Metro Milwaukee Chamber, M7 launch partnership aimed at building skilled labor force

Published Friday, September 13, 2019
by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Milwaukee 7 economic development group are launching a partnership aimed at helping companies in the region attract, retain and train workers for jobs that offer growth potential.

The initiative, being called the Talent and Industry Partnership, is different from other employee recruitment efforts in that companies are working together instead of separately to develop a labor force to meet an increasing need, Tim Sheehy, president of the MMAC, said in an interview.

"I think what’s new here is that employers are coming to us with a willingness to collaborate with their competitors in a recognition that they can do more together than they can do alone," Sheehy said.

Sheehy said the effort is being driven by two unprecedented factors: More baby boomers are retiring while fewer people come into the workforce, and the changing nature of work because of technology and automation.

The new partnership evolved from an ongoing collaboration among more than 30 of the Milwaukee region’s top manufacturers, MMAC said.

Led by ManpowerGroup and Rockwell Automation, MMAC and M7 convened a group of manufacturing executives in November 2018. Since then, chief human resource officers from participating manufacturers have continued to meet and design solutions to help their talent needs, MMAC said.

“Nearly every business is experiencing a labor shortage, complicated by the shortage of advanced skills required in our rapidly changing digital economy," Lyman Tschanz, vice president of connected enterprise consulting for Rockwell Automation, said in a statement announcing the initiative.

Sheehy said companies will work to "inspire the next generation of our workforce, help current employees acquire new skills, bring in members of our community who have been left on the sidelines and attract more talented workers from outside our market."

"We have to stop fishing for talent and start farming it," Sheehy said. "By that I mean employers have to do more to communicate that it’s not just a job — there's a career path — and that we're going to help you be a lifelong learner. It will make you more valuable, it will make us more competitive and that will raise wages."

The first new program of the joint effort will launch this fall. Called CareerX, the program will create ongoing connections between industry and education by matching Milwaukee region manufacturers with area high school educators and students for a series of career experiences to make them more aware of the spectrum of career opportunities in smart manufacturing, MMAC said.

The next area of emphasis will be a pilot program to help employers with "upskilling" current employees, the organization said.

The MMAC and M7 Talent and Industry Partnership then plans to replicate the collaborative process in other industries, adding to existing programming.

MMAC said long-term goals for the partnership include:

  • Improving the K-16 education pipeline connections with employers
  • Increasing skills of existing employees and lower-skilled candidates
  • Connecting workers with untapped potential to opportunities
  • Recruiting talent from outside the market

“Talent is the No. 1 challenge facing employers across the country, and the Milwaukee Region is uniquely positioned to thrive in this environment,” said M7 Executive Director Pat O’Brien.

“While the challenge is great, the good news is that we’re not starting from scratch. While M7 is best known for helping new businesses enter our region and existing businesses expand, we also have made significant steps in talent development since our formation in 2005. By combining our efforts with MMAC’s, we can do even more to help our employers solve their talent needs.”

The Talent and Industry Partnership will be led by Susan Koehn, vice president of Talent and Industry Partnerships. Koehn, who previously served as M7’s director of industry partnerships, has significant experience in workforce development and strategic and program planning, MMAC said.

She is being joined by Alexis Deblitz, director of Talent Pipeline Programs, who has led the MMAC’s Be the Spark program. The Be the Spark program has provided career-focused local business tours to 13,000 Milwaukee Public Schools seventh grade students.

Also joining the team is Brittany Morton, in the new role of business and education partnerships coordinator.

“Our region’s employers will always compete with one another to hire the best employees, and we don’t want to change that. But we are committed to helping employers find new ways to work together and increase the overall pool of workers that they all draw from,” said Koehn. “We also are committed to forming connections between employers, public and private workforce development programs and our region’s educational institutions. We can all do more together than any one of us can do on our own.”



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