Employment Roundtable

What are we to make of the state and national employment picture? In terms of jobs, the roller coaster performance of both is indicative of a sluggish economic recovery, but it also tells us that employers are still challenged in terms of finding qualified employees to address their workforce needs. In this Industry Roundtable on Employment, In Business magazine examines employment from the standpoint of workforce development.

GLYNN PATRICK: In this roundtable, In Business magazine will examine employment from the standpoint of employers, which means we're going to be examining it through the lens of economic development. I'd like to start by getting everyone's assessment of the Wisconsin labor market and, particularly, we're hearing about shortages of those hard-to-find skilled people. I'd like to start by asking both Pat Schramm and Secretary Newson to relate what employers have expressed to them.

SCHRAMM: Right now, I think the labor shortage, or the skills shortage, is kind of a two-edged sword. Part of it is the people who actually were dislocated during the downsizing, and especially in manufacturing, they've landed successfully in either other industries or back in manufacturing, and because the manufacturers in different industries across the board – utilities, manufacturing, almost everybody but health care – hadn't done any hiring. They went lean. They shed the workforce they didn't need. They don't have a pipeline now. So what's happened is their internal technology has changed, and they haven't created a worker pipeline. So now we're catching up on all fronts.

A lot of people think we have a lot of dislocated manufacturers out there looking for a place in modern manufacturing. The reality is, right now our pool of available seasoned manufacturers is very small because those people had to, for financial reasons, actually move to other industries. We're kind of surprised by how many people from manufacturing landed in the health care industry, and they landed on the technology side. They trained as surgical techs, and those radiographies, the different technologies, so they didn't really go into patient care, but they did go into the technology side of health care.

GLYNN PATRICK: Mr. Secretary?

NEWSON: I would say the skills gap in Wisconsin is real. There have been a lot of studies and surveys about this. A lot of people are familiar with the Georgetown Study and the Harvard Study. The Georgetown Study, in particular, talks about Wisconsin in need of filling a little over 900,000 new workers for individuals, seasoned workers that will be retiring in the next six years. That's going to be one of our most significant challenges as a state, to be able to create that pipeline to fill the new workers that we will need. In particular, advanced manufacturing in highly skilled, highly technical jobs. There is a large demand out there from employers. Energy, manufacturing, and health care – they're going to be in need of a large influx of workers in the next six years. Beyond creating new jobs in the state of Wisconsin, and filling the existing jobs, that will be one of our most significant challenges.

GLYNN PATRICK: Bonnie, what is the situation at MGE?

EASTMAN: That has definitely been a concern of ours, and actually, we started working on this a number of years ago. We identified the number of our skilled workers that were going to be retiring and knew that we were going to be hiring to fill those gaps, and we actually implemented a training program.

Previously, we had been recruiting from the technical schools, and those outside of our community. What we wanted to do is see if we could set up a training program and hire from within the community, train those workers to become our skilled workforce, and we have been doing that since 2007, which has had great success. We brought in people in 2007, and I think another group in 2009, and that really helped fill those gaps in our electric distribution area and our gas distribution area, where we see the largest need for our skilled workers.

LABELLA: We didn't shed employees, although we hung on to most of our employees. We didn't really have to go through layoffs. We found other ways to make things work, but there's no question that you try to get by with less people, you still have the same amount of work, or you're trying to grow it.GLYNN PATRICK: The hotel industry has gone through a real recession in previous years – In Business has written about that – and there was some personnel shedding. Stephanie, what is the situation as you see it, as an HR director with the Madison Concourse?


Finding ways to train people is critical. It used to be, in the 1940s and 1950s, companies expected to have those employees for a lifetime, and they put a lot of energy and money behind those training programs. You don't see that so much anymore. So we're going back toward that way of thinking.

We have a lot of people, housekeepers, who have been here. We just congratulated someone for 30 years as a housekeeper at our hotel, and so we're very lucky in that we have employees that have been here for a long time. Our general manager started out as a bartender, and he's been there for 25 years.

