Wausau chamber leader: Workforce shortage is "significant" - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Wausau chamber leader: Workforce shortage is "significant"

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WAUSAU (WAOW) - New studies warn of a looming worker shortage in central Wisconsin as baby boomers retire and an exodus of young people occurs.

Dave Eckmann, head of the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday the regional workforce shortage was "significant."

Economists say millennials cannot replace the larger baby boomer generation that's retiring.

"If we don't have the talent here to support businesses they will look elsewhere," Eckmann said. "It is a threat."

The numbers tell the story. A chamber study projects about 2,300 fewer workers ages 20 to 29 in just Marathon County by 2027 than a year ago.

"The crunch is here and now," said Jeny Nieuwenhuis Hardel, president of REI Engineering, a company with a program called careers in action that is designed to address the challenges. "Our future workforce is in the schools now. And we need to make those connections now and we need to show them what incredible careers are available in the Wausau area."

Careers in action is a day to give high school students on opportunity to learn about the types of workers REI needs, including land surveyors who use GPS and drones.

"I am into environmental studies and I thought it was a cool to see what they are doing to protect the lakes and oil spills," Jennifer Kehoe said.

Another student, Gavin Scheuer, said he got "great insight into some cool stuff you can do."

Church Mutual Insurance Co. in Merrill recognizes the challenge of finding IT workers and offers to pay 100 percent of their college tuition - in return for committing to work at the company for four years. The IT scholars program includes part-time work at Church Mutual while the future employees are in school, the company said.

The experts say it will take schools, businesses – every one working together to find ways to keep young talent.

"The public will have to be very urgent about this," Eckmann said. "We see things are going to change rapidly because of the demographic shift."

Businesses in Wausau are in the forefront next week when the chamber hosts its annual small business week. Newsline Nine is a media partner for  the event.

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