WisBusiness: With protesters outside, businesses use forum to tell Walker of need for skilled workers

By Arthur Thomas

For WisBusiness.com

MILWAUKEE — Gov. Scott Walker was greeted by protesters today as he held the second of three planned job creation forums around the state.

Inside the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce building, business leaders told Walker that a lack of skilled workers is among the biggest barriers to job growth in the state. Other issues brought up were the regulatory environment, immigration, access to capital and sending the message that jobs are available.

Outside, the group Wisconsin Jobs Now held a protest and chanted slogans such as “where are the jobs?” According to Janet Veum, the group’s communications coordinator, the protestors were unemployed and wanted a seat at the table.

One of the protesters, Jeremy Mitchell, said the group was trying to send a message to Madison. Mitchell, who graduated from college last year, said he had a job at a non-profit that he “loved.”

“Once he [Walker] got into office,” said Mitchell. “I lost that job.”

Mitchell pointed to the governor’s policies as the reason for his job loss. He said the governor should focus on education and increasing the number of skilled workers in the state.

Attendees noted how the protestors were asking for jobs and participants in the forum said they could not find skilled workers for jobs that are available. Walker commented on the disconnect to reporters after the forum.

“There are jobs available, and there are many companies even willing to help with the training needed, but people need to be willing to be part of those jobs, they are good, family supporting jobs,” said Walker, adding his administration needed to do more to demonstrate what jobs are available.

Mary Isbister, President of GenMet, a metal fabrication company, told the forum her company hired 25 applicants for skilled positions but only 15 were able to complete training.

Isbister told the governor to “pick winners and losers” when it comes to technical colleges. She said some schools simply do not have programs in place to develop workers companies would hire.

At the forum Walker also addressed criticism of the state’s jobs website for including listings from outside Wisconsin.

“I don’t apologize for that at all,” Walker said, adding that if someone in Beloit got a job in Rockford there would be one less person on unemployment.

Immigration also came up as an issue for job growth. One attendee suggested the United States should look to keep talented international college students in the country. Walker concurred with the sentiment, saying those who get graduate degrees should be encouraged to stay.

“After you get a diploma, particularly a graduate degree,” Walker said. “you should staple the green card right to it.”