So finding ways to train people to bring them up the ranks is a much better way than trying to find people that may not have the skill set you're looking for. That's where we're starting to see some of the skills gap because it's not necessarily that there aren't capable people out there, but they may not be the perfect fit.

We got a little – not lazy – but companies across the board, we had this plethora of really highly skilled employees as we were going through the recession that you could fill into spots, and now we're not finding that same level of skill. So I think you have to find the right fit, and that's what we're really trying to focus on. Is this person someone we can train those hard skills, but do they have the right soft skills?

GLYNN PATRICK: Angela Heim works with this day-to-day in her role as president of The Employer Group, because you are matching people with openings. Angela, what does the employment landscape in the Greater Madison Area look like to you?

HEIM: To touch on a couple of other things with the skill set, there's still a shortage in health care. We help a few assisted-living facilities, and to be able to get good workers in these assisted-living facilities has been really difficult.

We have a client that does photocopy repairs, so those types of skills, people who want to go in and do repairs on machines, and there has been such a push for higher education that some of the trade work has gotten lost. That's where we're seeing a shortage and having a hard time finding individuals for those trade positions.

Working Wisconsin

GLYNN PATRICK: In Business has seen and has reported in the past that someone like you, who recognizes exactly what skill set is needed and is short, is not having either meaningful dialogue with schools such as MATC so that they can start a program in that, or with the Department of Workforce Development, so that these workers are given the nod to go into this kind of training.

And now what we have asked for is to bring business to the table in planning this and saying, here's what we need. And guess what? It's not always the typical four-year degree decided by academics in the workplace, so as we are moving toward a modified degree system, the governor has proposed the "Wisconsin Working Plan" to be a little bit more of an integrative approach. Mr. Secretary, if you could, comment on that plan and what you see as the highlights.

GLYNN PATRICK: As we identify these learning plans, would we also be bringing professionals into the classroom to let them become more aware of what that job is, and what it takes? Because otherwise it's in a vacuum, and everybody's going to want to be a fireman.NEWSON: As part of the governor's Wisconsin Working Initiative, we do believe there needs to be a mix in the state of Wisconsin, in terms of a mix of individuals that do decide to go to college. We're also seeing that some of the jobs that will be emerging in the next 10 years in various industries don't necessarily require a four-year college degree, but they will require post-secondary education.

To that end, working with the Workforce Development Board statewide, and my colleague, Pat, and the technical colleges will be critical. One of the first things as part of the governor's Wisconsin Working Initiative is that he formed something called the Council of College and Workforce Readiness, or the P-20 Council. This council is made up of the technical college president, Dan Clancy, the four-year UW System president, Kevin Reilly, Superintendent Tony Evers, along with employers and cabinet members. Tim Sullivan, who is the governor's special consultant on business and workforce development, is chairing this council.

We're talking about a series of reforms in partnership with the tech college, four-year, and the K-12 systems, to begin a process of creating a pipeline for individuals to go into these jobs and, again, giving individuals choices. This is about giving people choices, and young people that are in high school or middle school that don't necessarily want to go to college but want to do something, we want to make sure they have choices to be able to go out and find employment when they graduate.

Some of the things that we're talking about, which will be critical in dealing with the skills gap and beginning the process of creating a pipeline, is dual enrollment. According to Dan Clancy (president and state director of the Wisconsin Technical College System), approximately 18,000 young people in the state of Wisconsin are in dual enrollment. Dual enrollment is where you're in high school, and you take courses at the technical college or have a certification by the high school instructor that teaches to the tech college curriculum. Once you graduate, you already have credits accumulated for the tech college. We're looking at what would it take to double or triple or quadruple the amount of dual enrollees in the state of Wisconsin.

Individual learning plans are something Superintendent Evers is talking about, where we would begin to look at fifth and sixth graders and what would it take to have every fifth and sixth grader in the state of Wisconsin develop an individual learning plan, where they began identifying what they want to do at that point.

If they want to be a nurse, or they want to become an engineer, they would identify that, but would be exposed to these different things, and particularly advanced manufacturing, working to dispel the perception of these jobs as dumb, dirty, and dangerous jobs. These are highly skilled jobs that are in clean environments that pay a family-supporting wage.

