Employers Say Manufacturing Is Ticket Into State’s Job Market

As the debate over jobs and where to find them continues statewide, some manufacturers said they need more skilled workes.

Some educators and public policy experts say the solution could lie with a multimillion-dollar grant program.

Manufacturing has evolved since the days of monotonous, repetitive, push-button work, but many employers said that they’re having a hard time finding workers with the high-tech computer skills their industry demands.

With about 15 years of experience in the manufacturing field under his belt, Eric Ellefsen is retooling his skills to get back into the job market. He said things have changed since his last job working with ceramics in Cambridge.

“It’s like space age versus literally primitive technology,” Ellefsen said.

He was laid off in 2008. Like many looking for work, he is returning to school in the hope of rejoining a field experts said is growing.

“There are about 600,000 vacancies nationwide, and that’s just in manufacturing,” said Ken Starkman, dean of the School of Applied Technology at Madison Area Technical College. “Manufacturing jobs are not dead-end jobs. They can lead into management jobs. They can lead into regional vice presidents, and so forth. So, manufacturers are looking to the technical colleges right now to replace not only an entry-level floor technician, but maybe even a regional sales manager or a vice president of a company.”

Earlier this week, Gov. Scott Walker announced the Wisconsin Workforce Partnership Grant, a $4 million job training program.

“There seems to be a disconnect there,” Starkman said. “Why aren’t these jobs filling? A partnership grant like this will help us take dislocated workers, incumbent workers, and give them the skills they need to go immediately to work.”

Technical colleges are already working with businesses to train workers, Starkman said. But having more resources will help them reach even more workers, like Ellefsen.

Ellefsen has been working part-time at a grocery store and is optimistic he’ll find full-time work when he graduates in May.

“Judging by the response I’ve gotten from various employers, I think it’s going to be a good job market, too,” Ellefsen said.

MATC is in the process of expanding its manufacturing program. It’s Ingenuity Center, set to open in 2013, will give it an additional 62,000 square feet of space.

Starkman said the new space will be the home for advanced manufacturing technology, the area of the industry in which employers are seeing a skills gap.