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Manufacturing industry boasts high employment, some worried about replacing baby boomers

Posted at 4:57 PM, Mar 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-01 17:57:48-05

The manufacturing industry employs nearly half a million Wisconsinites, but there are nationwide concerns about an aging workforce.

Gov. Scott Walker is calling for a major push in attracting young talent into the field.

Inside Wagner Companies on Milwaukee's northwest side, 160 employees create glass and stainless steel hand railing you'll find right here in brew city and across the world.

"When there's a high rise building going up in Dubai, it's likely going to have our hand railing that's in there," said Michael Dover Wagner Companies.

Dover says the employee-owned company has incredibly high retention.

"A substantial number of people who have been with us for 35, 30, 25, 20 years," said Dover.

While that may seem like a blessing now, Dover's biggest concern as he looks to the future is finding workers to one day replace them. He said too many high school students are stuck in the mindset of needing a four-year college degree to make a good living.

"It's a challenge for us as the funnel isn't filling for us on the backside," he said.

Thursday morning, in front of a crowd of statewide manufacturing leaders, Walker touted increased state investments in getting students interested in the field starting in middle school and consider technical school for family-supporting careers.

"Manufacturing has made an absolute comeback, they're good paying jobs," Walker said. "Manufacturing jobs on average pay 20-percent more on average than the average job in the state of Wisconsin."

Back at Wagner Companies, unskilled position salaries start around $30,000 to $35,000 a year. Dover said it only goes up from there with a 2-year degree.

"We are always looking for talented metal polishers and welders," he said.