NEWSON: Absolutely. This is something where the employers will play a role, and employers are stepping up. I know the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has started a process working with the Waukesha Chamber and other entities, working with the high schools, to get them into the classrooms, to get them into the schools and talking to the guidance counselors. Second Chance is a program down in Waukesha where they're doing this, where they're taking people into the shop floors of advanced manufacturing and exposing them to modern plants.

HEIM: When I went to a public Madison high school, I was able to take drafting. They had drafting, and I did CAD drafting. It was an elective class, and my first career was interior design, but I was able to take that CAD drafting and go to college and use it quite well. I had an advantage over some other people, but I know that a lot of the high schools are losing those types of programs. I don't want to get off on another tangent of funding for schools, but it would be great just to have those types of things back in the classroom every day as opposed to just a group. So is that part of the plan to get some of the actual classes back as opposed to just a business partnering to get the kids out on a shop floor?

NEWSON: Superintendent [Tony] Evers has been a great partner in working with the administration on these things. CTE, Career and Technical Education, is definitely part of the overall reform agenda that we're looking at. What would it take to expand CTE in high schools? The governor signed the bill for vocational diplomas – that's something else that's a part of this process.

All of these things are being addressed and looked at by this P-20 Council. We're looking to provide, in partnership with K-12, technical colleges, and four-year universities and employers, a list of reforms on the governor's desk of how do we make investments in CTE dual enrollment and individual learning plans. Again, employers are stepping up to help us engage on these issues.

NEWSON: Absolutely.

SCHRAMM: Unfortunately, a lot of this technology is really expensive. So how do you get the high schools and the technical colleges and the four-year degrees to partner so that a high school student can actually have access to that more expensive platform, like portable robotics and automation? That's really expensive equipment to be putting into high schools. That's part of it – a stronger partnership between K-12, secondary, and four-year so this becomes a seamless experience. Also, sharing resources, including faculty, and then having a way to get industry certified, too, as faculty.

That's a big push, because the technical colleges are in the same place as the K-12 system. It's very hard for them to have faculty who have the skills that you need to really do this just-in-time instruction. So we have to reach out more to faculty and industry to actually come in and be the faculty. If we can pull that off, then you've got the right formula going.

But what you were getting at, too, is the middle school conversation, and that's something that we just really have to concentrate on. Our dream world is that the K-12 system, the technical college, and the four-year degree system really start talking with each other, and they're a continuum. So as the students start to learn, they don't have to rush to the four-year program. They know that there's this pipeline of learning – not just a pipeline of work, but a pipeline of learning. So you actually could go to the technical college instead of having to rush to a four-year degree. That's part of your design, right?

GLYNN PATRICK: I would like to turn that around to the employer because I didn't hear them in your equation just then, Pat, and I know that you are inclusive of employers. I'm just going to throw this out as an ideal for In Business. As an example, there is no degree program in circulation. And for magazine publishers, and people who handle large mailings through the post office and need to make sure circulation is done right, that's a very expensive and hard-to-train skill set.

So how can I sit down and say, here's what I need them to know, and then have that curriculum given to three students that want to do that and educate them for jobs that would be open and ready and waiting. We don't even care what the tech degrees are called. We don't care if it trains on x or y software. What we're saying is we now are the trainers. It's expensive. Rookies make mistakes. There are fines, all sorts of problems, because we rely on the people that we hire to have a certain skill base.

And so in this scenario, I become the trainer as a publisher, and I have to teach them all about direct mail and postal regulations and everything else, so I'm not doing my own job. I need to be able to hire somebody who already knows that. And that's the disconnect from the workforce.
Employers understand very clearly what they need. If somebody could poll employers and ask, 'what are the essential classes you'd like them to have?', they know. I'd like circulation folks to have math. I'd like them to have a statistics class. I'd like them to have a postal class that doesn't even exist now, that the post office teaches.

