ICYMI: CEOs of Rockwell Automation, Johnson Controls and U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil Discuss Workforce Development Solutions in Milwaukee

November 8, 2023

Last week, Business Roundtable and Rockwell Automation hosted an event in Milwaukee, WI, to discuss how to scale workforce development in Wisconsin and make opportunities for upskilling more accessible. The event featured Blake Moret, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Rockwell Automation, George Oliver, Chairman and CEO of Johnson Controls and U.S. Representative Bryan Steil (WI-01), who participated virtually.

During a panel discussion moderated by Business Roundtable Senior Vice President of Corporate Initiatives Dane Linn, Moret, Oliver and Rep. Steil highlighted the importance of public and private sector collaboration to increase economic opportunity. The panelists also explained how crucial it is for the United States to invest in skilling and reskilling the current and future workforce. Rockwell's Blake Moret and Johnson Controls' George Oliver also explained how their companies support their workforces through upskilling, increasing support for nontraditional educational pathways and hiring veterans.

To watch the full discussion, click here.

Johnson Controls Chairman and CEO George Oliver; Business Roundtable Senior Vice President for Corporate Initiatives Dane Linn; and Rockwell Automation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Blake Moret discuss workforce development on stage.

From left to right: Johnson Controls Chairman and CEO George Oliver; Business Roundtable Senior Vice President for Corporate Initiatives Dane Linn; and Rockwell Automation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Blake Moret

On company investments in workforce development programs:

 Johnson Controls CEO George Oliver:

“Our Johnson Controls Academy — we take applicants for diverse candidates, veterans and working adults looking to advance themselves — and we hire about 130-150 per year. What we do is, it’s pretty intense, we take them for six weeks, we bring them to one training center for six weeks. We pay not only housing and training, but then depending on where we deploy them back into the workforce, we then move them and get them positioned to where they will be productive and ultimately be able to contribute. Our track record on that training program, we’ve been able to retain 97% so far of the individuals that have been through the training. What you recognize is, when you are investing, when you are developing and you are advancing, our retention rates go up significantly.”

Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret:

“In today’s market, having employees who are comfortable working hand in hand with the technology that gives them superpowers is essential. It’s not about replacing direct labor with technology as much as it is giving workers those superpowers to be able to accomplish the most to their capabilities. With this in mind, in 2017, we formed the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing … and we chose veterans as the focus of our efforts to provide these upskilling efforts because veterans have so many of the basic attributes that make them very attractive workers for industry.”

U.S. Representative Bryan Steil participates virtually alongside George Oliver, Dane Linn and Blake Moret

Right to left: U.S. Representative Bryan Steil participates virtually alongside George Oliver, Dane Linn and Blake Moret

On the value of public-private partnerships:

U.S. Representative Bryan Steil:

“Partnering with our private sector employers is something I think we can make dramatic improvements on in our state and our country. … I think broadly speaking, everybody understands that need to improve the flexibility inside the programs. … I feel ultimately optimistic that we’re going to provide more flexibility for a lot of our educational programs.”

Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret:

“Making the most with scarce talent is exactly what we’re trying to address here. We can’t solve this problem alone. It’s going to be companies like Rockwell, like Johnson Controls. It’s going to be public institutions, learning institutions. It’s going to be the government working together. And I think in the end, it’s going to require that commitment to lifelong learning, outcome-based education that produces demonstrable results and then those partnerships that are going to be the winning hand.”

On building the workforce of the future:

 Johnson Controls CEO George Oliver:

“We’re very much focused on what is that next generation, and how do we actively participate with the education and all the different institutions that are critical to being able to develop that next workforce? … We’re looking at every one of the talent pools and then designing programs that we believe we can, especially in the communities that we provide the services and programs for our customers, there’s incredible talent, it’s our ability to be able to attract that talent and then develop that talent to create jobs that have great wages and lifelong employment.”

U.S. Representative Bryan Steil:

“Embracing the technology, building it into the education pipeline and from a federal government standpoint, providing the flexibilities for our education system to be creative and responsive to local workforce needs is going to be an essential piece of that puzzle.”

On creating opportunities outside of four-year degrees:

Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret:

“We want to make sure that we can welcome the broadest pool of potentially qualified applicants and then to be able to give them the assurance that they’ll have the opportunities to get ahead during what may be a 40-year career and to give opportunities for additional education. I can look at examples in Rockwell where we have people who don’t have a formal four-year degree, who are in some of the most technical roles, who have exhibited some of the best leadership, in the company, and so we know that we have to think more about what are the actual requirements we put on a job requisition.”

U.S. Representative Bryan Steil:

“Getting those resources in for men and women who are serving in the United States military, wearing the United States uniform, and are transitioning back into the civilian sector, it is key that we’re connecting them directly with job opportunities. So many of our large employers in the state are looking for people with skillsets in the United States military, like leadership and hard work ethic, and connecting them directly into private sector jobs.”

Johnson Controls CEO George Oliver:

“We’re working in communities that have been historically underrepresented in our industry and we can bring them into our industry, and then with the development, we find about 20% go on to either community college or technical school. When you’re providing the resources and development, that number can go to 70%. It’s a significant step up and so when you see those statistics and the recognition of the resources being deployed, we’re getting the return.”

In conjunction with the event, the Roundtable released its case study on Rockwell’s Academy of Advance Manufacturing (AAM), which is a 12-week program that equips veterans with the technical and workplace skills needed to fill in-demand manufacturing jobs. Over the six years of the AAM program, over 400 individuals have graduated and 364 are employed with a Rockwell customer.

Business Roundtable selected AAM to join its Workforce Partnership Initiative (WPI) in 2018, connecting the program to other regional partnerships between companies and higher education institutions that are working to fill high-demand jobs in STEM-related fields and skilled trade positions. 

Read more about last week’s event, here.

For more information on the WPI, click here.

For more on Business Roundtable’s other Corporate Initiatives, click below: