Metal manufacturing businesses face workforce shortage

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Central Wisconsin is not facing a shortage of jobs, but some local manufacturing businesses are facing a shortage of candidates.

Tyler Ahonen is ready to graduate from the welding program at Northcentral Technical College.

"I'm ready to get out of school and actually go start doing it," Ahonen said.

That's why he attended a job fair hosted by the Central Wisconsin Metal Manufacturer's Alliance at his school.

"It kind of like makes you more comfortable with going to actually apply for the job," Ahonen said.

Ahonen said he heard welding was a good market for jobs, and he's not wrong.

The career fair didn't just benefit job-seekers but also benefit metal manufacturers, who are facing a workforce shortage in the area.

President of Lemke Industrial Machine and a member of the alliance, Dave Pflieger said the demand for employees is continuing to increase, and the several metal manufacturing companies in the area are competing for a limited number of qualified candidates.

"If you asked our membership, the biggest obstacle to growth is employees going forward," Pflieger said.

Northcentral Wisconsin Workforce Development Board Business Director and Central Wisconsin Metal Manufacturer's Alliance Administrative Chair, Derek Heikkinen, added that 40 percent of workers in these fields will be retiring in the next seven to 10 years.

"As we go on if we can't fill this shortage, some of the smaller companies, essentially might not be able to compete and might have to close their doors," Heikkinen said.

Now these employers, just hope to find more people with skills and experience like Ahonen.

"I'm not the best welder out there but I can do it and I feel like when I get on a job I can learn more and I can be good at this," Ahonen said.

Reducing the demand, one employee at a time.

10 of the 41 alliance members at Monday's fair need to fill about 200 positions. The number one position in need is machinists. Wausau Window and Wall, Crystal Finishing, Greenheck and Merrill Iron and Steel are four companies with immediate needs for employees.

By the numbers, Heikkinen said there are 5,000 less people between the ages of 18 and 24 in the area now, than five years ago. 70 percent of jobs in the region require an associate's degree or less, and based on an assessment, alliance members indicated a minimum need of 1,559 workers to fill the shortage over the next three years.