SCHRAMM: What you're getting at is the work we do now, where we bring companies to the table and ask them that. And then what we do, because right now, and I think this is a result of the recession, is the companies, the ones who really can hire right now, have gone so lean. They can't train in house, but what they can do, and we're doing this, is pool together. So five companies are saying, 'I need math for this. I need communication. I need teamwork.' And then we're pushing really hard on the technical college system to do that, so that we don't have terminal education, and then we have a whole bunch of other people back as dislocated workers five years from now. So we can build some kind of credential (we called it Just-in-Time Credential) that will still move a person up if they have to keep training. So if the postal system changes, you don't have to say, 'Sorry, it's over.'

GLYNN PATRICK: Right, but they could go from publishing to cataloging houses with that knowledge. There's still a certain knowledge base with major vendors that they have to have.

HEIM: So an apprenticeship program type? To be a master plumber, you go through an apprenticeship, and you work hand-in-hand with a master plumber, so are you looking at more apprenticeships?

SCHRAMM: And more inside-the-company training, almost like the new technology of training. It's work and learn, work and learn, work and learn, and so you actually acknowledge the fact that a lot of the training has to happen in companies, partly because of what I said before, the technology is in the companies. There isn't an educational system that can afford this stuff.

So you can do maybe the practical educational piece, and then they've got to go inside the company and learn it. And I think we're having conversations about the apprenticeship model, and it's not just like a union apprenticeship model, it's going back almost in time, Jody, to when there was, really, apprenticeships across all industries.

GLYNN PATRICK: If I can get a little bit more specific to the W3 Program … it is taking people on unemployment, going to a potential employer for a potential job, saying 'you provide the training'. It's almost like an unpaid internship in the sense that they are apprenticing. Wisconsin will then give that person an extra $75 in addition to their unemployment benefits while they're enrolled – or training – to offset their transportation costs or whatever, to the site. And then at the end of it, is there an expectation that if or when a job exists, that trainee is hired?

NEWSON: You were reading my mind because I was going to talk about this. The Wisconsin Workers Win, or W3 Program, is an initiative that Sen. [Van] Wanggaard and Rep. [Mark] Honadel sponsored in the Legislature and the governor signed, and DWD is in the process of implementing. Basically, it does exactly what you said. We're creating a pilot program, and we think employers know best what their needs are, and we want to put the power in the hands of the employers to say, 'Look, I'm going to take on an individual, I'm going to train them,' but we're creating an incentive and support for employers. It is particularly good to do this for small businesses and small employers that might not have, necessarily, the same resources as a large company like MGE.

GLYNN PATRICK: Well, 86% of Dane County employers employ 10 or fewer people. They don't have training staff. And that's 86%, so we're looking at a significant population here that are creating the jobs and need skilled help.

NEWSON: Exactly, and we're creating this incentive in support for these employers, basically. The employer signs on and we identify the individual. Right now, we're looking at the unemployment insurance rolls and getting claimants back to work. The employers will take on the claimant. They would take them on and train them over six weeks.

The incentive is that a) the employer takes this on, and there's skin in the game, workers' comp. They have to pay for the training, but they don't have to pay for the employee's salary. They're receiving their benefits while they're going through this training, and they also receive a stipend to help them with child care or transportation. And after the six weeks, the employer will develop a relationship with this person. They trained them. They invested in them, and with the end game being that they hire the person.

GLYNN PATRICK: Is there a minimum that they're expected to pay above a living wage to qualify, or is it anything over the minimum wage?

NEWSON: It's anything over the minimum wage. But the neat thing about this is that any employer that does this has to have a job open. So a position has to be vacant. It's not a situation where they can just take on someone and take advantage of it. But they have to have a job opening, and we're going to verify that. And, again, the end game being that they invest in the employee, which is an investment, a significant investment, that they hire them at the end of this process.

GLYNN PATRICK: Would that work for you, Stephanie [Madison Concourse Hotel]?

