EAU CLAIRE — In seven years, the number of unemployed people who do not have a high school degree will grow by 6 million in the U.S.
That statistic offered by Jim Wood worries a group wanting Wisconsin to place a priority on tackling workforce issues.
“This is a problem. This is everybody’s problem,” said Wood, a counsel to Competitive Wisconsin, an organization that held a jobs seminar at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Wednesday.
The group, made up by industry and the AFL-CIO among others, has also produced two jobs reports. The latest was prepared by Manpower, a job agency.
The “Be Bold 2” study outlined some of Wisconsin’s problems in finding qualified people to fill today’s jobs:
-- “Aging, retiring and departing workers, fewer young people entering the workforce, and net outmigration of highly educated and skilled workers clearly foreshadow serious worker shortages in Wisconsin’s not-so-distant future. A shortage of skilled workers is already putting Wisconsin businesses at risk.”
Some fields are on the brink of experiencing significant shortages, such as engineering, welding and nursing.
For instance, nearly 60 percent of the state’s registered nurses are age 45 or older, and Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development says almost half of all registered nurses will retire over the next nine years.
-- The study tracked what it called five job clusters: systems and software development; nursing and health care; accounting and finances; mechanical engineering; and metal manufacturing. Only in the latter did the average annual earnings of workers exceed the national average.
In systems and software development, Wisconsin workers earned 24 percent less than the average annual earnings in the U.S.
-- “In recent years, people also seem to be voting with their feet,” the report says. In one study by StatsIndiana, Wisconsin showed a net loss of 8,100 people between 2010 and 2011.
-- Jobs with people skilled in science, technology, engineering and math are in high demand. But people are opting out of those good-paying careers and doing it at a younger age. Plus, men and women in those jobs are going into other fields.
Richard Spindler works with middle school students.
“It would be better if they would learn and enjoy (math) at an earlier age,” the UW-Eau Claire math instructor suggested during a question-and-answer portion of the jobs seminar.
Spindler said younger students are being taught in a procedural way, which students find boring. The subject needs to be made interesting and enjoyable to them, he said.
“I think we need more of a human approach,” he said.
Some good things are happening locally, said Janice Lemminger, executive vice president of Manpower and a board member of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation.
She said there are expansion projects planned for Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and Augusta. Stanley is in talks with a company that is proposing building a waste digester.
Lemminger pointed out that Workforce Development held a job fair Wednesday at the Pactiv plant in Chippewa Falls, which will close next month, throwing 152 people out of work.
She said Dove Health Care has set up programs to increase skills in the medical care field, and that Realty Works in Eau Claire has developed a welding simulator to get more people interested in the profession of welding.
Competitive Wisconsin is also recommending setting up a data base offering employers and job seekers real time information on job openings.
“We have to think how we can future proof the state of Wisconsin,” said Rebekah Kowalski, a consultant for Manpower.
Employers need to start thinking differently about job skills, and not being hyper-selective in hiring people. And job-seekers need to know the variety of jobs that are available in the area where they want to work.
Unless things change now, the shortfall of qualified people needed for skilled jobs will continue to grow, she said.