Attracting next generation manufacturing talent in southeastern Wisconsin

Manufacturing & Logistics

A senior tester at Bevco Engineering in Sussex describes the quality assurance testing process for an electrical control panel to Ms. Monique Bates’ seventh grade class from Cass Street School.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:12 pm

As we watched the July 26 White House announcement of Foxconn Technology Group’s historic investment in southeastern Wisconsin, I overheard a colleague whisper, “Who is going to fill all those jobs?” Local manufacturing employers have probably asked the same question and considered the impact of a huge new competitor in the war for skilled talent.

Wisconsin’s 3.4 percent August unemployment rate was well below what economists consider to be full employment — the level at which everyone who is willing and able to work is employed. Employers report multiple unfilled openings and initiatives to close the “skills gap” are now grappling with the larger challenge of a “people gap.”

A senior tester at Bevco Engineering in Sussex describes the quality assurance testing process for an electrical control panel to Ms. Monique Bates’ seventh grade class from Cass Street School.

Workers are in short supply to replace retiring baby boomers and fill new jobs created, even using modest economic forecasts. Due to demographic headwinds, economists project 65-year-olds to outnumber 18-year-olds in Wisconsin by 2023. Resident Wisconsinites do tend to stay put – at higher rates than most states. However, we perform poorly on the more critical “brain gain” challenge – attracting in-migration from other states or countries.

The good news is we have many assets in southeastern Wisconsin that support and grow our manufacturing legacy – including world-class technical colleges and universities and innovative workforce development programs that prepare a new generation of manufacturing talent. A network of economic development groups, education and training providers, and civic placemaking organizations are dedicated to helping employers build, attract and retain the talent necessary for growth. Successful employers will deploy multiple strategies across different planning horizons:

Zero to six months: Become a talent magnet to attract and retain

  • Focus on marketing your company as an “employer of choice” in a crowded marketplace. Does your website engage young and diverse audiences? Is the careers page on your website easy to find? Are job postings written to attract candidates?
  • Market your company and careers where work-ready talent is congregating – in young professional groups, alumni groups and profession-focused “meet-up” groups.
  • Consider seeking organizations that train and place non-traditional sources of manufacturing talent: veterans, women, underemployed workers or previously incarcerated individuals.
  • Increase first-year retention rates by rebooting your onboarding strategies and on-the-job training programs, and consider providing career mentors to new hires.

Six months to two years: Partner with colleges, universities and fellow employers to build pipeline

  • Work with college and university career services departments to attract new graduates or soon-to-graduate prospects. Participate in on-campus recruiting events.
  • Explore new corporate partnership models like student innovation incubators, or projects involving a business challenge.
  • Hire an intern. According to the 2016 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, a whopping 73 percent of college interns received a job offer at the end of their internship, the highest offer rate since the peak of the pre-recession market. With acceptance rate factored in, 62 percent of 2016 college interns ended up as permanent hires. As companies look at increasing costs of hire, resources dedicated to developing internship programs would appear to pay off in a big way.
  • Join a collaborative of employers with similar skills needs and apply the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Pipeline Management approach to proactively manage talent-sourcing partnerships, with measures and incentives tied to performance.

Two to six years: Start earlier; reach students (and their influencers) in K-12

  • Partner with high schools to offer a range of career-based learning experiences. Wisconsin’s Academic and Career Planning mandate relies on the engagement of local employers to provide students with real-world information about careers in the region and how to best prepare – and the number of ways industry can engage with students in K-12 has exploded: plant tours, guest speakers, Fab Lab partnerships, industry project mentorships and more.
  • Communicate company opportunities and provide online career coaching using the state’s career exploration software, Inspire Southeast Wisconsin.
  • Advise local districts in the development of career academies and dual enrollment programs that embed industry certifications, and sometimes college credit, with classroom learning. Serve on a curriculum committee and provide industry feedback that drives continuous improvement of these programs.
  • Take on a youth apprentice or a high school intern. Convert high school trainees to employees by offering summer employment after graduation. Offer tuition assistance and scholarships for those pursuing higher education.

Six to 10 years: Grow the future talent pool

  • Support early STEM programs and entrepreneurial programs that build skills critical to success in the future of work. Expose young students to career opportunities in the region and the ways they can apply classroom learning to the real world.
  • Contribute to quality-of-life initiatives that make the Milwaukee region an attractive place to live, work, play and learn.

Susan Koehn is director of the Milwaukee 7 Talent Partnership.

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