By Tom Still

MADISON – Wisconsin’s workforce challenges are
well-documented: Baby boomers are aging out of their careers and “brain drain,”
while often overstated, is costing the state some of its young talent.

A bigger problem may be Wisconsin’s industry mix. Are its
dominant industries – agriculture, manufacturing and tourism – sectors in which
major job and pay growth is expected?

The answer is largely “no,” even though those sectors are
vital to the Wisconsin economy and will continue to produce wealth and value for
generations to come. As job producers, however, they are somewhat static.
That’s why state policymakers need to keep industry diversity in mind as they
consider laws, regulations and incentives to attract and retain jobs.

Making sure young people have pathways into Wisconsin jobs
was the theme of a Thursday hearing before the Assembly Speaker’s Taskforce on
Youth Workforce Readiness. Chaired by Rep. Bob Kulp, a successful small
businessman from Stratford in central Wisconsin, the panel heard from a mix of
trade groups, school systems, advocates for people with disabilities and
apprenticeship experts during a day-long Capitol session.

Kulp is a roofing contractor who has branched into energy
efficient technologies within his business to keep it competitive. He sees
workforce gaps daily, not only in Wisconsin, but through his role as vice
president of the National Roofing Contractors Association.

Those kinds of private-sector perspectives will be helpful as
this Assembly group weighs what works and what doesn’t when it comes attracting
and retaining young workers.

My own contribution to the discussion was simple enough: Be
aware of where tomorrow’s jobs will be created.

As the economy continues to transform itself nationally,
globally and in Wisconsin, sectors outside Wisconsin’s Big Three are producing
comparable – if not greater — numbers of jobs. Quite often, those emerging
sectors are yielding the best-paying jobs, as well. National forecasts help to
tell the story: 

Total employment is expected to increase nationally by 14
percent by 2020, starting with a 2010 base, according to the U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics. That follows a 2 percent decline in 2000-2010. However, the
20.5 million jobs expected to be added by 2020 will not be evenly distributed across major industry and occupational
groups. Changes in consumer demand, improvements in technology and other
factors will contribute to the nation’s changing employment structure.

The Georgetown University Center on the Economy and
Workforce took it a step further two years ago with state-specific figures that
help to understand Wisconsin’s need for workers with post-secondary education
and training.

Within the decade ending in 2020, the center predicted,
Wisconsin will have 649,000 job openings that will require at least some
post-secondary training, compared to 392,000 that will not. Georgetown analysts
also predicted that 62 percent of all jobs in Wisconsin will require some
post-secondary training by 2020. The national estimate is 65 percent.

Here is how the Georgetown center analyzed job growth in
selected major sectors in Wisconsin:

Forestry, Fishing and Hunting:
Up 310 jobs from 89,110 in 2010 to 89,420 in
2020/ 0 percent growth.

Construction: Up
6,270 jobs from 130,200 in 2010 to 136,470 in 2020/ 5 percent growth.

Manufacturing: Up
13,460 jobs from 367,890 in 2010 to 381,350 in 2020/ 4 percent growth.

Wholesale and retail
Up 26,790 jobs from 402,330 in 2010 to 429,120 in 2020/ 6.6 percent

Finance and insurance:
Up 28,810 jobs from 157,390 in 2010 to 186,200 in 2020/ 18 percent growth.

Scientific and Technical Services
: Up 14,890 jobs from 127,510 in 2010 to
142,400 in 2020/ 12 percent growth.

Support, Waste Management and Remediation
: Up 34,050 jobs from 138,790 in
2010 to 172,840 in 2020/ 25 percent growth

Health care and
social assistance
: Up 66,470 jobs from 325,220 in 2010 to 391,690 in 2020/
up 20 percent.

Other significant Wisconsin categories predicted to show double-digit
growth in employment are information
(10 percent), arts, design,
entertainment and recreation
(28 percent), educational services (27 percent), management of companies and enterprises (17 percent) and transportation and warehousing (11

Wisconsin’s growth depends on attracting and retaining
companies and people in industries that add diversity and resilience to the

If policymakers want to keep Wisconsin’s young people at
home and attract them from elsewhere, the state must exude a sense of
opportunity, collaboration and excitement … and put effort into building those
sectors where jobs are mostly likely to be created.