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Manufacturers face hiring challenges as pandemic recovery progresses

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teel plastics
Teel Plastics in Baraboo says it has several job openings but not enough applicants.

BARABOO (WKOW) -- Wisconsin manufacturers say they're having trouble finding enough workers to fill the job openings available. However, there's disagreement about what is causing the shortage.

In Baraboo, Teel Plastics' business picked up when the pandemic hit as the manufacturers started producing swabs for COVID-19 tests. But hiring didn't follow the same trend.

"It's pretty difficult to find workers, and that's across the organization, everything from entry level people on the manufacturing floor to engineers to support roles," Christian Herrild, the company's director of growth strategies, said.

He told 27 News the company has around 30 open positions that it can't fill. In an effort to entice job applicants, Teel is offering starting wages of $15/hour and benefits like more vacation time.

However, the issue of not being able to hire enough people isn't new. Herrild said Teel has struggled with hiring since 2018, but things got even harder when COVID-19 shut down in-person interviews.

"We haven't allowed people into the facilities until recently, so we haven't been able to do a lot to have people get a chance to see what the job is like on a day to day basis," he said.

Nick Novak, the vice president of communications and marketing for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, said the business group believes a federal program is making it harder for companies to hire workers.

He said expanded unemployment benefits, which provides up to $300/week in addition to state unemployment benefits, is incentivizing people to not start a new job.

"That is making it so that folks can stay at home and make about $16.75 an hour," he said. "That's a significant amount for someone to not be in the workforce. … There's been a workforce shortage in manufacturing for years, and it is only made worse by the fact that we're offering expanded unemployment benefits to folks who could be entering the workforce."

But the White House disagrees with that claim.

"We don't see much evidence that the extra unemployment insurance is a major driver in people not rejoining the workforce," Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. "We actually see the data and our analysis shows that lack of vaccination … has an impact, child care has an impact, schools reopening has an impact, but there's also the need to pay a livable working wage."

WMC sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers Tuesday asking him to end the federal unemployment benefit program. 27 News reached out to the governor's office but has not yet received a response.

Several other states, including Iowa, Missouri, Montana and Arkansas are set to end the program within the next month. The program is supposed to end nationwide in September.

Herrild said he doesn't think there's one solution to fix manufacturers' hiring problem, but he says the industry needs to find a long term solution to avoid shortages and higher prices for consumers.

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Caroline Dade

Weekend Evening Anchor/Reporter, 27 News

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