Wisconsin businesses struggle with worker shortage

Associated Press

Sept. 12, 2017

Economists, employers and government officials say a growing worker shortage in Wisconsin is expected to increase over the next decade.

The worker shortage is due to many factors, including a low unemployment rate, an aging population and Wisconsin’s poor record of attracting college graduates.

Employers from a wide range of industries say they’re struggling to find workers — from skilled professionals, such as nurses and computer programmers, to lower-wage restaurant or construction workers.

Wisconsin had an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in July, down from a peak of 9.2 percent in January 2010. Economists say full employment is around 4 or 5 percent, a level in which nearly everyone who is able and willing to work is employed.

The shortage is expected to worsen as more baby boomers retire, said Ann Franz, director of Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance. The 65-and-older population is expected to increase by two-thirds between 2010 and 2025.

‘‘We are right at the brink of the crisis,’’ Franz said. ‘‘There just aren’t enough human beings in Wisconsin with baby boomers retiring.’’

Phil Neuenfeldt, president of labor union Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said some jobs’ wages and benefits packages aren’t enough to attract workers.

The large manufacturing industry often can’t offer wage increases because staying competitive in the industry leaves little profits, said Sasha Wesolowski, human resources manager for Marquis Yachts in Pulaski.

Wesolowski said the company has dozens of job openings with pay that starts at $12.50 an hour. The company has advertised the jobs on billboards, on a local parade float and on postcards to former employees the company previously had laid off.

Some companies have struggled to find high-quality workers.

‘‘The labor market is so wonky right now that there’s no consequences to being a bad employee,’’ said Jonny Hunter, whose Madison restaurant, Forequarter, doesn’t have enough staff to serve dinner on Sundays. ‘‘People will just quit because they want two weeks off. They can go to another restaurant and get hired right away.