Employers need to get engaged to address labor shortage

Article was written by Amy Greil, Community Development Extension Educator. 
Originally published in The Kenosha News.

Southeastern Wisconsin, from an economic development perspective, is an engine to Wisconsin.

There are nearly 350,000 people in Kenosha and Racine counties, with the population projected to grow between 30 percent to as much as 60 percent by the year 2050, according to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission’s 2010 Comprehensive Plans.

This region’s population will not only grow in number but also grow increasingly diverse demographically as the white, non-Hispanic population drops off from over 70 percent of the current population in 2017 to just over 55 percent in 2050. This also reflects a growing trend of individuals speaking English as a second language.

Yet, estimates from a recent study conducted by Manpower Group present a sobering picture for employers looking to secure the needed talent they need — particularly in high-growth fields such as advanced manufacturing, health care, the trades, and the service sector.

The report states that in Racine County alone, there will be 24 percent more job openings in 2021 than there have been in 2019.

In my role at Extension, I have had the privilege of learning about the various latent “pockets” of unemployed and underemployed residents throughout our southeastern Wisconsin communities.

Many of these individuals want to earn more, are highly motivated and employable. Yes, many have formidable barriers to employment (transportation, affordable childcare, health concerns), but the onus of economically viable companies does not rest solely on job seekers.

What is the expectation of the employers to engage deeply, seriously with local workforce challenges?
What talent recruitment and retention strategies are working among regional employers?

In what companies are people put as front-of-mind as the product?

I found answers to some of those questions recently when I attended the Southeastern Wisconsin (post-prison) Reentry Employer Expo, a networking event seeking to pair agencies and employers for the win-win.

This grassroots effort seeks to expand opportunities to the 13,000-plus convicted felons that have been released (back) to Kenosha-Racine counties since 2000, and provide resources to ailing employers.
Despite the extensive preparations to convene over 25 nonprofit and government agencies with significant access to pipelines of job seekers, only a handful of employers turned out over the daylong event.

Those that attended were extremely engaged and rewarded for their time investment. Conversations about shoring up new pools of talent continue with those few.

But why so few? Either employer did not know about it/was unavailable (very possible), the stigma of hiring felons scared them away/perceived loss of credibility, or — perhaps it is an even simpler explanation: It is more convenient to bemoan workforce shortages than it is to get outside of comfort zones and explore uncharted solutions.

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