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Economic outlook survey by Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce

Date: 8.21.2017

Job seekers in the Chippewa Valley should have an easier time finding work in upcoming months if a recently released economic survey is any indication. 

But finding enough new employees could prove difficult, according to a twice-yearly economic outlook survey of regional businesses conducted by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Survey results show 50 percent of respondents plan to add workers in the near future, and another 45 percent said they would retain current employment levels, a sign of a relatively strong local economy. However, 43 percent of those same employers listed a workforce shortage as an item that would most impact their businesses during the next six months. 

Trouble finding enough workers, especially in certain fields, has proved difficult during the past several years for many businesses. Hiring enough employees has become even more challenging in recent months as the unemployment rate in this part of Wisconsin has hovered near 4 percent. 

In recent weeks since starting work as president and CEO of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, David Minor said he has heard about an employee shortage at nearly every meeting he has attended. 

“The No. 1 thing everybody has told me is we need to figure out how to conquer our workforce development issues,” Minor said. “Businesses want to expand, but we don’t have enough bodies in Eau Claire to be able to do that.”

The need for more workers isn’t confined to any one job sector, Minor said, but extends to many employment segments. 

 “Health care, retail, manufacturing, you name it, everybody is looking for help,” he said. 

Unemployment is at its lowest in Wisconsin since 1999, and forecasts call for that figure to remain extremely low for the foreseeable future. While that figure can represent good news for job seekers, it poses problems for businesses seeking to expand. 

Job training

Finding workers to fill job vacancies and anticipated future openings isn’t merely a matter of having enough available people. Filling positions in a way that helps companies compete and grow also requires hiring employees with the right kind of training, said Jeff Sullivan, dean of skilled trades engineering and manufacturing at Chippewa Valley Technical College.  

During the past year, CVTC officials have re-evaluated the college’s apprenticeship program, changing it to allow employees to learn needed skills while continuing to work. That effort with such CVTC programs as maintenance mechanics helps workers and the companies they work for, providing both with a higher skill level, Sullivan said. 

“They don’t have to be full-time students to accomplish this,” Sullivan said, noting a growing number of companies are making use of that option. 

In another effort to boost worker training, Sullivan said, CVTC has altered some of its existing two-year programs to shorter time periods, allowing workers to gain specific skills in a program without attending classes for two years. That endeavor has allowed people to receive basic skills and find jobs, then return for more training once they are employed, he said. 

“Companies will tell me they will have a position open for a year-and-a-half,” Sullivan said. “They tell me they can’t find the right person, or if they do find that person, the competition for them is so great they sometimes lose them to another company or location.”

Selling Eau Claire 

 Given continued expectations of low unemployment, finding enough workers with the right kind of training to continue to grow jobs across the Chippewa Valley likely will prove challenging. But ongoing strategies can help, Sullivan and Minor said. 

CVTC will continue to work with businesses to develop programs to meet their specific needs, Sullivan said. “We try to be creative to meet the needs of employers, and I think we will do even more of that,” Sullivan said.  

Minor said he plans an upcoming summit of regional workforce development organizations to seek creative solutions to boost the workforce. In addition to creative job retraining efforts, that work must include selling Eau Claire to people who were once here and have moved elsewhere. 

“I am hearing that this is the best time to be in Eau Claire, that we have so much going on,” Minor said. “We need to tell that story to all of the UW-Eau Claire alumni living in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. This is not the same Eau Claire as they knew five or 10 years ago.”

Contact: 715-830-5911,

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