APPLETON - The shortage of workers available to businesses trying to fill open jobs is the "most important economic challenge we face," U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher said Tuesday.
Gallagher, a Republican from Green Bay, and State Rep. Amanda Stuck, a Democrat from Appleton, led a discussion Tuesday about the future of the Fox Cities’ economy and workforce at the Appleton Beer Factory in downtown Appleton.
“The question is how do we take people who aren’t in the workforce and get them into the workforce," Gallagher said.
There weren't a lot of answers to be had, but the conversation is important, organizers said. The discussion, attended by about 50 people, was hosted by the Millennial Action Project, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to bringing together millennial lawmakers across party lines.
“We believe our country is best when we bring ideas together from all across the spectrum," said Steven Olikara, a co-founder of the organization.
The unemployment rate in Appleton was 2.8 percent in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The city’s unemployment rate hasn’t been higher than 3 percent since July 2017.
Gallagher and Stuck hammered on the same theme — businesses in Wisconsin are stressed by the difficulty they face in finding skilled workers to take unfilled positions.
Rep. Amanda Stuck, D-Appleton (Photo: Submitted)
“We have jobs. We have plenty of jobs available," Gallagher said. "We just can’t find people to fill those jobs.”
The government has a role to play, too, Stuck said, particularly by observing trends in the economy and providing people with safety nets when necessary.
On the flip side, the government needs to be cautious when making economic investments into businesses, Stuck said.
“We need to think about what we’re spending our money on,” she said.
The solution is likely to involve career and technical education, Gallagher said. The government can help fund those schools and make sure money is spent effectively.
“We need to create a generation of lifelong learners,” he said.
Gallagher, responding to a question about whether businesses should train employees in vital skills, said most employers understand they have to make some sort of investment in their workforce.
State Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, a Republican from Neenah who also attended the discussion, noted the importance of training and recruiting millennials as they enter the workforce.
“You have to really get to this group of people,” he said.