WAUKESHA — It’s been hard finding new employees for Wisconsin Coach Lines President Tom Dieckelman, despite the company’s willingness to train new hires and pay for that training.
“We have opportunities but the market is very soft,” Dieckelman said. “It seems like there’s more jobs out there than there are people looking to work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the busing industry hard and Dieckelman said his business didn’t hire for about nine months, but even now that they’re trying it’s tough to fill positions.
“You can easily get 40 hours here (and) full benefits,” he said. Sjoberg Tool & Manufacturing President Jim Sjoberg said his experience has been similar. He said Sjoberg Tool has opportunities in nearly every area of the shop.
“Right now we’re willing to train,” he said. “The main thing we need is someone who wants to work and show up on a regular basis.”
Sjoberg said it’s possible the extension and enhancement of unemployment benefits may be making the situation worse.
Even large companies are hiring on an ongoing basis. Generac Power Systems hired more than 800 workers in Wisconsin last year.
Waukesha County Board Chairman Paul Decker said he sees realignments taking place in the world of manufacturing, where employers are more eager to establish supply chains sourced within North America and there’s “strong indicators it’s going to continue to increase.” That need is driving even more demand for employees, but Decker said ensuring employees have the skillsets they need to evolve as automation continues to embed itself into the economy is key.
“The other group that’s really looking for people (is) construction right now,” Decker said. “They’re looking for people in carpentry, plumbing, electrical. There’s huge needs there.”
The Waukesha County Business Alliance has been working with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission as part of a National Science Foundation grant to overcome transportation barriers and physically get workers to jobs.
“Combining more traditional transit options – such as buses – with more flexible on-demand options, like ride-sharing and app-driven shuttles, we can work together to help connect employees with available jobs,” said WCBA President and CEO Suzanne Kelley.
Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Workforce Development Board Director Laura Catherman said the unemployment rate in Waukesha County is 3.8% as of March, just one percentage point from its pre-COVID level in February, 2020 and a long way from its recent peak at 13.1% last April.
“We’re really starting to see a pickup in hiring,” Catherman said. “I would say the market is strong for candidates looking for work right now.”
Catherman said initially during the pandemic about 80-90% of calls coming into the workforce center were related to unemployment insurance, but now that’s flipped and that majority share of calls made by employers looking for workers.
In Washington County, County Executive Josh Schoemann said the county’s unemployment rate is at about 4%. He touted a micro loan program at the county aimed at helping the small businesses most in need by offering up to $20,000.
“Our whole goal is to give them that cash upfront that they need today to propel them through that reopening and hopefully, four years from now, be in much better shape,” he said, adding that while some sectors are bouncing back, the restaurants and retailers are still hurting.
Washington County Board Chairman Donald Kriefall said another strategy to support local businesses is simply giving them business. He said the county board has been having weekly planned lunches at local restaurants to give them a boost.
“We encourage heavy tipping,” he said. “That’s something we’ve been doing on a regular basis.”
Helping clients of nonprofits
Ozaukee Economic Development Executive Director Kathleen Cady Schilling said recent efforts have been made to ensure nonprofits are aware of services available so they can connect their clients with job opportunities. “There are often great programs but not everyone is aware,” she said. “There’s a variety of communication options out there and we have to be sure we’re hitting them all.”
The Waukesha County Business Alliance has also been working with Waukesha County Technical College to promote gateways for high-demand careers. “We encourage young men and women looking to start their careers, individuals who want to advance their careers through additional education and training, or those in displaced industries such as hospitality, to consider the opportunities available at the excellent educational institutions in our own backyard,” Kelley said.
WCTC Career Connections Coordinator Lynda Busack said for those working through unemployment, it’s important to recognize “people are there to help them get through that and find out what their next steps will be in their career planning... there’s people who want to help them along the way.”