More people are leaving Wisconsin than moving here.
Job openings are outpacing new hires.
Our state’s population is graying fast, with 65-year-olds projected to outnumber 18-year-olds for the first time by 2023.
These and other challenging trends — highlighted in the State Journal’s two-week, four-part series “Workers Wanted: Wisconsin’s Looming Crisis,” which concluded Monday — demand a strong and sustained response from public- and private-sector leaders.
Wisconsin is expected to need 45,000 additional workers in just seven years for jobs in health care, information technology, the sciences, sales, customer service and other high-demand fields.
To address this near-crisis moment in our state’s workforce, Wisconsin must:
- Improve and invest further in education, with more focus on career opportunities.
- Keep and welcome more immigrants, who will be crucial in filling needed positions.
- Connect more college graduates to Wisconsin companies, while offering incentives for them to stay here.
- Do a better job of selling Wisconsin as a place for innovation, while investing in broadband and encouraging research to make the sales pitch real.
More workers need the skills employers require. And those skills increasingly involve science, technology, engineering and math. K-12 schools, universities and technical colleges need greater financial support from the state. Yet they also must be more willing to change with the times.
As the “Workers Wanted” series by State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour, photographers John Hart and M.P. King, and visual artists Laura Sparks and Jason Klein showed with stories and data from across the state, Wisconsin’s education system hasn’t changed nearly as fast as the global job market. And the workers of tomorrow will need to be more willing and able to adapt.
Many school districts, including Madison’s, are encouraging students to think about and explore career paths with growth potential. Districts are bringing more employers into the schools, and taking students to job sites. The Madison district’s Personalized Pathways program, highlighting careers in health care, is a welcome initiative. So is the increasing emphasis on technology in classrooms and labs.
Universities including UW-Madison are stressing entrepreneurial skills across campus, which will help young people move promising ideas into the marketplace. Technical colleges are partnering with employers on internships and incentives for targeted fields, and trying to eliminate waiting lists for popular programs.
The University of Wisconsin System must redouble its efforts to connect graduates with businesses here. And the Legislature should consider financial incentives for students who stay.
Higher pay and benefits would help attract more workers to Wisconsin. Yet global competition can make that difficult for many industries. Another approach that’s paying off for some employers is emphasizing Wisconsin’s lower cost of living, shorter commutes and high quality of life to young professionals.
The most neglected part of Wisconsin’s solution to its worker shortage is immigration reform. Wisconsin’s congressional delegation should help ensure that talented foreigners — many of them educated at Wisconsin universities — can stay and contribute. They don’t take our jobs. In many cases, these brilliant people create the technology and jobs that attract younger workers.
Overhauling America’s flawed and outdated immigration system will be difficult. Yet even President Donald Trump, elected on a promise to build a wall along the Mexican border, has been softening his stance in recent weeks. And U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, has proposed a state-based program for granting more visas to fill vital positions.
The state’s effort to rebrand Wisconsin as a hub for innovation could help. But that also will require more investment in technology, such as broadband service in rural areas. Wisconsin can’t compete in the global economy for business or people if it doesn’t have fast and reliable access to the digital world.
Strengthening and expanding Wisconsin’s workforce won’t be easy. Yet it’s essential to ensuring a prosperous future.