MADISON (AP) – The growing need for skilled manufacturing workers is leading to a revival in apprenticeships in Madison, Milwaukee and the Fox Valley area, but companies in other regions are struggling to find enough qualified people.
The state’s construction industry has started to rebound, creating demand for skilled workers across all construction trades, the Wisconsin State Journal reported in a story published Sunday. And when construction companies need workers, they often turn to the state’s apprenticeship program to fill the void.
The issue is, the economic downturn has taken its toll on the system. As construction projects dried up, established journeyman workers went elsewhere, and there was no one to replace them.
Now that the economy is turning around, firms are finding a smaller pool of workers to choose from.
“The problem the last several years has been a shortage of work for contractors in the construction industry. Now, it’s a shortage of workers,” said Wayne Belanger of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin had 15,767 apprentices across all trades in 2001. Last year that figure was down to 9,793, according to the state Department of Workforce Development’s Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards.
Jim Cook, the apprenticeship manager at Madison Area Technical College, said things were improving in Dane County because of a construction boom. The demand for apprentice services hasn’t been this strong since the World War II era, he said.
Despite the need for skilled workers, a big challenge is persuading young people to consider apprenticeships.
“We do a lot of outreach to schools around the area and have more success at some than others,” said Mike Pohlman, the president of Nickles Electric, an electrical contractor in Madison. “Some schools don’t seem to want to point kids to the trades.”
The state offers apprenticeships in construction, service and industrial/manufacturing trades. Apprentices earn starting salaries that are half the journeyman worker’s rate for that trade, with scheduled raises built in. Apprenticeships last three to five years, with apprentices spending about 90 percent of their learning time on the job.
After completing their apprenticeship and licensing requirements apprentices receive a state certificate and journeyman license, and a job with their sponsoring firm.