Making Wisconsin a workforce destination
Local business leaders talk attracting millennials, veterans

By Cara Spoto - Freeman Staff

Dec. 18, 2017

 Tricia Braun, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, talks to Waukesha County Business Alliance members Friday about WEDC’s efforts to attract and retain Midwestern millennials, state university graduates, and veterans. Braun’s presentation was part of the alliance’s Key Industries event at Country Springs Hotel and Conference Center in Waukesha.
Cara Spoto/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA — With industries facing tough waters recruiting qualified employees, local business leaders gathered Friday morning at Country Springs Hotel and Conference Center to talk about how best to attract millennials and other talent pools.

What they learned is that while there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the key is to get their story out to workers about what their workplace, and their community, has to offer.

Organized by the Waukesha County Business Alliance, the event featured a panel discussion with industry experts, and was capped by a keynote address by Tricia Braun.

The chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Braun gave the gathering a glimpse into the agency’s new marketing campaign aimed at attracting and retaining Midwestern millennials, alumni from the state’s universities, and veterans.

The WEDC has already earmarked about $1 million of its own funds to target those groups in Chicago, but Gov. Scott Walker has called on lawmakers to approve another $6.8 million to expand those efforts to other Midwestern cities, like Detroit and Minneapolis.

Setting your workplace apart

For Kelly Renz, president and CEO of The Novo Group, which helps industries with recruiting, the key to solving what she called the “gap in talent” is setting your workplace apart.

“I just read some statistics and some studies around technical talent, IT and engineering, and in five years there will be three jobs for every one with a person with that talent set,” said Renz, speaking during the panel discussion.

“As an organization if you are not differentiating yourself enough, making yourself unique enough to attract the talent that you need, you need to do it now.”

That effort doesn’t have to be high cost, but it should be high focus, Renz said, noting a great way to attract new blood is to embrace “unique employment deals” for new workers.

“We are not just talking about benefits, because, guess what? Companies have benefits. But what else is unique? What is the flexibility you offer? What are the learning and development programs you have? What are the mentoring capabilities that you offer? If you look at what millennials want, they want someone to invest in them,” she continued.

Gone are the days of posting a job, and just praying that qualified people will apply, Renz said, adding companies need to seek out skilled workers where they like to hang out.

‘Think, Make, Happen’

For the WEDC and its efforts to retain and attract more talent to the state, the focus has been on highlighting what makes Wisconsin — and its various regions — attractive and unique places to live, work and raise a family, explained Braun.

The WEDC came up with its latest campaign after talking to millennials about what they enjoy about life in Wisconsin, Braun told alliance members, and learned that what they like best is having more of what they love to do.

“They have more time with their families. They have more spending money. They have a bigger house,” Braun said. “The theme was ‘here in Wisconsin, you can have more of you.’” Dubbed “Think, Make, Happen,” the campaign focuses heavily on quality of life benefits, comparing Chicagoland’s arduous commutes and high-cost housing with metro living in Wisconsin that leaves time and money for dining out and spending time with family.

“Make bedtime, or make playtime,” reads one ad. Another states: “If you were in Wisconsin, you’d be home by now.”

A separate slate of ads focuses on young veterans and what the state has to offer them.

People can get a look at some of the ads themselves when WEDC launches a new website dedicated to recruiting businesses and talents later this month.