GLYNN PATRICK: So this would be a displaced worker that the government is interested in matching with you. And you might send over five applicants for the interview to pick one?LABELLA: Oh, absolutely, if it's the right fit. The culture of the hotel, the type of people that we hire, we look for people that are very outgoing, very friendly. Even in our housekeeping staff, we try to make sure the people that we hire are very personable. In the service industry, you're with people all day long, whether it's your co-workers, or it's the guests, and we take that seriously, and we have hired interns before. We work closely with MATC, the hospitality program. We'd like to see that grow. It's not as close a relationship as we would like to see, but we'd love to pull more of those people in.

NEWSON: Yes.

GLYNN PATRICK: So there's still choice. It's not predetermined. There's choice on both sides, and they would determine whether or not they wanted to do it. The idea is that I'm not paying for on-the-job training, which is what we don't have. We have to make time to do it, but it's at the cost of two salaries: mine, and the person I'm training. It's much better to have it at the cost of one salary, which makes that job applicant a little more attractive than the applicant off the street that there is no reimbursement or subsidy for. How would that work for MGE?

EASTMAN: It may be that when we bring our people in, we have an opening, and we hire them on as our employee, and provide that training. We would be able to bring someone in, and if we have that training piece in place, we would need to look at the skills – more the soft skills the person is bringing to the job, and what their aptitude is. Generally, we've brought people in at a paid rate. We pay them while we're training them, so we don't have a training wage or anything. We definitely would be interested in looking and exploring more about this to find out if it would be something that we could work with.

GLYNN PATRICK: Angie, how would that interplay with an agency that is earning money from an employer for a placement? Angie provides workers, so if she came to you and said, 'I have job openings for these five people. I'd like to interview them and send them out as my envoys,' how does that work for third-party vendors?

HEIM: That would be interesting because there are multiple placement agencies in Dane County as well. The competition in Dane County for placement agencies is pretty tight.

GLYNN PATRICK: And agencies potentially could place these people very quickly.

NEWSON: It's a unique twist on it and right now, we're in a process of identifying a service provider, a third-party vendor, that has relations with employers that would be able to go out, identify the employers, help recruit the employers, and conversely, knows a little bit about the population on the supply side of the dislocated worker or claimant individual. So that's something that we can definitely look at talking about in terms of future partnership.

HEIM: That would be really interesting because it would bring more employers to the table to utilize the program if you were to look at third-party vendors to help.

SCHRAMM: For us, using third-party vendors would be fantastic. We bump into this all the time because a lot of the workforce resources don't allow us to actually work through a third-party vendor. And yet, a lot of companies now use third-party vendors as their human resource staff. So if you can't use that third-party vendor, it makes those kinds of initiatives less effective. So having a third party in it would be great.

 

Remote possibilities

GLYNN PATRICK: Even if Angie had the agreement with the government where she could supply these workers, and there's an incentive in there for her that the employer is still paying her, but at a reduced rate, that would be a very great competitive edge in a training program in which you could participate in a meaningful way.

We're talking about workforce development and skills and, an interesting study, we're talking about remote workers. This movement toward having your work people off site, working from home – the wonderful thing about that is it takes away transportation barriers. It takes away child care cost, which has been such a barrier, particularly to low-income people being able to take a job that's offered. They can work at home with children during the hours that kids are asleep. They make their own hours, etc.

According to a recent survey, 54% of employers don't care if the people are onsite or off for that type of work. And 55% of those – people who don't care – have said, 'we actually give them core business work'. This isn't extra stuff, like outsourcing things that are not your key function, sending that work offsite. They're saying, 'No, I'm taking my key thing, I would invest that.' That's not the old model of doing business.

While this is a growing trend, it seems like the government is a little behind in making opportunities for that hookup. Pat, what are you doing to make that bridge with the home-based worker?

SCHRAMM: We find home-based work on the two sides of the high professional, and we actually do see a lot of that and have worked with people, especially in the biotechnology industry. We've actually brokered relationships between a biotechnology company that might be somewhere outside the state of Wisconsin, and workers inside the state. WPS does a lot of its work remotely, and a lot of the clinics now are doing more and more of that.

GLYNN PATRICK: With home transcription services.

