Good help hard to find
Some sectors have trouble finding workers amid high unemployment

By Jordyn Noennig - Special to the Freeman

September 27, 2014

“Now Hiring” signs are a common sight at fast-food restaurants and other places looking to hire for entry-level jobs. 
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff 


WAUKESHA - “Now hiring, all positions, all shifts.” Signs like this have become the window decorations for many local businesses, and the fad has dressed itself on the walls of local stores in need of bodies to fill entry-level positions.

After years of nationwide unemployment abutting 10 percent, it is reassuring to know that jobs are back, but are there people ready to work out there?

“The unemployment rate sometimes makes little difference,” said QPS Staffing Group Vice President Steve Waller. “It’s the employable rate and how to get these people to your business. The people that get up early, get there on time and want to be there.”

“Now Hiring” signs are a common sight at fast-food restaurants and other places
looking to hire for entry-level jobs. 

Charles Auer/Freeman Staff 

Working trends have changed a bit since the recession hit, and getting back to work may not be as easy for some people.

“If someone collected unemployment for two years it might be hard to go back to work and hard for someone to hire you,” said Pete Hanson, the vice president of public affairs for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

And yet another factor affecting the entry-level workforce is young people seem to be working less.

“In the last 15 years or so,” said labor market economist Jeff Sachse, “students have been less interested in working, and more interested in being involved in school.”

Sachse suggested one reason for this is that the same job opportunities which were once available for preteens a few decades ago, like mowing lawns and delivering papers, are nearly gone. Now a young teenager who wants a job has fewer options, and may pick up a sport or extracurricular activity instead.

“It does seem to me that a lot more young people are focusing on extracurricular activities, and not on work,” said Hanson, “but it’s hard to measure something like that, it’s really anecdotal.”

A day for some of this generation’s high-schoolers involves a full day of class, followed by a sport practice, a choir practice, a few errands to run, and homework. It is still a full day of hard work, just without pay.

“They see the involvement essential for college admission,” Sachse says.

This focus on college has even spilled over to a declining amount of workers pursuing jobs that need only two years of college, such as skilled trades.

“It’s really become a difficult field to fill since the really big push to go to college,” says Waller.

Technical colleges and companies alike are pushing programs to encourage students to pursue careers such as a welder, plumber, or mechanic.

“A great deal of skilled positions will never go away,” says Waller. “They’re not as glamorous, but they are well paid, beneficial jobs.” 

Population changes affecting job market 

There has been a small pushback to students pursing skilled trades according to Waller, but population changes leave the future for entry-level jobs looking a little more grim.

From now until 2040 the state’s population is expected to grow 14 percent, but because of the baby boomer generation aging, the working- age population is projected to expand only 0.1 percent statewide.

Companies will be forced to concentrate on filling upper-level jobs, as the baby boomers who worked their way up the promotion ladder begin to retire.

“Companies will put their value in filling higher level jobs,” says Sachse, “and try to find the other work for cheaper.”

Sachse points to grocery store self-checkouts as an example, where a cashier can monitor five checkout stations at a time instead of one.

But Hanson doesn’t see all employers going this way, especially in the restaurant business.

“By and large people still want the personal touch, and not a tablet to take food orders,” Hanson says.

He calls restaurants a labor-intensive industry, meaning it takes a lot of people to get the job done. Some restaurants in the area have reported a struggle to get enough people to work.

Pete Madland, executive director at the Wisconsin Tavern League, said that young people often “want to tend bar, but they don’t want to work weekends and nights.”

And Sachse agrees, many college students would rather spend their weekend money than go out and make it.