serves customers at Bella Gusto in downtown Oconomowoc
on Wednesday night.
Kenny Yoo/Special to The
WAUKESHA — A tight labor market in Waukesha County is
forcing area business owners to get creative to land the
talent they need.
“Everything from looking at untraditional sources of
talent to enhancing their facilities to really reviewing
their corporate culture and making sure that reflects
what they want to project to prospective employees,”
said Suzanne Kelley, president and CEO of the Waukesha
County Business Alliance.
The unemployment rate in Waukesha County remains very
low at 2.5 percent in October, according to the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Kelley said the workforce shortage is the number one
problem facing the region right now.
“You’re seeing ‘help wanted’ signs all over Waukesha
County and I think that’s an indication that we continue
to have a very tight labor market,” Kelley said.
To address the problem, Kelley said, businesses need to
have a multifaceted, three-pronged approach.
“They need to attract, develop and retain,” she said.
“The Waukesha County Business Alliance is working with
our members on all three of those tenets.”
Dan Schwefel, owner of Schwefel’s Restaurant in
Oconomowoc, said there is a lack of workers in every
industry right now, which creates problems and issues.
“When you’re in the service industry, our customers are
looking for someone to take care of them,” Schwefel
said. “They want things in a timely manner and with a
friendly face on them.
“That does become more difficult with the employment
situation the way that it is, there’s no doubt about
Schwefel said he hasn’t seen the workforce shortage this
bad since 2000, when he would hire anybody with a pulse
if they walked in the door.
“Hiring new people now is definitely difficult,”
Schwefel said. “Fact of the matter is I have a lot of
good employees that have been here a long time. That
helps me a lot because I have a good staff.”
employee Nate Rupnow tosses a pizza to prep for
Wednesday night in Oconomowoc.
Kenny Yoo/Special to The
Kelley said there are several factors contributing to
the workforce issue in the region.
“The number one thing is the economy is very strong
right now and that has increased job opportunities as a
whole,” she said.
Waukesha County has seen a population increase for the
last few years and there are more people in the county
than ever before, Kelley said.
“But a robust economy has enhanced job opportunities, so
it has become an increasingly difficult to fill
openings,” she said. The aging population is part of the
problem as well, Kelley said.
“Employers are facing a growing number of retirements
and that is going to continue for the foreseeable
future, so that creates a lot of opportunities for
people coming into the job market,” she said Tom Burns,
co-owner of Bella Gusto in Oconomowoc, said the only
issue he has had filling staff positions since his
business opened in 2015 was when he expanded it.
“We hired that staff back in July and everybody has been
intact since,” Burns said. “We pay a little higher than
other restaurants do, plus we retain our staff.”
Despite Oconomowoc having a flurry of restaurants going
into the city, Burns said Bella Gusto has had a record
year and retained a lot of the staff they have brought
“We’ve had a good year for us because everyone we hired
last year is still on board and kitchen staff is over a
year and a half back there, so there’s a lot of
stability,” he said.
Schwefel said he is currently has a full staff for the
first time in a long time.
“That being said, if the right candidate walks in that
is going to help me I’ll hire them because I’m always
looking to make my staff better,” Schwefel said.