SCHRAMM: With transcriptions, all of those kinds of things, and some customer service from home. I think that's a trend where we're aware that we, especially the older worker, we've directed them to workplaces like oDesk, which is a virtual platform where people can actually work from their home – doing customer service, writing, programming. So we actually do play with those technologies. I wouldn't say we're deliberate in it. With a lot of work regional and statewide, the thing we face is that a lot of companies are going to have a workforce that's regional. We've positioned basically the computer labs all over our region so that if somebody did have to access a computer, they can actually go to these computer labs. That's probably the most aggressive we've gotten at this point. We have not made that leap as far as getting people technology.

GLYNN PATRICK: Is that free for employers?

NEWSON: Many employers have taken this up. They provide virtual offices through technology, and I think that's a great thing. That's an employer's choice. One thing that we are doing to try to use technology is that we continue to make better investments and enhance our website jobsinwisconsin.com. We want to use this website as a powerful tool for employees and job seekers to connect to job opportunities, and we continue to promote the website. We've had record postings on this website over the last year, and we continue to promote it.

Right now, we're going through a process where we listen to employers. We're doing focus groups. We're talking and doing due diligence for third-party vendors, Manpower, and a few others to really make this website more robust to be able to have job seekers easily post résumés on there, and to be able to do skills-sifting, to do a skills match, and for employers to really identify what their core competency needs are on this website through the match. And we're going to continue to use this technology and this tool to connect job seekers to employers.

NEWSON: It's free for employers.

EASTMAN: We actually post our jobs on the jobsinwisconsin.com site along with the other local job boards, so that is one that we use to post our jobs as well.

SCHRAMM: You can see the way DWD is going, using jobsinwisconsin.com, that sometime in the future, they could be hooking to virtual vendors who actually offer virtual worksites.

HEIM: Exactly, because then it still leaves it up to the employer. Does the employer want to purchase a computer and set up an office for the virtual worker? But it still gives the employer the opportunity to do that, but they, obviously, they can post the job on your board and find the right person.

NEWSON: We want this website to be the premier website for both job seekers and employers to connect.

Government: Friend or foe?

GLYNN PATRICK: One of the interesting trends is that employers cannot have volunteer help, because they consider that a potential breach of wage law. I cannot have an unpaid intern who does not meet certain criteria. They have to be enrolled in an accredited university. They have to have a director, or I am not in compliance with wage law and could be fined, and actually probably put out of business by the end of it.

Yet I had a young woman come to me who said, 'I want to learn about In Business magazine. This is the place I eventually want to work, and I'm willing to work free for three months because I'm independently wealthy,' and I had to tell her no. Or I had to create a job for her and pay her minimum wage for her own learning. That seems, to me, to be crazy. If I'm doing a conference, I can't have people come in and voluntarily help me so that I can be successful in my business, let's say my brother or sister, because I'm illegally skirting wage laws.

As an HR director, Stephanie, my question to you, and to Bonnie, is how can the government get out of your way and help you run profitable businesses so that you can afford to create jobs?

LABELLA: I'm not sure. At the Concourse, we were running into some of those issues. We have the ability to do paid internships if we want to. Some of those situations exist because companies in the past haven't always been operating in good faith with their employees. That protection for employees is valuable, so I think we need to find better ways.

The Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship Program is a great example that's been very successful. The last study I saw said that 98% of employers that were participating said they'd recommend it to others, and so it's not about the government getting out of our way, but finding ways to let me know what I don't know. We just signed up for postings, got our logins and everything for the Department of Workforce Development website to post positions there and to find employees looking for jobs.

I think there's so much for us to pay attention to these days. Every regulation, all the laws, and you want to be in compliance, and it's very easy to make a mistake and suddenly not be in compliance, so I think finding ways to cut through a lot of the steps. We have an employee that needs to find another job, and yet she came in yesterday, and she's not our employee anymore, but I spent a long time with her trying to help her figure out where to go next. She can't use a computer, so getting on the website wasn't really an option for her. Now she's attending a class, and I hope that that's going to end up helping her retrain and find some things that we couldn't help her with anymore. You don't want to send people out there, so just cutting through the red tape, honestly, would help me a lot. What resources are out there to help my employees?
We have a large number of employees that don't speak English very well, and we've offered them ESL classes at the hotel. But would it be better to send them to MATC? Maybe. So I think just knowing where to go, what my options are, and where to look. You can do a search on the Internet and 90% of what you find is not even applicable. So I think that's what I need, less getting out of my way and more coming in as a partner.

