Driving Wisconsin Manufacturing

with Kurt Bauer, President/CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

Patrick and Kurt examine the state of manufacturing in Wisconsin and the challenges companies face, as well as the solutions for attracting talent to fill these highly skilled jobs. Kurt Bauer is president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), which serves as the statewide Chamber of Commerce and helps advance business and manufacturing in Wisconsin. WMC represents nearly 3,800 members, including large and small manufacturers, service companies, local chambers of commerce, and specialized trade associations.


Pat: Welcome, Kurt Bauer, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce
Kurt: In order for it to thrive in the future, we’re going to need to get young people tuned in to what manufacturing is and hopefully get them interested in perhaps pursuing those types of careers.
Pat: So I was at a conference recently, and you were talking about the state of manufacturing in Wisconsin. What’s going on there? I understand from what you’re talking about, it’s about 21 percent of the state’s economy?
Kurt: Nine thousand manufacturers, 21 percent of the state’s economy, about 458,000 Wisconsinites work in manufacturing … it is by far the largest business sector, it’s the driver of the state’s economy, the bedrock of the middle class.  And it is something we want to celebrate. We do such a great job of celebrating agriculture in this state, and we should, but we really need to understand that manufacturing really is the number one driver, and more people work in manufacturing than they do in agriculture—or any other sector, as I indicated.
Pat: Sure.
Kurt: This is Manufacturing Month, we have been able to get the Governor to declare October as Manufacturing Month for the last four years now. And it’s a way for us to talk about how things are made, to reinforce to young people that there are great careers in manufacturing, and maybe dispel some of the myths that are out there about what a manufacturing career looks like, feels like, and what type of skill set you need to attain a manufacturing career.

We need young people to stay here in Wisconsin. Right now we export about 14,000 of our UW-system graduates every year. Some do eventually come back, but a lot of them don’t. We need to make sure they see the career opportunities in Wisconsin jobs here. And we need, frankly, more people coming in. Whether it’s migration from other states or it’s immigration from around the world.

But as far as migration, trying to get people to move into Wisconsin, the best way to do that is to offer a thriving economy with opportunity, upward mobility … and Wisconsin has that. This is a very high quality of life state. It’s not an expensive state to live in. There are a lot of things we have going for us in Wisconsin. We need to do a better job at selling Wisconsin to the rest of the country. The best way to do that is to have a thriving economy.

Pat: Sure. Sure. So, what do you tell your members, the manufacturing members, as far as what they can be doing to attract the right type of workforce or how they get plugged in with the rest of the economy?
Kurt: Well, whether they are manufacturers, health care, teachers, truck drivers … those are all areas we have shortages right now. They need to create their own pipeline. They can’t rely on people just coming to their door with a resume. Oftentimes they are not qualified, and oftentimes they don’t pass drug tests. So the ones that are successful are the ones that create a relationship with their local K-12, ah their tech ed, what we used to call industrial arts, or the technical college. They have to create a pipeline of their own—offer internships, apprenticeships. If they’re doing that, they are probably going to be fine.

We need to do a better job of making sure young people understand the jobs this economy, here in Wisconsin, is producing. And I don’t think we do that very well. And if we expose them to the jobs we are producing here, they can determine whether or not they are interested in them, and if they are, how do I become a nurse? How do I become an IT specialist? How do I become a machinist? What kind of training do I need? And they can begin the process of planning for their future. I think that is a really important step going forward.

Pat: Sure, and we hear a lot of that from a lot of the clients that we deal with. And some of the conferences that I’ve been to has just been getting that workforce, getting them to consider that. How manufacturing is not the old “dirty” type of business …
Kurt: Dumb, dirty, and dangerous.
Pat: Yes. It’s amazing what’s going on innovation-wise in this state. That’s where everything gets inter-related. How, you know, we have to keep people in the state or attract new ones here. So, we don’t need just the technical skills we need additional brainpower, creative innovation type of thing.
Kurt: This is one of the reasons why we want young people to tour factories, because I think they will be blown away by the technology. Because they are the information age meets the industrial age. Very few factories use assembly lines today. They assemble in pods or by other methods. A lot of automation. And you’re absolutely right, you’re looking at technical workers, and your looking at engineers at a variety of different levels. Some have technical school certifications; others have advanced degrees from major universities. It’s really open to anyone  and everyone, and it’s very exciting what’s being done in manufacturing today.

See more videos with Kurt Bauer, President/CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

Kurt Bauer on Meeting Workforce Demand
Kurt Bauer on Tapping into International Markets
Kurt Bauer on Wisconsin's Population Shortage
Kurt Bauer on the Truth About Millennials

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