"We're hiring" signs are not hard to find in Southeast Wisconsin. What appears to be hard to find are people to apply.
"You thought 'Oh pandemic, lots of unemployment, I'll be able to able to find a lot of workers, but that's not the reality our businesses are seeing," said Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Secretary and CEO Melissa "Missy" Hughes.
Hughes says the pandemic put a magnifying glass on obstacles families face in getting back to work.
"If part of our family's ability to go to school or have their needs met is hindered then that impacts the family member and their ability to get to work," she explained.
Hughes says a lack of childcare, health issues, or not having access to reliable high-speed internet are all playing a role in Wisconsin's worker shortage, which has been an issue for years.
While Wisconsin's unemployment rate is better than in other states, at 3.8 %, it hasn't budged since the start of the year.
Restaurants like Milwaukee's Carnevor are doubling down on efforts to attract workers.
"We're trying to pay people more than we've ever paid, trying to incentivize people to listen if you take a job, you get great pay and in 90 days you get a $500 sign-on bonus," said Co-owner, Omar Shaikh.
Shaikh says the hourly pay bump depends on the position but typically it's $2 to $4 more.
"We have some folks that say, okay, when the benefits run out we'll come back. We even offered to pay them more than what the benefits are," said Shaikh.
"Did you ever think that you would have this hard of a time finding people to come on board?" Consumer Investigator Kristin Byrne asked Shaikh.
"No. For our industry, it seems like the last few years it's always sort of been a challenge. You are always one or two people short. But it's never been this bad," Shaikh answered.
"Restaurants aren't even making money right now. So, by us even paying more money, it's really tough on the business. But there should be some form of government aid may be to incentivize employees to come back to work and they get a bonus from the government or the business gets a bonus by hiring people," Shaikh said.
Gehl Foods, LLC in Germantown is getting creative in promoting incentives to potential hires.
"Overall, we have been trying to really market our competitive advantage as an employer," said Victoria Valen, Human Resource Coordinator for the food and beverage company.
"That includes our socials, radio ads and we are working with billboard companies as well. We are trying to attract new hires with our above-market wages, growth opportunities, full benefits, 401 K matching, quarterly bonus potentials (hourly employees), $1,000 hiring bonus for our manufacturing roles," she added.
"We are still finding much trouble with finding new hires, and there had been a decrease in the amount of people applying for our positions," she explained.
MRA, an employer association based in Southeast Wisconsin was a co-sponsor of the Employer Associations of America 2021 National Business Trends Survey.
Nationally, data from the survey showed the top 5 business challenges for 2021 include:
1. Talent acquisition
2. Talent retention
3. Ability to pay competitive wages
4. Ability to pay for benefit costs
5. Cost of regulatory compliance
Below, is data specific to Wisconsin.
Secretary Hughes is also seeing some Wisconsin businesses offer to help with student loan payments, childcare, or transportation to and from work.
Hughes said, "So, we need to be thinking about how do we bring those workers off of the sidelines?"
State agencies like the WEDC and the DWD are doing what they can, developing training programs to match unemployed workers with businesses facing worker shortages.
Read more about these initiatives here.
"We've seen in this recession unlike in other recessions that the under-skilled workers are the ones that have really been impacted. The restaurant workers or the hotel workers. So, if you think about the skills we need and where we need the jobs whether its manufacturing or food and beverage production. We need to be thinking about how to get those skills to those workers," Secretary Hughes continued.
With more vaccinations, re-openings are a reality.
"We are still excited for the future, with businesses and venues/stadiums to open back up, our food business will grow again from COVID. We are also expanding our company and adding new lines, so we have even more opportunities that will open up. That will be anywhere from Food Science roles, to Mechanic roles, Machine Operating, etc.," Valen continued.