Hiring with trepidation

After three years of recession, the Milwaukee area’s employers are hiring again, according to economists and staffing service executives.

"The job trend has been improving on a year-over-year basis," said Bret Mayborne, economic research director of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Mayborne said hiring picked up in the last few months, starting in April and continuing into May and June.

According to Manpower Inc.’s Employment Outlook Survey, 39 percent of employers in Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington counties plan to increase their workforce during the third quarter, while just 10 percent plan to decrease their staff.

A year ago at the same time, 33 percent of employers expected increases, and 14 percent planned reductions.

Despite the expected employment growth, companies remain a bit unconvinced about the economic recovery, so they are looking more to local temporary staffing services to resolve their short-term needs.

"We provide a safety net for companies before they can keep people on a long-term basis," said Mark Immekus, vice president of sales at Greenfield-based QPS Staffing Services Inc. QPS has seen a 4 percent increase in industrial companies using its staffing service between March and June.

Debbie Friedrich, affiliate owner of the Westaff office in Milwaukee, said many companies have been using Westaff’s 60- to 90-day temp-to-hire program.

"Once they prove themselves, the employer feels more confident to offer them permanent employment," Friedrich said. "It means companies are starting to rebuild their employment force."

The boost in temporary hiring is good news for job seekers, according to Scott Nissen, president of Nissen and Associates Staffing Continuum Inc., Waukesha.

"They are not making promises they are uncomfortable committing to," Nissen said.

Staffing services executives say the recent economic up-tick has left behind few industrial sectors.

"We are seeing positive signs from just about everybody," Friedrich said.

Even the downtrodden manufacturing sector has begun expanding its workforce.

"Manufacturing and construction have had the greatest declines, but even in manufacturing, there have been some hints of improvement," Mayborne said.

Nationally, the growth in manufacturing jobs fell by 11,000 jobs in June after four months of growth, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. First-time claims for state unemployment benefits increased nationally for the third consecutive week June 26, rising 1,000 to 351,000.

However, Wisconsin’s job scene has remained relatively strong. Since May 2003, Wisconsin has added 36,400 new jobs, a 1.3 percent increase and the highest numerical and percentage increase in the Midwest, according the Department of Labor.

Larry Halter of Guhring Inc., a manufacturing company located in Brookfield, said his firm has hired more than 15 employees in the past three months and expects to increase the workforce by another six to 10 employees in the next half of the year.

"The past few months have been much better than the rest of the year," Halter said.

While employers in the manufacturing sector are ready to hire, due to a number of reasons, they are having trouble finding qualified workers, according to John Metcalf, director of human resources policy at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

"There is not enough training available," Metcalf said. "During the downturn, a lot of employers got rid of workers, while making processes more efficient by bringing in upgraded machinery to do the work."

John Pawasarat, director of the Employment and Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said the lack of qualified workers is, in part, due to an aging labor force.

"The workforce is not being replenished," Pawasarat said.

"Older workers are retiring," Metcalf said. "It is hard to find a person with the new skill sets needed."

However, one thing hasn’t changed, according to a continuing pattern found in a survey that the UWM Employment and Training Institute did with the Private Industry Council last fall.

"The highest demand for employment is in health sector jobs," Pawasarat said.

Between the 2000 and 2010, health service jobs are projected to increase by 23.4 percent in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Yet, like high-skilled workers, there is a shortage of qualified potential health care industry employees.

Meanwhile, the office and clerical market employment market has remained stagnant, but those sectors also are expected to pick up in the third and fourth quarters, according to Immekus.

Terry Ludeman, chief economic adviser for the Department of Workforce Development, said he expects increased hiring in construction, trade, leisure, financial activities, health care services and manufacturing for the next six months.

Mayborne said he also is optimistic.

"The economy is in a mode of continuing improvement," Mayborne said. "It won’t necessarily be in leaps and bounds, but we are in for a number of months where we will see growth in state and local trends."

However, after three years of uncertainty, Nissen said, employers will remain wary.

"I think cautiousness is going to be the governor that will keep hiring decisions under toe," he said.

July 9, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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