The walls of Sturgeon Bay’s Northeast Wisconsin Industries (NEW) might be humming a bit louder if President and CEO Chris Moore could find people to fill more than 35 positions they have available. Things would be even worse without two local high school students working at the company as part of the Youth Apprenticeship program, administered at the state level by the Department of Workforce Development (DWD).
BJ Dernbach, Assistant Deputy Secretary of the DWD, visited NEW to hear more about how the company is taking advantage of the program while managing a challenging workforce shortage.
“This is essentially the pipeline to talent these days,” Dernbach said of the program. “You guys are able to get into the schools and get the kids in and I think that’s what we’re hoping for.”
The Youth Apprenticeship program allows high school students in a variety of industries from manufacturing to health care to spend part of their school day working at participating businesses while also taking courses at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC). Students can get paid while earning credits toward a college degree and experiencing the industry they want to pursue after high school.
Caleb Sansom, senior at Sturgeon Bay High School, and Kale Janquet, senior at Southern Door High School, work at NEW under the program.
Korey Mallien, Business at Education Partnership Manager at the Door County Economic Development Corporation, is the regional coordinator for the program.
“I’ve found that it’s a tough sell,” Mallien said. “It’s tougher than I thought it was going to be.”
Mallien cited the balance of sports and other school activities with work and courses at NWTC in Green Bay as a struggle for many students to manage.
“Up at Gibraltar we had like six kids who were really interested but we can’t find ways for them to sacrifice their sports and travel to Sturgeon Bay for work and go to Green Bay for NWTC,” Mallien said.
“I did have to sacrifice other things but I was completely willing,” Sansom said.
Moore is thankful for the extra help as NEW grapples with a workforce shortage that is present nationwide.
“The market is frustrating right now,” Moore said. “It’s as challenging as I’ve seen it and there isn’t really any light at the end of the tunnel right now. There’s no real reason to believe that it’s suddenly somehow going to get better.”
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at an all-time low of 2.8 percent and workforce participation is at 68.9 percent, six percentage points higher than the national rate.
Moore said the only reason demand is not completely overwhelming the company is because his customers are pushing their own schedules back due to similar workforce shortage and supply management problems.
“Were it not for the fact that our customers are having similar problems all over the country, we would be in trouble right now,” Moore said. “It would be rolling over the top of us.”
He said many machines sit quiet on the shop floor simply because there is not someone to work them.
The company has a customized training program with textbooks and certified instructors for new hires, which Moore said can be someone with no prior knowledge of machining.
Moore’s son, Dave, is the director of Manufacturing and Engineering at NEW. He said students graduating from the Green Bay technical college with degrees in machining can expect to receive hundreds of job offers.
“If you can learn to become a machinist you will never have to worry about having a job in your life,” Moore said, which served as comforting words to the upcoming high school graduates. “Everything that we use, see, touch, everything, everyday that’s physical owes itself in one way or another to a machine tool.”
Sansom and Janquet will continue working with NEW as they pursue associates degrees at NWTC in Green Bay. The company is reimbursing the students for their tuition in hopes of keeping them on during and after school, where the growing economy is expected to make the tough labor market even more competitive.