Resources Available To Help Ease Worker Shortage

Volume 141, No.12, Friday, September 9, 2016
Rebekah Sweeney
Communications and Policy Manager
Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association

From dealing with government regulations, to accessing capital for investments, to navigating a global marketplace, it seems as though the concerns of a business owner – and cheese makers, in particular – are without end.

But, the biggest headache for these entrepreneurs and craftsmen and women goes beyond bureaucracy and beyond the markets.

In a series of five listening sessions this summer with Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association members, we’ve discovered that – almost universally – the most pressing need in the industry today is for workers. Members all across America’s Dairyland have described dramatic drop-offs in the number of applicants for open positions and much greater competition with other industries for the shrinking applicant pool.

After the Great Recession, our industry’s workforce shortage may come as some surprise, but members’ anecdotes track with statewide statistics. Currently, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate sits at 4.2 percent, a level that closely relates to nationwide numbers.

Across the Upper Midwest, there is even more reason for concern. According to the Wisconsin Department of
Workforce Development, “In the decade from 2010 to 2020, Wisconsin’s labor force is projected to reach a record 3.3 million individuals, but the increase will be only 101,000 workers, a 3.2 percent increase. By 2030, Wisconsin’s workforce growth rate is actually expected to turn negative. Even as Wisconsin’s population steadily grows, labor force growth will decrease in the future and eventually halt, perhaps even decline by 2030.”

Simply stated, the state’s aging population and smaller families mean our workforce shortage is only likely to increase in the years to come. Understanding the limitations now and in the future, we must look for ways to successfully operate within them.

First, we know that cheese makers must utilize the resources available to them through state and federal agencies. If your company is not posting job listings on the Wisconsin Job Center website (, it’s worth the effort. More than 40,000 people are actively searching the site for open positions.

Also available through that website are wage comparisons that can help you determine whether the package you’re offering potential hires is truly competitive. A quick search shows that a food processing worker in Northwestern Wisconsin with some experience earns, on average, $18.27 an hour.

For more detailed wage and benefit comparisons, turn to your local Workforce Development Board. Divided into 11 regions, the network of Wisconsin Workforce Development Boards can offer industry-specific information and may also be able to connect you with a pool of good candidates. To find out which board serves you, visit

Workforce development officials are coming up with new ways to attract employees. Consider, for instance, the Trade Up campaign in South Central Wisconsin which is designed to encourage young workers to pursue construction, carpentry, or plumbing as career paths. Banners that detail the wages, environment, benefits, and advancement opportunities are placed in high school cafeterias and classrooms, guidance counselors are given good information to pass to students, and students are periodically bussed to job sites, so they can see for themselves what working in the field means. Cheese makers could do the same.

Finally, through WCMA listening sessions, we’ve learned that some members are getting creative on their own, to make their businesses more attractive workplaces. Some are focused on breaking down barriers to employment, offering transportation to and from work or gas vouchers. Others are setting up significant professional development programs, investing in employees’ ongoing education as a way to encourage a continued commitment to the company. Others, still, are directing managers to be more empathetic to employees’ personal issues and make the workplace a friendlier place to be.

While there is no quick fix to a worker shortage, there are resources and strategies you can employ to attract and retain employees to your plant – and the sooner you take action, the better. RS

John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at


Other John Umhoefer Columns

 Constructing Communication at UW-Madison

 The Making of a Champion
 Internet Coins a Cheese Mountain
 Our 125th Year! (Sort of)
 A Dangerous New Raw Milk Bill
 Wisconsin Makes Its Case Out West

 Dancing with the Devil in the Details
 Phosphorus’ Final Act
 20 Years of Change In One Bite
 The Whey Problem and California’s Solution
 The System Works - March 6, 2015
 100 Years of Success
 Thoughts for a Dairy Forum
 A Different Dairy Scene in 2015
 The Truth About Animal Care
 A Regulatory Hat Trick
 Flawed Security Program Bilks Wisconsin Dairy
 Leading Cheese Producers
 Success by the Numbers
 It’s Time for Training
 Exports Trump Farm Bill
 Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute’s 20-20 Vision
 Addressing Wastewater Head On
 Knowledge Opportunities Abound
 Say No to an Extreme Raw Milk Bill
 A Generation's Gift
 Government-Induced Uncertainty
 Decades Ahead on Food Safety
 Wisconsin’s Hot Winter
 A Successful Campaign for Babcock
 Ireland: Gearing Up For Growth
 Mired in Wash Water
 Less Government, More Dairy
An Interview With Jim Sartorii
The Other Solids Price Crush
 The Policy Answer Is Exports
 Rolling The Dice On Dairy Reforms
 Productive Changes In Wisconsin

 The Successful Idea Of DBIC
 Cheese Cuts Both Ways: Consolidation and Growth
 IDFA's Deep Dairy Reforms
 Wisconsin In The Spotlight
 An Overbuilt Foundation
 What the New Governor Means To Wisconsin
 No Man's Land
 Dairy & Wisconsin’s New Leadership
 Wisconsin Cheese Is Investing, Expanding
 Talking Competition
 Being Big Dairy
Upper Midwest Prospects in 2010
Upper Midwest Growth: Perspectives From The Farm
Blue Skies or Bust
Pushing Back Against A Tough 2009
Support Demand, Not Price
Dairy: A Good Bet in a Bad Economy
Wisconsin's Future: Growth
Keeping Sustainability Real
Nose Dive
Dairy Dives into 2009
 Consider This...
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Implement Make Allowances ASAP
Security Reforms
Spring Forward
A Week of Clarity

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