social work and five professional associate degrees.

Indeed, in meeting local needs for more university education and for more university-educated employees, the UW-Stevens Point at Wausau is among our community’s most important change agents.

Mark J. Bradley is an attorney at Ruder Ware and a former president of the UW System Board of Regents.