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Uncovering the Truth Behind Wisconsin's Skills GapAsk local employers about the biggest challenge they face, and quite a few will cite the “skills gap.” Businesses say not enough local workers are prepared to fill skilled positions, a problem that only will worsen as Baby Boomers retire. From workers’ perspective, some jobs are not attractive, because they present no career track.WUWM explored the disconnect between employers and workers in the series Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted. WUWM News reporters and Lake Effect producers addressed the skills gap, including its impact on the community and what leaders are doing to tackle the problem.Expert panelists and audience members weighed in at a community forum in October of 2012 at MATC's downtown campus. The event focused on what role government, educators and other groups have in connecting workers and jobs.

Wisconsin Business & Labor Leaders Look to Trump to Aid Manufacturing

Susan Bence
Inside Ingeteam's Milwaukee plant in 2012.

Wisconsin's manufacturing sector needs an influx of additional workers and more training for existing laborers, according to leaders here who hope to meet with President Trump when he visits Snap-on Tools in Kenosha on Tuesday.

The state once had a thriving manufacturing economy, according to Laura Dresser. The labor analyst at UW-Madison says the job numbers have dropped dramatically since the beginning of the millennium.

“There were 600,000 manufacturing jobs in the state in the year 2000 and over the last 15 years that number has fallen to below 500,000 jobs,” she says.

Dresser says the reasons for the decline include that manufacturers have needed fewer workers because of technology, and some companies have moved jobs overseas for cheaper labor costs.

Still the state of manufacturing in Wisconsin remains pretty strong, according to Kurt Bauer. He's president of the pro-business group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Bauer says the state ranks second in the nation for manufacturing job concentration, yet he plans to attend today’s rally in Kenosha and hopes to talk with President Trump about the state’s weak spots.

READ: New Trump Order Extends 'Buy American' And 'Hire American' Rules

“The areas of concern would be on work force. We have a labor shortage right now in Wisconsin. 70 percent of our members say they are having trouble finding people. That’s not just unique to manufacturing but it’s something that needs to be addressed,” he says.

So, Bauer also wants to talk with the president about his stance on immigrants. He says manufacturers need workers, yet Trump has proposed a travel ban on certain countries and promised to build a wall along between the U.S. and Mexico.

“I think he’s right about border security, but we also need to continue the flow of needed workers from overseas. We have some of the best universities and colleges in the world, not only in Wisconsin but nationwide, many of them get advanced degrees and they want to stay and work here and oftentimes we don’t have a visa for them, so we force them to go home and compete against us. That doesn’t make sense,” Bauer says.

There are also plenty of workers here who need more training, Phil Neuenfeldt says. He's president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, one of the state’s largest labor unions. Neuenfeldt’s another person hoping to bend the visiting President’s ear.

“Clearly we need to see a larger investment made in technical education and training of workers, so that as plants become modernized as they look at new work systems that the workers are given the opportunity and the tools and the resources that they need to be educated and trained to be competitive in those environments,” he says.

Neuenfeldt says he’s pleased that Trump has formed a Manufacturing Council, which is comprised of labor and business leaders.

According to the White House, the president will tout his “Buy American, Hire American” agenda, when he visits tool maker Snap-on in Kenosha.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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