Job demand remains rosy in some sectors

June 25, 2012

From “Job demand remains rosy in some sectors” — With all the gloomy global and national economic news, it may seem like most, if not all, industries are either not hiring or even reducing their workforce.

But that’s not the case in northeast Wisconsin for high-demand professions such as nursing or metalworking and fabrication, where job opportunities remained strong throughout the recession and during the slow recovery that has followed it.

The reasons for the strength of the job market in those sectors is twofold.

In manufacturing, a historically strong manufacturing base has been buoyed in part by large government contracts to companies such as Oshkosh Corp. and Marinette Marine. Meanwhile, an aging population is driving the growing need for an array of skilled health care workers.

Companies in the 18-county northeast Wisconsin region are projected to need to fill 10,000 production and manufacturing jobs by 2016, according to a 2010 study by New North, a consortium of business, economic development, chambers of commerce, workforce development and civic and education leaders. The health care field’s numbers were expected to trend upward as well, expanding by almost 4,000 jobs by 2016.

Health care hiring steady

Aurora Health Care is maybe not in as much of a crunch for employees as Muza Metal and Marinette Marine are for fabricators, but there is still a steady need for new employees to fill open positions at locations from Milwaukee to Green Bay.

“There is always a need,” said Gwen Baumel, vice president of human resources for Aurora Health Care.

Aurora gets a lot of applicants for positions from those in the Fox Cities and Green Bay areas, and starts working with potential future health care workers while they are still in school.

“We have a very good relationship with the local schools, which really helps,” Baumel said. “We talk with them so the school stays in tune with employers and what sort of challenges there are.”

One of the good relationships is with Fox Valley Technical College, where nurses graduating from the program are finding a hot job market upon graduation.

FVTC graduates about 40 associated degree nurses and 25 licensed practical nurses per semester and roughly 800 nursing assistants per year.

Once graduated, the majority of those students find work quickly. According to Assistant Dean of Health Division Carrie Thompson, all of the college’s 2011 associated degree graduates were working within six months of graduation. Ninety-three percent of new LPNs were hired within six months of graduation, and nursing assistants placed at 69 percent.

“Most (graduates) stay in the area,” Thompson said. “They are everywhere and in lots of different companies, most of which are in the area.”

Welding in demand

The need for welders is expected to increase 26 percent by 2015, according to the 2009 New North Occupation Opportunity Projections Survey.

Even now, manufacturing companies are struggling to find skilled metal workers.

For instance, Muza Metal Products in Oshkosh, which last month completed a 47,000-square-foot plant addition is continuing a pattern of growth in a metals manufacturing industry that leans heavily on Oshkosh Corp. Muza employs 260 workers over four shifts, but still is short of workers.

“Skilled labor for fabrication is in high demand, especially in this area,” said Muza Metal Products President Dan Hietpas. “It’s a very competitive area and we are still looking for 10 to 15 workers.”

The tough part about filling those openings is that they are night and weekend shifts. Muza keeps its plant running 24 hours a day and needs enough workers to staff each shift. But even paying a premium over the company’s normal $14 to $22 dollar an hour salary hasn’t helped fill all of the positions.

“We pay a 75 cents to $1.50 premium, depending on the shift,” Hietpas said. “That can be quite the bump in salary, but it’s still a challenge.”

In Marinette, the shipbuilding company Marinette Marine is equally hard up for skilled welders, pipefitters and electricians.

The company has added 600 jobs in the past 12 months, and now has 1,400 employees, but is struggling to fill vacancies for skilled trades jobs, and is even having a hard time recruiting people to sign on to train and work for them. The company held open 40 spots for entry-level workers, reaching out to nine schools in the process, but landed only seven graduates.

A typical employee at the shipyard can earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

Right now, the future looks “pretty rosy for us,” Marinette Marine President and CEO Charles Goddard said. “We can easily handle 100 or more hires out of high schools in a year.”

The welding/metal fabrication program at Fox Valley Technical College, which works with Muza Metal and Marinette Marine, has a very high job placement after graduation. Ninety percent of last year’s graduates found jobs after graduation. Some of the students in the program were hired before they finished their degrees based on the high demand of the job, which is continuing to grow.


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