New challenges in innovation: workforce development

Posted on May 15, 2016 :: Editors Note
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

There is no bigger buzzword in Northeast Wisconsin right now than talent.

Specifically, how do we find it and how do we keep it. With the baby boomer bubble bursting and beginning to deflate, companies in our region are seeing large numbers leave the workforce, taking their experience and skills with them. While there certainly are skilled workers among Generation X and the Millennials, there aren’t nearly as many, nor have they always been encouraged to pursue technical degrees and manufacturing careers.

Couple that with an incredibly tight labor market — Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was at 4.5 percent in March, and its workforce participation rate is above the national average — and you’ve got labor challenges that can pose an existential threat to the region’s industries.

Enter the workforce innovators.

As we put this month’s issue of Insight on Manufacturing together, it seems that talent and innovation touch almost every story. A lot of it starts with keeping current employees happy.

It makes sense, given the tight labor market. The options for employers are simple: building a talent pipeline, recruiting and retaining and training your own. The first one takes time and involves educational partners — it’s a long-term strategy. Option 2, recruiting, also takes time and can be costly as wage pressures rise. A better bet for many of the region’s companies is to focus on retaining their existing workforce with innovative programs that make them an employer of choice.

This month’s issue takes a look at how all three options are playing out across the region.

Our cover story (page 8) takes a look at many of the programs regional employers have introduced to make themselves employers of choice and reduce the constant recruiting cycle. Whether it’s onsite health and wellness resources, specialized in-house training, employee recognition programs or just some one-on-one time with the boss, writer MaryBeth Matzek details how these programs have helped companies such as Amerequip, Master’s Gallery and J&R Machine retain a stable workforce and reduce employee churn.

But don’t think for a second that regional employers aren’t thinking about the long-term as well. An exciting example to watch is the Red Raider Manufacturing Initiative in Sheboygan County (page 18). This collaboration between the Sheboygan Area School District and regional manufacturers will result in modern training facilities and curriculum at each high school, with aggressive plans to double the number of students pursuing technical education courses.

“We are looking out for the future — we have to develop a good pipeline of talent to deal with the demographic bubble we are facing,” says Robert Krause, vice president of operations at Vollrath Co. “This can help us not only deal with that, but help the community to keep growing.”

The future is very much on the minds of member companies of the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance. The organization celebrates its 10th anniversary in June and has spent the better part of that decade working to increase educational opportunities for manufacturing careers and to change the perception of what that work entails.

While they will certainly celebrate the milestone, the organization knows there is more work to be done. In our Insight From column, Paul Rauscher, one of the group’s founding members, discusses both past accomplishments and future challenges faced by the manufacturers in Northeast Wisconsin.

Both will be part of the discussion during the June 6 event at Lambeau Field. I hope to meet many of you there to celebrate manufacturing in Northeast Wisconsin.