Nick Novak Speaks with Wisconsin State Journal about Workforce Shortage

MADISON – Wisconsin’s return to near pre-pandemic unemployment levels has brought with it the reemergence of one of the biggest challenges facing some of the state’s largest industries — a workforce shortage.

The need for workers in multiple sectors of the economy has Republicans and the state’s largest business lobby calling on the state to end its participation in enhanced federal pandemic unemployment benefits, which they say creates a disincentive to work.

Some of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic include public-facing businesses like bars, restaurants, hotels and tourism. As more Wisconsinites receive vaccines and local public health restrictions relax, many of those businesses are looking to build back to pre-pandemic staffing levels.

After skyrocketing to about 14% in April 2020 due to the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns or restrictions on several industries, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate began to slowly fall last year. As of March, the unemployment rate was 3.8% — near the 3.5% rate in February 2020, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

The state was still down 129,000 non-farm jobs and 98,300 private-sector jobs when compared with last March.

Employers added 266,000 jobs nationwide in April, considerably fewer than the 770,000 jobs added in March and far fewer than the 1 million jobs projected by Dow Jones.

With hopes of getting more people back to work, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce on Tuesday sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers urging him to follow a handful of other states, including Iowa, by ending Wisconsin’s participation in the enhanced federal unemployment benefits program, which offers individuals $300 in weekly unemployment benefits in addition to the state’s maximum weekly benefit of $370.

“Right now in Wisconsin, you can get $16.75 an hour essentially to be unemployed and sit on the sidelines,” WMC spokesman Nick Novak said. “If we don’t fix this immediately, it’s going to cause irreparable harm.”

WMC also has asked that Evers use some of the federal stimulus to provide sign-on bonuses to create added incentive to work.

For some industries like manufacturing and trucking, finding enough employees to meet demand was a challenge long before the pandemic.

One of the biggest challenges in fields like manufacturing and the trucking industry is that the number of young individuals seeking those jobs is outpaced by the number of workers who are aging out of the workforce. Increasing demand in those industries further exacerbates the need for more workers.

“We used to talk about the skills gap, the fact that we didn’t have enough people with the right skills for the job, but now we just don’t even have enough people to fill the jobs that we have,” Novak said, adding that an increased focus on talent attraction could help draw more workers to the state.

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