Changing demands alter workforce strategies

Wisconsin’s workforce challenges are well-documented: Baby boomers are aging out of their careers and “brain drain,” while often overstated, is costing the state some of its young talent.

A bigger problem may be Wisconsin’s industry mix. Are its dominant industries — agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism — sectors in which major job and pay growth is expected?

The answer is largely “no,” even though those sectors are vital to the Wisconsin economy and will continue to produce wealth and value for generations to come. As job producers, however, they are somewhat static. That’s why state policymakers need to keep industry diversity in mind as they consider laws, regulations, and incentives to attract and retain jobs.

Making sure young people have pathways into Wisconsin jobs was the theme of a Sept. 10 hearing before the Assembly Speaker’s Taskforce on Youth Workforce Readiness. Chaired by Rep. Bob Kulp, a successful small businessman from Stratford in central Wisconsin, the panel heard from a mix of trade groups, school systems, advocates for people with disabilities, and apprenticeship experts during a day-long Capitol session.

Kulp is a roofing contractor who has branched into energy efficient technologies within his business to keep it competitive. He sees workforce gaps daily, not only in Wisconsin, but through his role as vice president of the National Roofing Contractors Association.

Those kinds of private-sector perspectives will be helpful as this Assembly group weighs what works and what doesn’t when it comes attracting and retaining young workers.

My own contribution to the discussion was simple enough: Be aware of where tomorrow’s jobs will be created.

As the economy continues to transform itself nationally, globally, and in Wisconsin, sectors outside Wisconsin’s Big Three are producing comparable — if not greater — numbers of jobs. Quite often, those emerging sectors are yielding the best-paying jobs, as well. National forecasts help to tell the story: 

Total employment is expected to increase nationally by 14% by 2020, starting with a 2010 base, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That follows a 2% decline in 2000–10. However, the 20.5 million jobs expected to be added by 2020 will not be evenly distributed across major industry and occupational groups. Changes in consumer demand, improvements in technology and other factors will contribute to the nation’s changing employment structure.

The Georgetown University Center on the Economy and Workforce took it a step further two years ago with state-specific figures that help to understand Wisconsin’s need for workers with post-secondary education and training.



Within the decade ending in 2020, the center predicted, Wisconsin will have 649,000 job openings that will require at least some post-secondary training, compared to 392,000 that will not. Georgetown analysts also predicted that 62% of all jobs in Wisconsin will require some post-secondary training by 2020. The national estimate is 65%.

Here is how the Georgetown center analyzed job growth in selected major sectors in Wisconsin:

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting: Up 310 jobs from 89,110 in 2010 to 89,420 in 2020/ 0% growth.

Construction: Up 6,270 jobs from 130,200 in 2010 to 136,470 in 2020/ 5% growth.

Manufacturing: Up 13,460 jobs from 367,890 in 2010 to 381,350 in 2020/ 4% growth.

Wholesale and retail trade: Up 26,790 jobs from 402,330 in 2010 to 429,120 in 2020/ 6.6% growth.

Finance and insurance: Up 28,810 jobs from 157,390 in 2010 to 186,200 in 2020/ 18% growth.

Professional, scientific, and technical Services: Up 14,890 jobs from 127,510 in 2010 to 142,400 in 2020/ 12% growth.

Administrative, support, waste management, and remediation: Up 34,050 jobs from 138,790 in 2010 to 172,840 in 2020/ 25% growth

Health care and social assistance: Up 66,470 jobs from 325,220 in 2010 to 391,690 in 2020/ up 20%.

Other significant Wisconsin categories predicted to show double-digit growth in employment are information (10%), arts, design, entertainment, and recreation (28%), educational services (27%), management of companies and enterprises (17%) and transportation and warehousing (11%).

Wisconsin’s growth depends on attracting and retaining companies and people in industries that add diversity and resilience to the economy.

If policymakers want to keep Wisconsin’s young people at home and attract them from elsewhere, the state must exude a sense of opportunity, collaboration, and excitement … and put effort into building … those sectors where jobs are mostly likely to be created.

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