(The Center Square) – Waitresses and bartenders are starting to head back to work in Wisconsin, but the state’s largest business group says it’s going to be a while before the state’s worker shortage subsides.
Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, told The Center Square on Tuesday that some businesses are seeing more people applying for jobs and showing up for interviews now that the enhanced federal unemployment benefits have run out.
“They’re seeing an uptick,” Bauer explained. “Nothing major, but about what we expected.”
WMC was one of the loudest voices over the past year to say the extra $300 a week in federal benefits was more than many low-wage workers would normally make, and enough to keep them home rather than seeking work.
Those benefits ended earlier this month.
The trick now, Bauer said, is getting more skilled workers back on the job.
That won’t be as quick or easy.
“Training isn’t the issue. It’s a pure workforce-demographic issue. That’s the challenge that we have in the state of Wisconsin, we just don’t have enough people,” Bauer said. “We didn’t pre-COVID. COVID exacerbated it. Government policy exacerbated it. Now that we are coming out of COVID, we still have the problem.”
Wisconsin is a manufacturing-heavy state, about 20% of the state’s economy is in manufacturing and it is the largest jobs sector in the state.
Bauer said the long term solution for Wisconsin is to get more young people interested in careers that don’t necessarily need a college education. He said Wisconsin’s apprenticeship program is one of the best in the nation, and touted Wisconsin’s technical colleges.
But while there are challenges in finding workers in the state, Bauer said it is a great time to be a worker who wants to work.
“We have an opportunity in this country that we haven’t seen since World War II, and that is basically full employment,” Bauer added. “Anyone who wants to find a job can find one. And not just a job, a career path.”
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has been frozen at 3.9% for months. Last month, the state’s Department of Workforce Development reported that the state lost 8,200 private-sector jobs last month as well.