Seeking to marry workers with employers, the State Department of Workforce Development will stage what it hopes will be a major job fair in May.
The "2012 Milwaukee Manufacturing Career Expo" will focus on two seemingly incongruous problems -- the area's high unemployment and manufacturers' continuing complaints that they can't find enough qualified workers.
The expo, set for May 10 at the State Fair Park Exposition Center in West Allis, is "a new twist to a job fair" and could become the template for future events elsewhere in Wisconsin, said Reggie Newson, secretary of the department.
Both companies and job seekers, he said, will be prequalified. Only firms that have openings will be present. Workers, meanwhile, will be screened to ensure they understand that to have a good shot at a job, they'll need such things as a suitable resume and appropriate clothes, said Lisa Boyd, administrator of the department's employment and training division.
Job seekers also will be told how to deal with a criminal background if they have one, and will be reminded that a drug test likely will be given, Boyd said.
The unemployment rate was 8% in metropolitan Milwaukee in February, and 8.8% in Milwaukee County. Meanwhile, more than 35,000 job openings are posted statewide on the Job Center of Wisconsin website, Newson said.
"And yet manufacturers -- and this is what this expo is focused on -- are having a hard time finding workers," he said.
Some observers question those complaints, suggesting that manufacturers themselves have soured potential workers on the field with decades of payroll slicing and job relocation.
But employers say the problem is real. Just last week, former Bucyrus International CEO Tim Sullivan, now chairman of the Governor's Council on Workforce Investment, said Wisconsin's education and job-training systems are leaving tens of thousands of jobs unfilled.
"We're looking for machinists all the time," said Mike Manna, general manager of Milwaukee Machine Works, a West Allis firm that will participate in the expo. "Our business continues to expand in the markets that we serve, and as a result we're working 24 hours, seven days a week, and we're looking for good people to fill spots."
Manna said the contract machine shop now has 80 employees and is looking to add another five or six.
Twelve companies with a total of 150 job openings have signed up for the expo so far, Boyd said. More are likely to participate. The Department of Workforce Development sent invitations to more than 1,000 Milwaukee-area manufacturers, Boyd said.
As for job seekers, Newson said the department's efforts will include contacting people now getting unemployment insurance to ask them to participate.
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