Employers claim they can’t find workers who are job-ready
May 12, 2014
From wisn.com: “Employers claim they can’t find workers who are job-ready” — Manufacturing jobs that pay well, but there’s no one to fill them. Employers call it the skills gap.
WISN 12 News Kent Wainscott investigates the millions of dollars taxpayers are pouring into technical colleges to close the gap.
“The skills gap, does it still exist in Milwaukee?” WISN 12 News reporter Kent Wainscott asked.
“In a word, yes,” said Chris Layden of Manpower Group.
Layden said that’s what Milwaukee-based Manpower Group, a world leader in employment issues, is seeing across the Milwaukee area.
More than one-third of employers, he said, claim they can’t find enough workers who are job-ready.
“Do they really have the right skills to perform the jobs that employers are needing? And what we are consistently hearing from clients in the Milwaukee area is, no,” Layden said.
“For the last four to five years, we’ve kind of beat that horse to death about the skills gap, and now everybody said, ‘OK, how do we fix it?'” said Dorothy Walker, interim dean of MATC’s School of Technical and Applies Sciences.
Milwaukee Area Technical College is Wisconsin’s largest tech school.
Much of the more than $140 million taxpayer dollars it gets each year is spent trying to address the skills gap.
“What (we) needed to do as a tech college, as MATC, was to sit with the employers and say, ‘What skill sets to you need?’ Now that took some changing around of curriculum and some traditional stuff we were doing,” Walker said.
“And that wasn’t happening before?” Wainscott asked.
“That wasn’t happening before to that extent,” Walker said.
One way MATC has tried to address the skills gap is to expand and renovate and build new facilities, but that means an investment of taxpayer dollars.
“It costs money to build a place like this,” Wainscott said.
“It does,” Walker said.
“Is it money well spent?” Wainscott asked.
“I think the money is well spent, not only the money from the college, but again, we partner with industry,” Walker said.
The result? Enrollment is up. More courses are offered. In fact, MATC will offer 71 welding or machining courses next school year.
Still, WISN 12 News found nearly 1,000 open welder or machinist job postings on Milwaukeejobs.com.
What’s the explanation?
WISN 12 News asked the head of UW-Milwaukee’s Center for Economic Development and got a surprising answer.
“Everybody says it exists, but nobody can really find it in the data,” Marc Levine said.
Levine said if there was a shortage of skilled workers, demand for them would increase and so would wages.
“When we look at the basic economic indicators, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence about a skills gap,” Levine said.
Instead, he believes employers may find it hard to fill jobs because they’re paying low wages or expecting too much pre-job training.
Or a lack of transportation may keep workers from connecting with the jobs that aren’t nearby.
“There’s a disconnect between MATC creating these programs, MATC basically creating our supply of skilled workers, and the fact that manufacturers in Milwaukee are not hiring more workers than they have in the past,” Levine said.
Whatever the reason, Manpower’s Layden, said things have to improve.
“Is this skills gap going to close over the next few years?” Wainscott asked.
“I think it needs to. I think for Milwaukee it needs to. For our employers it needs to. It’s keeping people up at night,” Layden said.
Manufacturing is changing to a more computerized, IT-based workforce. So schools like MATC are adjusting to that. But critics said schools and manufacturers have to do a better job of spreading that message.
STEM programs are on the rise, and those are laying a foundation for the type of skills required for the next generation of manufacturing jobs.