(PRESS RELEASE) WAUSAU — The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Wisconsin employers hard since March. Portions of the state have experienced a dramatic increase in unemployment due to the pandemic, but north central Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has grown only slightly during that time.

The North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board (NCWWDB) reports that the region’s unemployment rate spiked at 13.2% in April 2020, up from 3.8% the month prior in March 2020. That rate is currently 4.3%, falling with the 5% unemployment threshold which defines an area as at ‘full employment.’

“Pre-pandemic, north central Wisconsin was in the midst of the largest human capital shortage it had experience in decades,” said Derek Heikkinen, Director of Business Operations with the NCWWDB. “Simply put, there were not enough people to fill all of the available jobs in the region, a problem which isn’t forecasted to flatten until 2030, at the earliest.”

As businesses emerge from the pandemic and try to ramp up their operations in 2021, the need to address workforce shortages in manufacturing, healthcare, finance and insurance, transportation, wholesale trade and construction is critical because of the economic and tax impact these associated industries have on the quality of life for those living in the region.

Among these workforce needs, the need for employees in manufacturing is especially pressing. Manufacturing accounts for 26.4% of tax generation for the region, but if every currently unemployed individual and every high school graduate over the next five years entered the field, that would not fill even 10% of the project job openings, according to the NCWWDB.

“Local manufacturing has remained very strong with many organizations in the area actively seeking additional support.” said Paul Herold, Plant Manager of Great Lakes Cheese in Wausau. “Our challenge has been to attract new applicants to these roles, including, perhaps, someone who has never considered a career in manufacturing.”

The Move to Manufacturing program which includes an essential class, skill workshop, guaranteed job interview and possible signing bonus was launched in an attempt to fill this need. More information on the program can be found at MoveToManufacturing.com.

“In an effort to be more attractive to those seeking work, many manufacturers are offering growth opportunities and work schedules which provide greater flexibility to the applicant.” said Herold.

In late 2019, the Greater Wausau Prosperity Partnership (GWPP) launched a talent attraction and retention website to help address the region’s workforce challenges. The site, GreaterWausau.org, was constructed to serve as a recruitment tool for the region’s businesses and industries.

“Talent retention, attraction and up-skilling have never been more critical to the success and vitality of our regional economy than right now.” said Heikkinen.