Workforce shortage continues statewide

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 5:03 PM CDT
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FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WBAY) - The unemployment rate in Wisconsin sits under four percent according to the latest report from the Department of Workforce Development.

But employers can’t seem to find the workers they need.

“COVID has just really upended a hundred years of economic theory,” said Anthony Snyder, Fox Valley Workforce Development Board CEO.

Despite the pandemic causing job loss, now that employers are hiring again many can’t find workers.

Some businesses are trying to offer competitive wages, hiring bonuses, and other benefits to try to entice applicants.

“What I think has happened is people have just left the market,” said Snyder. “They’ve just left looking for jobs, they’re not looking for jobs anymore.”

Snyder believes the extra unemployment benefits currently available, parents wanting to stay home with kids in virtual learning, and people with health concerns are all factors.

“I think it’s really, really important for us to try to understand where each individual person is and not paint that entire audience with a broad brush,” said Snyder.

But Snyder says some shortages started before the pandemic. As the population ages there’s been more retirement, though Snyder says the pandemic did push some to retire sooner rather than later. Also, not as many younger people going into unskilled labor.

“If the model works, unskilled labor would be for teenagers, high school or maybe in college as they’re learning, then they move to the profession,” said Snyder. “Ideally, if that model was working like it always had, we wouldn’t be in this situation and now we’ve kind of lost something. We have a whole generation of kids who don’t want to work as a waiter, right? They want to open up their own eBay store or drive Uber or whatever they’re doing.”

Planet Perk is one of many businesses looking for workers at its Oshkosh coffee houses.

Owner Ken Osmond says they do have a lot of college age workers and believes they’re simply being more selective, trying to find work that could play into their future careers.

“That’s just smart. That’s just kids being smart,” said Osmond. “And rather than criticize I think we kind of should give them a little credit.”

He says since opening Planet Perk they try to give employees extra opportunities. Such as making a marketing major student in charge of social media, someone with a human resource interest will help with schedules and training, and so on.

“So we’re doing those kinds of things to differentiate employment with us. So kids can actually grow when they’re with us, it’s actually a part of their career development,” said Osmond.

Osmond suspects that, for his industry, this shortage will be short lived.

“The economy is opening up, and so right now everybody is searching for people, so it’s just a temporary sort of availability spasm,” said Osmond.

But Snyder believes overall some of these trends may cause long-term problems.

“It’s going to be some time before this ship rights itself and it may never fully right itself,” said Snyder.

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