EASTMAN: We also utilize an intern process. Our internships are paid internships because they're actually performing work. We find we're getting requests for internships in areas where there's already great interest, the engineering area, the finance area, some IT. That could be expanded a bit.

We're not seeing interest in our field positions, or even customer service, basic customer service skills. That could take an employee a long way if there were some type of training just on basic customer service skills because that would open up a lot of doors in many different industries. So we're not seeing the exposure to those field positions, and what those positions are like, and what it's like to be working in the outdoors all day, and what it's like to be part of a crew.

Job shadowing may be an answer, or a mentoring program of some type, so exposing children, or young adults, at the high school or even middle school ages to those types of opportunities. So if they're not college bound, they see an opportunity for themselves.

LABELLA: If we don't do that, what happens is you see the kids, because we have this one pathway that's supposed to send everybody to college, and that's not the reality. These kids get bored in high school or don't see the point anymore, and they just drop out, and now you have this huge financial drain on our country as a whole because the chance of them finding a job without a high school degree is very, very difficult.
We're looking at all these people retiring – the number was 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day for the next 11 years. That's staggering, and that's going to leave huge holes where they left, and a huge set of skills that these young people aren't even being exposed to.

GLYNN PATRICK: Communication skills are different. We're learning that when you have a culture that is communicating electronically versus face-to-face, the integration to the workplace is going to be a little more challenging perhaps.

LABELLA: We definitely see that. Customer service skills, that skill set that we need all of our employees to have, the younger employees, that's where you see a difference. They're not used to having that face-to-face communication in the same way, the way that our baby boomers, the older generations, you were forced to talk to each other.

Now, with text messaging, you run into situations where employees want to say, 'I can't come in today,' but they want to text it to you because it's uncomfortable to have that conversation. And so how do you teach them? They're even coming out of college without those soft skills that are really important, motivational even. They're expecting a little bit more for a little bit less investment.

GLYNN PATRICK: There's less of the polite interplay that we were taught entering the job market. When you're texting, it's a very direct message. Instead of, 'Oh, Mrs. Jones, how are you today? How may I assist you?' it's 'What do you need?'

NEWSON: I just wanted to respond in terms of what government can do. Well, one thing we need to do is make things simple, simpler for employers. Sometimes our administrative rules and laws are so complex. Making them simpler, easier to digest, with clear and concise information so you can make good, informed decisions, and for individuals that you employ, so they understand.

One of the things we will continue to look at is our Unemployment Insurance Program, making UI programs and statutes, the past practice, the laws simpler and easier for employers to digest. And I tell every young person that I have the opportunity to speak with that employers don't hire people, they hire skill sets. The better your skill sets, the more you'll get paid. The more skill sets you offer an employer, the better your chances of finding a job. Those employability skills are critical.

Social media is great, and it reaches the masses of people, but it also has turned things back a little bit in terms of employability skills. Emotional intelligence, you were talking about emotional intelligence, being able to interact and talk to people, and critical thinking skills.

LABELLA: At the same time, if we are only looking at that skill set to hire people, I think that's what gets employers in their way a lot of times, when they are waiting for that perfect person to walk through the door that meets everything, almost as if I can throw them on the floor and go, 'Thanks for joining us, and I'm going to go back to work.'

I don't think that that's a good recipe for a highly engaged workforce. There's a study that Gallup did. Seventy-one percent of our workforce is disengaged or actively disengaged. Well, that is no way to grow your business. Those employees don't emotionally connect. We know company loyalty, customer loyalty has all changed dramatically over the past 20 years, and employees are expecting to leave you in two to three years.
So how do we fix some of that? Some of it is making that emotional connection with your team and investing that time. Don't look for someone that you can just throw on the floor. That's not really going to help you. You want someone who can be personable and is willing to learn, and has those critical thinking skills that we need.

