If there was one theme running through the annual New North Summit at the Fox Cities Exhibition Center in Appleton on Thursday, it was the talent shortage. The lack of qualified employees in the region — and Wisconsin — was an emphasis for multiple speakers from Mark Hogan, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., to Michelle Schuler, manager of TechSpark Wisconsin for Microsoft.
“We are going through a digital transformation. Microsoft is investing in programs that get students future-ready,” Schuler said as she talked about the TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) program that brings a computer science professional into the classroom to co-teach a computer science course with an educator. “Microsoft’s goal is to have every high school student in Brown and Outagamie counties take a computer science course before graduation.”
The WEDC has introduced multiple initiatives to address the state’s talent shortage, Hogan said. The group has fully rolled out two campaigns — one focused on millennials in the Midwest and one targeted at alumni from the state’s colleges and universities. The next step is reaching out to veterans who are returning to civilian life. The WEDC formally announced its Mission Wisconsin initiative last week.
As part of the nationwide Hiring Our Heroes program, WEDC and other state representatives attend events where military members gather before returning to civilian life.
“They share what it’s like to live and work in Wisconsin,” Hogan said. “We talk about quality of life and the wide variety of jobs available. We’re targeting personnel who have said they plan to leave the area where their base is after leaving the military.”
A survey conducted by St. Norbert College’s Strategic Research Institute uncovered that most New North business leaders are concerned about not having the workers their companies need to be successful. Jamie Lynch, director of the institute, shared that 40 percent of leaders believe their business will face a disruption by 2020 and 67 percent responded they feel their business is at risk for a disruption due to not having enough talented workers.
“While business leaders see the talent shortage as a big concern, 40 percent of them are not adopting practices to address the warning signs they are seeing,” he said. “Most are doing the same legacy methods they’ve always used in attracting talent.”
Those strategies will not work on their own — more innovative ideas are needed to bring in new employees, said John Kreul, CIO and vice president of supply chains at Bemis Co. and co-chair of New North Inc.’s Business Intelligence Committee.
“I hope these results get you thinking. Business disruption is a definite concern,” he said. “The talent shortage won’t go away. We need to start thinking and acting differently.”
Evers pays visit: Gov.-elect Tony Evers focused his keynote on the importance of developing a solid statewide transportation system that will help move businesses move their products from point A to point B as well as improving road safety.
“I definitely believe high-quality roads across the state — not only in southeast Wisconsin, but in Price County — is the key to unlocking economic development,” he said.
Coming up with a solution will require bipartisan support, Evers said.
“We need to have some intestinal fortitude to move forward on some of these tougher topics,” he said. “Having high-quality roads should be a nonpartisan issue that Democrats and Republicans can all get behind.”
Evers, a Democrat, also chimed in on the news of the day — moves made by the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature to curtail his power and that of the incoming attorney general.
“I think the governor being held at arms’ length from the state’s economic development authority is a mistake,” he said. “I am all about solving problems and building collaboration.
“I am asking for everyone’s help in this room to partner with me to solve the state’s problems,” Evers said as the audience gave him a standing ovation.
A few minutes later, Hogan, who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker, took to the stage and said that “we want to make this work. We want whoever is governor to be successful since that helps Wisconsin be successful, which is something we all want.”