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State Shouldn’t Pay for Sommelier Training

Ask any five people what they consider to be the American Dream and you’ll get five completely different answers. Ask Amanda Luther what’s her version of the American Dream and she’ll more than likely respond very specifically.

Ms. Luther, a resident of Cody, wishes to become a master sommelier – an accredited wine expert – according to an article in the Casper Star-Tribune. And to that end this writer sincerely offers up a toast for all the luck and success in the world.

With one caveat, however.

And that would be finding another method to fund Luther’s esoteric career choice; something that doesn’t employ public monies.  

According to the Star-Tribune:

The Wyoming Workforce Development Training Fund awarded her a grant to help defray costs associated with her first exam in Omaha, Neb. She’s hoping for continued help when she attends a conference in Dallas this August.

The fund grants about 2,000 contracts a year in a diversity of professions, said Bill Schepeler, business liaison at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.

“It’s kind of twofold,” he said of the fund’s community value. “It will be a benefit to employers, in keeping the workforce educated, and we want to be able to help employees keep their skill sets up to date.”

Last time your writer checked, establishments in the habit of engaging sommeliers were, for the most part, a bit out of his price range. However, Mr. Schepeler seems to think our tax dollars are spent wisely on a young woman’s education for the benefit of a very small, wealthy minority who enjoy spitting fermented grape juice into buckets.

Not to insinuate that sommeliers, wine connoisseurs and a fine vintage don’t all have their place, mind you, but to assert that such rarified pastimes are undeserving of public subsidies.  Otherwise, state taxpayers might be on the hook for training both sherpas for Wyoming mountain climbing and pet sitters for purse pooches.

Where would it end?

Furthermore, in today’s job market, mobility is the norm rather than the exception. Who’s to say state taxpayers will get the maximum bang for the bucks allocated for Luther’s education before she flees the state for greener, more lucrative pastures?

Granted, the DWS operates on a $163 million budget, so whatever funds Luther receives is more than likely a drop in the ice bucket. But, as noted above, where does it end? Harry Nilsson famously sang about wanting to be a spaceman. Should he have received an education grant as well? And what about poor Kid Rock, the Detroiter yearning to be a cowboy – could he also be a candidate for Cowboy State largesse?

Yes, the DWS has an impressive placement and retention record for Wyoming jobseekers – currently hovering above 96 percent. But last time I checked the employment listings in state newspapers there wasn’t an overwhelming call for spacemen and cowboys, much less sommeliers. In fact, the Star-Tribune notes, there are only 201 master sommeliers in the entire world, of which 133 reside in the United States.

The point of all this isn’t to denigrate the honored sommelier profession or to take Luther to task for accepting found taxpayer money to further her dream.

Instead, I’m trying to convey the risk of paying for specialized knowledge shouldn’t fall on the public inasmuch it should be the responsibility of the person seeking such an education. Failing that, employers looking to increase the reputation of their respective establishments by trumpeting the arcane certifications and advanced degrees of their employees can foot the bill for same. Additionally, those employers can request something the state can’t; namely, a guarantee the employee will stick around long enough for the employer to receive a reasonable return-on-investment.

I truly wish Ms. Luther tremendous luck in her endeavors to become a sommelier. I also hope that moving forward DWS focuses more on performing as a responsible steward of public funds rather than doling it out for one exceptionally qualified wine steward.

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Thursday, 08 December 2016

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