 

Employees on the move?

GLYNN PATRICK: That's a perfect transition to the last question about the impact of the recession. There's some postulating that we are about to see movement like we have not seen in years of people leaving their jobs, because other jobs will be opening, because they have felt trapped in a job because of the disengagement, and the feeling that they can't leave, and the employers' projection that employees can't leave either.

My question is, what do you think the next six months will bring as far as employee movement or attitudes as, hopefully, we are starting to move out of the recession? Bonnie?

EASTMAN: I think there's caution. We haven't seen a lot of movement, but we typically don't see a lot of movement. We have a very stable workforce, many long-service employees. Over one-third of our employees have been here 25-plus years, but you'll see some transition of people that may be waiting for a different opportunity, maybe a move to a different area that they've put off because of the housing market, that opening that may give people a new opportunity. You'll see some of the normalcy of transition come back, which is the ebb and flow of people moving out and moving back in.

HEIM: We've been working with quite a few companies on their culture. So we are taking the approach with some of our clients that they really need to build the culture, to build the loyalty. A lot of times, it's not just the benefit packages anymore. It's not all about the health insurance. It's about other perks, whether it be a gym membership, or flexible hours – being able to go to the kids' softball game.

So we've been working really hard with companies to build culture to go back to sustaining some of that loyalty. I think that that's really important, especially in the generation of individuals that text. They want to be able to have their phone out. Well, maybe that's not such a bad thing at some offices. My office, that would be difficult, but in some offices, it might not be that big a deal if they have their phones, and they can still chat with their friends, and that's a perk to them, and then you build loyalty. Thinking outside the box on what your company can bring to the table to attract and retain the workforce you're looking for.

LABELLA: The recognition piece is huge. When you look at recognition, just giving bonuses or more money doesn't really make people, in the end, feel valued. Identifying who you have and how you grow them can. We're going to see so many people retiring over the next 20 years, and it's going to leave holes, and how can I build value so that someone says, 'These are my skills. This is what I can bring to the company, and the company appreciates that and finds ways for me to be challenged.'

As we bring new people in, it's looking at the younger generation. I mean, there's a twist here from this younger group that wants more work-life balance, that is actively seeking that when they look for a job. So how can your company get flexible? How can you open that up so they want to work for you? You don't want to be the company that is just taking the people nobody else wants. You want to be the company that's finding the best and the brightest that want to be part of your team and part of your culture. So how do we grow and change? That's not necessarily over the next six months, but it's probably over the next five years.

Can you connect some of those younger people with some of your veterans that might have been in your company for 20 years, so that they can learn from them, too? Then your older workers need to learn from the younger workers because they have a whole different perspective.

SCHRAMM: There's a conversation going on right now, especially among the manufacturers in Columbia, Sauk, and Marquette counties about how they haven't had a pipeline. They've gone so lean. They're going to have a conversation among themselves about who is positioned to be the training company, because not all companies can do that. In the biotechnology industry, we know that there are one or two companies in Madison that know they're the training ground for the other biotechnology companies. They accept that, and it helps them.

Manufacturers, especially, and to some extent utilities, you're not as much competitors because you have your territory, but manufacturers live in the same territory. They're going to have to make a decision that somebody is going to be the training ground because there isn't a pipeline.

NEWSON: In the next six months, based on economic projections, you will begin to see things loosen up and employers hire and create new jobs. I think adaptability will be the order of the day. Employers will make business decisions to adapt their HR policies and processes to meet the supply of workers that will be available to them.

I agree with Pat that manufacturers will make some tough choices about how they will create a pipeline. I definitely see system adaptability at the technical college and the four-year university and K-12. The conversations are beginning now that some consent will begin to make serious reforms that continue to be adaptable, meeting employer needs.

Job seekers will be more adaptable, so maybe they don't decide that, 'Hey, I can't work in a workplace where I can't have my phone and text. I've got to feed my family, and I've got to work every day, on time, and make ends meet.'

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