Study: Workers Lack Skills

Posted on Feb 1, 2010 :: Up Front
Margaret LeBrun
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Half of employers in Northeast Wisconsin believe there’s a close match between the skills of workers and the jobs available in the region, according to a recent Nicolet Bank Business Pulse survey conducted for New North, Inc. by Intellectual Marketing.

Is this a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty scenario? Neither, says New North, Inc. Executive Director Jerry Murphy. It indicates a substantial disconnect may exist between the skills of people looking for work and the jobs that go unfilled – especially in this economy. Another 38 percent of the 137 survey respondents said there is a “limited match” between the skills of the existing regional workforce and the needs of business, and 11 percent indicated the gap is “significant.”

“I was kind of surprised, particularly because when you talk to employers about the quality of their workforce, they are usually complimentary,” says Murphy.

The survey results indicate the level of skills that employers need continues to increase, says Jim Golembeski, director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, based in Green Bay.

“Some of that is because during this recession, the companies that have survived are investing in new technology,” Golembeski says. “Some of that technology has come way down in price – it requires a higher level of skills and a lot of people haven’t kept up.

“Employers are really looking for some attitudinal things as well, such as teamwork and taking care of your personal wellness. It means contributing more to the bottom line of the company and communication skills, but so many people we are seeing say, ‘all I want is a job.’

“Employers are also looking for integrity. And any company worth its salt today is looking at sustainability, and whether it is lean or Six Sigma, it’s about employee involvement. If you want to just do your job, that’s not enough.”

Cheryl Welch, executive administrator of the Fox Cities Workforce Development Board, also sees that many older workers lack computer and technical skills. Further, employers need to better convey their needs to educators in the K-12 school system, she adds.

“That practical application to the work world is not as strong as it should be,” she says. Resources exist for job seekers to get the training they need, she points out.

“We need to put some onus back on the job seeker to help them understand that lifelong learning is critical, and whatever is offered it’s their responsibility to take advantage of. Right now, employers have a large number of people to choose from and they’re going to get the people who are most qualified. That will leave a lot of people without jobs as the job market opens up. They need to take assessments to see what skills they lack.”

Welch says a consortium of representatives from the workforce boards, the four technical colleges, New North, Inc. and others has been meeting monthly for the past year to address short-term and long-term training needs, particularly of unemployed workers. Further, the New North, Inc. Education Committee has been tackling ways to help employers and educators communicate to ensure that youth are prepared for the type of jobs available in the region.

Margaret LeBrun

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