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Monday, May 5, 2008

The Hottest Jobs

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Engineers, skilled machinists and welders are among the hardest-to-fill jobs in the Milwaukee area. Nurses are hot, so to speak, and computer network professionals are also at a premium, according to interviews with area recruiters and Manpower Inc.’s annual survey of employers.

“Nurses, nurses, nurses,” said a Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare human resources specialist, when asked about her toughest recruiting challenge during a recent job fair at MilwaukeeAreaTechnical College.

Jeff Batovsky of Franciscan Villa said his nonprofit nursing home is hard-pressed to compete with for-profit hospitals in its recruitment. "We do our best to match market rates for RNs, plus we offer tuition assistance, flexible scheduling, on-site child daycare and various insurance benefits.”

Engineers are also valuable commodities.

“There has been a decline in folks getting engineering degrees over the last 20 years, and industry and technologies are growing, so we have few people to fill these spots,” said Mary Spencer, director of placement at Milwaukee School of Engineering. She said that a wave of boomer engineer retirements has placed even more pressure on employers.

Spencer added that an engineering degree isn’t always enough, though, because employers are looking for new hires with business knowledge and well-developed communication skills.

"Employers want more bang for the buck, so they take a cross-disciplinary approach to hiring,” Spencer said.

An aging work force coupled with a shortfall in young recruits is affecting the skilled trades as well. Eric Zeitler, a supervisor and plant manager at Allis Tool & Machine Corp., said CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine operators are at a premium. "Not many young people are going into the trade," he said with a shrug.

CNC machine operators must possess the analytical and math skills to program their machines to match a blueprint. Zeitler said a journeyman apprenticeship can take five years, but a sharp prospect can be fast-tracked in a year with on-the-job training "so that he can work on his own."

Zeitler is encouraged that many young workers come to the program with computer skills earned through years of gaming and Web surfing.

"Where the last generation took some time to learn computers, most of today's young workers are at least somewhat familiar with the technology."

Increased power plant construction has heightened demand for steamfitters and boilermakers, according to Earl Buford, executive director of the Center for Excellence, a joint initiative between the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership and Big Step. Those jobs can pay $30 an hour or more, and generally require a three- to five-year apprenticeship.

Buford's group trains minorities and women for apprenticeship opportunities in southeastern Wisconsin, and helps connect them to area employers and unions. "We work with our trade affiliates to find the new work force—minorities, women and those still in the school system," Buford said. "We also tutor trade school students to help them pass their exam to enter a skilled trade."

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