Manufacturers struggle to find skilled workers

Governor makes addressing skills gap a top priority
Manufacturers struggle to find skilled workers

The skills gap is causing a conundrum for manufacturers in the area.

Gov. Scott Walker has made addressing that issue a priority in the next budget by putting his focus on tech schools, saying they need to turn out more graduates in needed areas to get more funding.

Some manufacturers said the problem goes deeper and the solution is not found in tech schools alone.

At Flambeau in Baraboo, the precision of slicing steel into service is what drew Jamie Hahn into tool and die making.

“When this block came in it was a square block, so that’s raw material and it turns into something that is useful and used for years,” Hahn said.

But even after 15 years of work making molds for plastic products, he has the least seniority among his peers.

“I think it’s more people aren’t interested in doing something mechanical,” Hahn said.

Jason Sauey, CEO of Nordic Group, Flambeau’s parent company, said the solution to finding workers to fill their tool and mold making positions isn’t as simple as just asking tech schools to graduate more students.


“I think there are some very good technical programs, some good schools that provide some good education and good training,” Sauey said. “I don’t think there are enough young people going into it.”

Sauey said the emphasis on four-year degrees, as well as the shift of some of these technical jobs to Asian markets, means a new generation isn’t encouraged into advanced manufacturing jobs.

“We’re trying to find ways to address it internally, but it would absolutely be helpful if we had high schools starting up industrial arts programs, if we had more directed training and education of a wider availability and if we were advising our young people to consider careers like this,” said Sauey.

Hahn said he thinks if more people could actually experience what he does every day firsthand, they might consider it as a career.

“Are you good with your hands?” asked Hahn. “Because if you can take what you do with your hands and put it into CNC or something else, then you’ll be fine.”

Sauey said there are at least a dozen positions they’d like to fill at Flambeau if they could find skilled workers, although Hahn mentioned it can be hard to find those who want to work a second or third shift.

Sauey agreed that tech schools do produce the workers they’re looking for, but his bigger concern is that they’re not finding people who want to do the job in the first place. He said the company even started the “University of Flambeau” to try to train workers within the company for new jobs.