THE EVOLVING JOBS CRISIS
It was just a few short years ago when unemployment in Wisconsin and throughout the country was in double digits and everyone was wondering whether or not it would ever come down.
But, things have changed dramatically in recent years and the changes will likely only get magnified in future years.
Unemployment in Wisconsin is now about 3.2 percent, a 17-year low and while we don’t have an exact number for Watertown, we’re sure it mirrors the state numbers.
A good indicator is a stroll through downtown Watertown where help wanted signs are posted on door fronts and in business locations. Some businesses have even cut back hours simply because of staffing issues.
Many of these jobs are either part-time or have lower skill levels. Those jobs are typically easy to fill, but not anymore. So many people are working full-time that they don’t have the time or interest to be taking on a part-time position.
Take a glance at any recent classified advertising section of the Watertown Daily Times and you’ll find several pages of advertising for part- and full-time positions.
Many of the larger and better known businesses and industries are looking for people in many different positions.
As some examples, Shorehaven in Oconomowoc has openings in 11 different job classifications. The John Deere plant in Horicon is seeking people for a number of high paying positions. Fisher Barton has a lot of production openings with varying skills needed.
The list is nearly endless. Others who are looking for good workers include the city of Watertown, Bank of Lake Mills, Masterson Staffing Solutions, Bethesda Lutheran Communities, Triton Trailers, PivotPoint, Clasen Quality Chocolates, Marquardt Village and many others.
All the businesses involved with construction are in need of workers in the trades, like heating, plumbing, carpentry, electrical, etc.
The common thread in most of these positions is that the people they hire need to have the skills necessary to do the jobs that are available.
That’s one area where so many communities fall behind. It’s not just a Watertown issue, it’s all over where people would like to have the positions but they often don’t have the work experience or training to be able to work at that particular level.
So, what’s causing all of this imbalance in the number of trained workers as compared to the number of skilled positions available?
Well, it’s a variety of issues. First of all, the days where people could go from their high school education and into a well-paying job without any additional training are about over. Today more education and training is needed, whether it’s an associate’s degree from MATC or university, or if it’s an apprenticeship or some combination of both.
With the computerization of just about everything these days, workers are needed not to necessarily operate a piece of equipment but rather be able to program that piece of equipment to do what you want it to do. Then, there’s the maintenance and constant upgrades to the equipment which will be needed on a continuing basis.
Technology is such a huge part of our lives that we sometimes forget about the kinds of jobs that are needed to sustain and grow these positions.
There’s another issue at work and that’s the baby boomer generation is now retiring at a pace never before seen. Most of these people have worked in their positions a long, long time and have the skill set that’s needed in today’s world. The next generation is going to need to acquire those skills and more, and that will mean more training and more education.
For a long time, people thought they had a good job and one that would always be needed, but industry after industry and business after business have modernized and computerized, and they need fewer regular laborers but more technical and professional people. And, it’s those people that are getting harder and harder to find.
We can’t help but wonder how Foxconn will be able to find 12,000 or more workers for the plant to be constructed in southeastern Wisconsin. We’re told one of the primary reasons Wisconsin won the war for the company was the institutions of higher learning that could help find and train the kinds of workers that are needed. Whether it’s a four-year college or a technical school, no doubt Foxconn will be looking to Wisconsin’s higher education institutions to help lead the way.
It’s an exciting time here in the Watertown area and there’s a lot of good news on the horizon. But, to take full advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead, we are going to need to get a lot more skilled workers in our workforce.
That in turn will mean higher incomes and higher standards of living. That will be good for everyone.
The pace of new job creation is only going to accelerate in the coming months and years. The only question will be whether or not we’re able to supply the workforce.
This is not a simple issue and we had no intention of making it appear that way, but it is a topic of intense interest to business people and workers alike. It’s just a broad overview of the jobs situation.