Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted

Uncovering the Truth Behind Wisconsin's Skills Gap

Ask 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.

The skills and employment gap is a complex problem. WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence set out on an equally complex path to discover how “green” jobs figure into the equation and how they might figure into the city’s future.

Susan Ruggles/ MATC

Our Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted forum recorded Tuesday evening at Milwaukee Area Technical College, included a 45-minute question and answer session between the audience and our six panel members, which we present here in its entirety.

Susan Ruggles/ MATC

All this week on WUWM, we've been trying to get to the heart of the so-called "skills gap" in Wisconsin - the divide between unemployed and underemployed workers and existing jobs in the region. It's a series we call Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted.

WUWM has been reporting this week on the disconnect between job seekers and job openings – a phenomenon known as the “skills gap.”

However, the barrier for some workers is not a lack of skills, but rather, transportation. Some worksites are not located on a bus line, so those positions might not work for people without a car. In other instances, job seekers have lost driving privileges.

All this week, WUWM has been exploring the skills gap, in our series Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted.

Our project included a public forum on the downtown campus of MATC. Experts from different perspectives offered solutions for spanning the disconnect between people looking for work, and the jobs available.

All this week, WUWM has been reporting on the skills gap – the challenge employers say they face in finding skilled workers. We’ve also visited programs that provide training. They range from teaching technical skills, down to basic job readiness habits. As our series, Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted concludes, WUWM’s Marti Mikkelson sought opinions on the role government should play in addressing skills shortages.

We conclude our Project Milwaukee series Friday on the skills gap. One solution some business people have suggested is immigration reform. For instance, a company owner told WUWM’s LaToya Dennis that he would have an easier time filling jobs, if the U.S. would grant permanent residency to skilled immigrants, including the students educated here. Milwaukee Attorney Jose Oliviera told LaToya that there is no fast or simple way for immigrant workers to remain here, even if employers need them.

Call it a skills gap – or an employment gap – or even a training gap. The reality is there are thousands of unemployed Milwaukeeans, many of them in the central city. For whatever reason, they’re not connecting with the existing unfilled jobs available.

Corydalus, Flickr

This week's Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted series has been looking at the so-called skills gap in Wisconsin - the divide between unemployed and underemployed workers and the jobs that exist but go unfilled.

Nowhere in Wisconsin is the employment issue greater than in Milwaukee's Central City, where the number of employed residents dropped by half between 1970 and 2000, and where unemployment rates currently dwarf those found in the surrounding areas. It's an issue that UW-Milwaukee's Center for Economic Development has tracked closely.

How Does Green Fit in the Skills Gap Puzzle

Nov 1, 2012

All week, WUWM has been digging into the complexities of the skills gap.

Our journalists have gathered the perspectives employers hungry to hire AND of workers eager to land good paying jobs.

Environmental Reporter Susan Bence sets out to learn if “skills gap” applies to local green industry.

Erin Toner

As we’ve been reporting this week, Wisconsin employers say they have plenty of decent-paying jobs open, but cannot find qualified workers. And the skills gap or shortage is expected to grow, as experienced baby-boomers retire. WUWM’s Erin Toner has Thursday’s installment of our series, Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted. She observed programs successfully pumping skilled job applicants into the pipeline. Yet she learned, that what’s working – is also what’s missing.

Businesses in the Milwaukee area say there are not enough skilled workers to fill available jobs.

We heard about that frustration Tuesday when WUWM’s LaToya Dennis spoke with local managers. Today, in our Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted series, we learn how people seeking jobs are striving to acquire the skills needed.

The challenges and efforts to bridge the employment gap among workers generally are at the lower end of the skills spectrum. But as we've heard during our series this week, employers are reporting the greatest degree of challenge in filling jobs requiring highly specialized skills. Jobs requiring engineering, chemistry, biology, or computer science skills often can't be filled with on-the-job or certificate level training.

As we heard in our last segment, the skills gap - as it affects workers in the Milwaukee area - is about both highly skilled workers and people with lesser skills. And while some employers are looking for workers with very specialized experience, nearly all employers say they need workers with so-called "soft skills" - a good and reliable work ethic, ability to learn and adapt to a job, and good communication skill. But even those skills are lacking in some workers. And so a local foundation - generally known more for its work in aging and childhood issues - has added support for workforce development in the inner city to its priorities.

The HIRE Center Helps Workers Retrain

Oct 31, 2012

All this week on Project Milwaukee: Help Wanted, we’re exploring the so-called skills gap and ways area business, governments, and workers are addressing it. Today on Lake Effect, we’re focusing on the workers themselves and will begin with a roundtable conversation with people at the HIRE Center, which is located inside Milwaukee Enterprise Center-South at 8th and National.