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Thousands of jobs remain unfilled while thousands of people are still out of work or underemployed in Racine County.

The situation is akin to a person dying of thirst while standing in a river.

To understand the problem and how Racine County Eye can help, I have conducted dozens of interviews with employers, staffing agencies, people who are unemployed and underemployed around the topic of the skilled worker shortage. This is part of a class I am taking through WWBIC’s growth accelerator class with the goal of developing a targeted email newsletter for job-seekers in southeastern Wisconsin.

My theory: people who are unemployed and underemployed struggle not only with barriers to employment, it’s also difficult to navigate an ever-changing labor market. People are also disconnected and disenfranchised with the business community. To test my theory, the WWBIC class requires me to conduct 100 interviews on the topic. I’ve gotten through 40 of them under my belt so far and I wanted to share what I am hearing.

One of the things I noticed is that employers frame the issue differently than job-seekers. Employers talk about their employees’ shortcomings, lack of soft-skills, problem-solving, laziness, and inability to show up for work on time. Job seekers and people struggling to keep a job frame the problem as a lack of resources, inability to secure reliable transportation, too many hoops to jump for job training, lack of reliable childcare, and addiction/mental health/physical health issues where they can’t access services.

Both are valid summations of the problem but reflect missed opportunities that need to be addressed.

10 key takeaways

Employers are:

  1. Struggling with attracting and retaining employees. But they are really willing to work with people who are ready to work. I spoke with one employer who had a stack of applications, but there were issues. Many of the applications were not filled out correctly. Some had coffee stains, were crumpled and illegible.
  2. Dealing with people ghosting — when people apply for a job but don’t show up for the interview for the job. It happens often. An employer told me that if he interviewed 12 people and one person showed up on the first day of work, he considered his recruiting effort successful.
  3. Hiring people they don’t normally hire: sex offenders, people with criminal histories, and people with disabilities more often than they had in the past. They are also requiring more overtime.
  4. Looking for ways to automate their business processes to cut their headcount. They are also paying people more for skilled work. A number of companies are actively laying people off at the same time they are increasing wages. This is why you see more self-help checkout lanes, self-service ordering, and mobile ordering apps at many businesses.
  5. Finding themselves in the middle of helping employees resolve personal issues. One employer was picking up their employees, taking them to doctors’ appointments, and another paid for an employee’s Uber ride to work.

Job-seekers are:

  1. Mostly seeking jobs on job boards that list jobs, but don’t have a strong knowledge of the labor market.
  2. Not aware of job-related resources or their requirements.
  3. Turning down jobs because they don’t have reliable transportation or they aren’t on the bus route.  Many jobs are created off of the bus line or have work hours that don’t meet the opportunities on the bus route. Many individuals who are available can only get to work if it is on the bus line.
  4.  Being turned down for jobs because of their criminal histories. One man was turned down for a box packing position because he was convicted of a felony for selling marijuana even though he had not been using drugs. The law states that the crime must directly relate to the work and be a current risk in order to decline individuals for employment either directly or indirectly by using a staffing company.
  5. Experiencing discrimination by some employers. One person from a staffing agency said: “Discrimination. It’s out there. Race, age, sex, language.”

As I mentioned earlier, there are some opportunities here. And we are defining our content strategy around some of these answers. So far, we’ve started a job board, but embedded it on our employment page. We’ve also listed the bus schedule and will be putting together more resource pages.

If you are intersted in subscribing to our employment email newsletter, click here. Or you can have job listings texted to you by texting the phrase #Work to (262) 205-2853.

If you are an employer and would like to take our survey, feel free we’re looking for input.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.