Campaign underway at HUHS to attract students to area skilled careers
Inability to fill local skilled jobs forces overtime work

By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT - Daily News

Oct. 30, 2017

IT Operations Supervisor Jonathan Hostad, left, and IT systems Manager Jeff Ruedinger walk toward a poster advertising jobs at local companies Friday morning at Hartford Union High School
John Ehlke/Daily News

It’s an old tune that many area businesses and industries continue to sing — the economy is expanding, but they don’t have enough skilled workers to meet customer demand.

Many local businesses have tried a number of different ways to attract those skilled workers, including job fairs, outdoor billboards and other modes of advertising, but now they are taking a different approach in Hartford.

Six Hartford businesses are taking part in an indoor billboard campaign called “Creating Our Future Today” at Hartford Union High School. Those involved say it’s an effort to help HUHS students understand the presence of good paying jobs in the city that make good careers — careers they may not have thought about.

“We at the Hartford Area Development Corporation have been looking for ways to partner-up with school districts in the area and particularly Hartford Union High School so that we could help them promote a career in the tech education programs at the school,” said HADC Executive Director Tom Hostad. “So we came up with the idea to show to current students on a billboard some earlier HUHS graduates who had embarked on very successful careers with area businesses.”

The six companies shown on the billboard that are paying for most of the campaign’s costs are Helgesen Industries, CDM Tool, Menasha Corp., Signicast, Broan-Nu-Tone and Steel Craft Corp.

“I think what they are calling the campaign is a really good idea,” said HUHS Administrator Attila Weninger. “I think it fosters opportunities for kids. I think it shows careers that are available in the community.”

Bob Jewell of Ad-ucation Media, who created the campaign, said one billboard, 4 feet high by 8 feet long, is now on display at HUHS.

“I’ve been in the media business for 25 or so years and we started Ad-ucation Media with certain goals,” Jewell said. “One was to help local and regional businesses get their messages out by sponsoring a billboard inside a school that has to be either educational, nutritional or health related as far as the message they portray.”

Hostad said they hope to make a connection with the students by showing people they might know who now work at the six Hartford companies.

“It lists their names, the year they graduated and the position they hold at the particular company. What we’ve learned is that there have been a number of area graduates who have gone onto very successful careers and hold very responsible positions at these companies,” Hostad said. “We want to show students that it is possible to stay local after graduation. With the right skills they could advance to pretty responsible positions at area companies.”

Signacast CFO Tom McDonald said there are a large number of HUHS graduates throughout his company.

“They’re proud to come from HUHS and want others there to know of the opportunities here,” McDonald said. “Our employees are connected to the school. They volunteer — their kids go there. It’s a natural fit to support the school and make people aware of the opportunities.”

McDonald said despite using a variety of methods his company, and others, continue to struggle to find skilled workers.

“I’ve got 50 plus openings that I can’t fill. They are in all areas of the organization,” McDonald said.

Hostad said local businesses have seen improvement in the economy which creates opportunities for growth. They are trying to hire for that reason, but they are also being hit by retirements by those from the baby-boom generation.

“It’s kind of a double whammy,” Hostad said. “There’s a lot of overtime being worked to keep up with the rising customer demand.”

Weninger said the school, in just the two weeks since the billboard went up, has had “lots of comments about it from kids, staff and other people that come into the building.”

“They say they recognize a name or they know that person or they went to school with that person or they had that kid in a class,” Weninger said.

Hostad said Jewell is seeking opportunities to work with other businesses and schools in the county to do the same thing.