Op Ed

Employers Face Worker Shortage

Some in metro area offering signing bonus of $1,000.

By - Mar 21st, 2021 04:02 pm
Help Wanted. Photo by Andreas Klinke Johannsen (CC-BY)

Help Wanted. Photo by Andreas Klinke Johannsen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Now is the best of times for people in Wisconsin who are looking for good-paying manufacturing jobs.

Employers are going to great lengths to attract, retain and become closely bonded to new workers. Some in the Washington County area are using signing bonuses as high as $1000 to any new worker and to any current employee who recruits a new worker. That is unprecedented.

The manufacturing companies have overdue orders that they can’t get out the door on time because of manning shortages.

So they are raising starting wages and searching every niche of the labor pool to find people who are either qualified or can be trained. Help wanted signs abound all over the eastern part of the state.

It is astounding that the unemployment rate has dropped so sharply after it hit a high of nearly 25% when COVID first struck in the spring of 2020. It is around 4% in the state right now and 3% in Washington County. That’s what some economists would call full employment.

There are still a lot of people who are unemployed in the service sector, but that too should improve sharply as restaurants and other customer-facing businesses reopen or get back to full operations.

The $15 minimum wage has become an artifact in the manufacturing sector. Companies are already offering more than that to attract candidates.

After the downturn of the last two decades companies cut back on their training programs, such as apprenticeships. Expect to see those initiatives revived in the current labor-starved environment.

That’s a good thing for everyone in our society. More taxes will be collected from wages. Corporations will start paying taxes again. Employed workers will have extra money to go out to dinner and movies and purchase other services. Some car models are in short supply and the auto makers are running full out. That demand will be a big lift up and down the supply chain.

Most analysts are expecting strong growth all the way through 2022.

The strength and length of the rebound will depend greatly on the proliferation of coronavirus vaccinations. Do the anti-vaxxers understand that they are holding back the economy by refusing to be immunized?

The argument can be made that their resistance to public health measures is anti-American.

The biggest shortage is for skilled labor, although companies will hire anybody with a willingness to be trained. The demand for people with technical skills will push the education institutions to deliver graduates with more employable competencies.

The best applicants will be those with a solid general education combined with specific skills in a particular discipline.

The high cost of education at the college level will motivate students and parents to find the best buy in terms of establishing a family-supporting career. They will want a return on their education investment in the near term.

Wisconsin technical college systems will see a surge in enrollments, while liberal arts colleges will continue to struggle to fill their classrooms.

With rising student debt as a huge burden on the next generation, programs that combine work closely related to a student’s desired career will flourish. As with the COVID demands, young people will be able to find work in their field while advancing toward their degrees.

Nursing students, for example, have been rushed into the field to become virus testers and vaccinators. They will have real skills and experience on their resumes and much less debt when they graduate.

Online courses will add to the flexibility for students to both work and learn at less cost.

It’s a new world for workers. For them, it may be the best of times.

As for employers — they will treasure every single worker as an asset to their companies, and it won’t just be platitudes; they will mean it.

The intense demand for skilled workers does raise the question of why President Biden’s team saw fit to raise unemployment compensation by $300 per week.

But it does ratify the decision by Gov. Evers to lace his state budget with funds for job training. No one can argue with that part of the economic plan.

John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. and a former Milwaukee Sentinel business editor who blogs regularly at johntorinus.com.

Categories: Business, Op-Ed, Politics

2 thoughts on “Op Ed: Employers Face Worker Shortage”

  1. Keith Schmitz says:

    This summer the head of the National Association of Manufacturers came out with a statement that if you want to save the economy wear a mask.

    Then flip over to our state business leaders in the WMC.

    Great that they are running programs for members about COVID safety, but it does little good if people beyond the businesses’ walls are not doing the same.

    We have the Wisconsin legislative GOP — who the WMC helped put into office — operating under the assumption that these protocols should up to individuals.

    Since when is public health an option?

  2. chico21 says:

    Good news, but this does unemployed people of color no good at all.

    A young man I mentor worked for eight months second shift at Weasler Engineering in West Bend. He is a hard worker, great attitude, smiles a lot and is very smart. The supervisor liked his work so much that he asked him if he had friends who needed a job, then hired my guy’s cousin on the spot. I know how hard a worker he is and how curious is his nature because he’s done a lot of work for me. However, he’s in African American male. Driving from Milwaukee to West Bend every afternoon, and especially driving home at midnight, he was constantly, and I mean constantly, harassed by West Bend cops, Washington County deputies, Germantown cops.

    In an average week, he was pulled over 2-3 times, usually with bogus concerns by law enforcement and subjected to tickets (he’s smart enough never to speed), searches of his car, aggressive harassment. It got so bad that for awhile he stopped driving home at night and slept in his car behind a gym in West Bend. He joined the gym and would workout and shower in the morning. But once a West Bend officer spotted him one early morning sleeping, despite my guy’s explanation of why he was doing it, he was run out of there every evening, forcing him to drive home through a gauntlet of harassment.

    So in addition to offering bonuses, manufacturers would be wise to address the abject, sometimes pathological, racism of law enforcement and courts in your area, John. There are a lot of great workers without jobs in Milwaukee, but they’d be self-destructive to take a job in Washington County.

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