The New North has recovered job counts to pre-recession rates and made gains in average quarterly wages says Jerry Murphy. executive director of New North, Inc., and the labor participation rate in both the state and Northeast Wisconsin.
This is fantastic news, but it carries with it a downside, Murphy told attendees at the New North Summit, which drew a crowd of more than 600.
“It’s wonderful to have really robust unemployment numbers, but this is also demonstrating that we may be approaching a point that we’re simply running out of available workforce,” Murphy said in his opening address.
With an aging workforce, it’s vital for companies to begin devising strategies for addressing the shortage now. Business, community and education leaders gathered to do just that at the New North’s annual summit at the KI Center.
With a theme of Talent Triathlon and a focus on three the legs of attracting, retaining and developing talent, it was fitting for Olympic bronze medalist wrestler and Freedom native Garrett Lowney to kick off the event.
“I’ve seen a lot of great successes and epic failures when it comes to talent recruiting,” said Lowney, now director of product strategies for Schreiber Foods.
In the quest to move toward more success, he urged convention goers to look at whether their companies and organizations are creating the proper culture for attracting talent.
“We are clearly in a race for talent,” said Kathi Seifert, co-chair of the New North. “We all have to work together.”
Seifert took the opportunity at the event to introduce her successor. Vicki Updike, vice president at Bergstrom Automotive, who will take over as co-chair of the organization. In addition, Kim Iversen, formerly of Kimberly-Clark, was announced as director of the Northeast Wisconsin IT Alliance.
A trio of business leaders took the stage again this year for a series of ED Talks. The talks, styled after TED Talks, provided the presenters an opportunity to share the ways their organizations address talent needs.
Sharon Hulce, president of Employment Resource Group, made the crowd laugh and then think after sharing a tongue-in-cheek video that skewered Wisconsin stereotypes that perpetuate the idea that the state is only about beer, cheese and cows. We need to dispel these myths, she said, and use our great storytelling abilities to share all that makes our region special.
Today’s prospective employees want something more than just a great, safe community, she says. “They want a purpose; they want a mission; they want a cause.”
Craig Dickman, founder and chief innovation officer of Breakthrough Fuel, advocated for creating an environment that helps attract the best talent. Status quo is not good enough for the future, he says.
Many in today’s society have reservations about millennials, Dickman says. The age group, however, makes up more than 75 percent of his staff. “I suggest that you find ways to really recognize the great potential that exists with today’s workforce.”
Dickman’s company takes an unconventional approach with his company, eschewing organization charts and forgoing having a human resources department. More than 30 percent of his workforce joined the company when there was no job opening. “We didn’t know we were looking for it, but then we met somebody who we saw had incredible talents, who fit our culture, who we knew could make us better.”
Wilson Jones, president and CEO of Oshkosh Corp., identified three keys principles his company tries to follow. A company needs to clearly define its purpose, provide caring, genuine leadership and strive to understand the state of its culture.
“Career development and learning are almost two times more important than compensation, benefits and work environment,” says Jones. It’s vital to find ways to engage employees, he said.
In addition to the ED talks, three education leaders gathered to discuss how their institutions are tackling the talent crunch.
Studies have shown that when high school students are enrolled in college-level courses, they are more likely to attend and succeed in college, says Greg Hartjes, principal of Appleton West High School, whose school also houses Appleton Technical Academy, a charter school dedicated to modern advanced manufacturing.
The day culminated in breakout sessions for the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, the Society of Human Resource Management and Women in Technology (WIT).
WIT’s Adrienne Hartman, director of e-commerce and customer insights for J.J. Keller & Associates, said the technology gap in Northeast Wisconsin is real and getting worse.
In the coming years, information technology jobs will be well-paying and plentiful, with a projected 1.4 million jobs available by 2020, Hartman says.
“U.S. graduates are on track to fill only 29 percent of those jobs, and women are on track to fill just 3 percent of those jobs,” Hartman says. “It’s a serious problem that we’re facing.”