Two recent surveys show businesses throughout the New North region simply do not have enough qualified employees to fill their current or projected openings.
The surveys conducted for New North Inc.’s Business Intelligence Committee and the NEW Manufacturing Alliance both found that not only are businesses looking for qualified workers, they also worry the talent crunch will affect long-term growth.
The New North Business Intelligence Committee’s survey, conducted by St. Norbert College’s Strategic Research Institute, found 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.
NEWMA’s Manufacturing Vitality Index, which was conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research Services, discovered that manufacturers’ biggest concern is finding enough workers to sustain and increase their growth.
“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,” said Jamie Lynch, director of St. Norbert College’s Strategic Research Institute. “Most are doing the same legacy methods they’ve always used in attracting talent.”
NEWMA’s survey revealed 59 percent of manufacturers plan to hire more workers during the first quarter of 2019, while 70 percent plan to invest in modernization during the next 12 months.
“It’s a very bullish report,” said NEWMA Director Ann Franz. “Companies are, overall, strong. They are reinvesting in their companies via modernization and expansion. They are seeing a strong increase in customers. Lastly, we continue, not surprisingly, to see a huge stress for manufacturers in finding workforce.”
When it comes to hiring new workers, finding skilled employees will remain a key issue for manufacturers, Franz said. In 2019, 88 percent said they would have trouble filling their open positions — a dramatic increase from the 29 percent of employers in 2011 who could not find the workers they needed.
Among manufacturers, general labor positions, machinists, CNC machinists and engineers remain the hardest jobs to fill in the region, and while most of the unfilled jobs require some post-secondary education, many do not require a four-year degree.
After seeing the results of the St. Norbert study, John Kreul, CIO and vice president of supply chains at Bemis Co. and co-chair of the Business Intelligence Committee, said what employers have done in the past to attract and retain workers is not enough.
“I hope these results (from the St. Norbert survey) get you thinking,” he said at the New North Summit in early December when the results were announced. “Business disruption is a definite concern. The talent shortage won’t go away. We need to start thinking and acting differently.”
The talent shortage was a frequent topic at the New North Summit, as presenters shared ideas from how to attract more workers to the region to raising awareness among students about in-demand careers.
Mark Hogan, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., said the organization has introduced multiple initiatives to address the state’s talent shortage. Two campaigns have launched fully — one focused on millennials in the Midwest and one targeted at alumni from the state’s colleges and universities. The WEDC also recently debuted a campaign reaching out to veterans returning to civilian life.
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.”
In one of the summit’s three ED Talks, Mary Goggans, president of Appleton-based Encapsys, said her company hires the children of its employees for its internship program. Students are exposed to the technology Encapsys uses for microencapsulation of phase change materials. The company’s products are used for a variety of applications in consumer goods.
“The interns see the jobs and technologies they are interested in right here in the area,” Goggans said. “They realize they don’t need to get a job outside of the region to have the career they are looking for.”