SPECIAL REPORT: Tech takeover: Farming and factory - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

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SPECIAL REPORT: Tech takeover: Farming and factory

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From the farm to the factory, north central Wisconsin prides itself as being a hardworking area with some industries that potentially sustain an entire community's economy.

The advent of technology has seen some of the oldest trades transformed, just in the last ten years.

Out in western Marathon County, Verhoef Dairy farm is at the cutting edge of future farming.

With software that keeps a constant eye on hundreds of cows, and the ability to see exactly when a cow is in heat, if it's sick, and how much it's been moving around, the farmers are ahead of the game in a struggling industry.

"Big brother is watching you. Each cow has a sensor in their ear," said husband Janges Verhoef. "It's the daily behavior [I'm looking at]."

"Margins are so tight. Can you afford not to take part in this technology, would be my question," said wife Aelstje. "Technology is so much improved, so much information available [and] not just the people around you giving advice. But with all this technology we're not just guessing anymore." 

From one industry feeling the effects now, to another that must confront a imminent worker shortage. Experts from the North central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board predicts that most baby boomers will leave the labor force in five years, and the country facing a shortage of 18 million skilled workers across the country, technology is playing a major role.

The technological takeover is evident at the paper industry powerhouse of Domtar in Rothschild, with most of the changes coming at the paper machine.

"[The machine now has] scanners, detectors, scanners," said general manger at the mill, David Faucett, "There used to be a lot of operators standing out in the field from one end to the other."

Now the machine is operated almost automatically, under the watchful eye of two employees.

But the technology is not taking jobs. If anything,it's managing the shortage of workers.

"Let's face it: There's not going to be the number of people. When you have a need for manufacturing of 6,000 to 8,000 jobs and you go into a high school and only 13 people are in a metals class, you're not going to get the bodies," said Derek Heikkinen with the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board. "You need to make sure those industries stay afloat because a lot of people do have jobs that support families and a community."

Heikkinen said 3,500 fewer students in enrolled in local districts, compared to ten years ago, adds to the shortage.

He said by 2036, the shortage could begin to cripple local economies.

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