Lawmakers stress importance of millennials to state workforce

Wisconsin lawmakers stressed the importance of getting millennials into the workforce at a recent discussion event held at the downtown Appleton Beer Factory.

“Every generation has its own challenges — this one included — but it also brings enormous strengths,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Green Bay Republican.

He was joined by Appleton Democratic Rep. Amanda Stuck in leading the discussion Tuesday which was attended by other legislators as well as representatives for Fox Valley startup group Kinnektor and the Millennial Action Project, which organized the event with

“The most consistent thing I hear is… we have jobs, we have plenty of jobs available,” he said. “We just can’t find people to do those jobs.”

Both Stuck and Gallagher noted the importance of technologies like automation and artificial intelligence on Wisconsin industries moving forward.

“We really have to be aware” of how technology is changing, Stuck said.

She also said employers must shoulder some of the responsibility for dealing with the state’s workforce shortage. She said part of the issue is that discussions often center on expectations for employees and the skills they need, rather than what employers can do to make their workplaces and company culture more attractive to millennial workers.

Gallagher noted that while automation does eliminate some jobs, it also creates opportunities for other high-skill, high-paying jobs. He also challenged the cultural notion that young workers need a four-year degree to get work, noting that other options exist, like the trades.

Appleton’s unemployment rate was 2.9 percent in March, according to a recent release from the state Department of Workforce Development.

Millennial Action Project Co-Founder Steven Olikara added: “We need to really engage the young people in this community. They will be our greatest source of economic opportunity in the future — and the greatest source of startups, by the way.”

The Millennial Action Project was created about five years ago as a nonpartisan organization that fosters discussion between members of both political parties. The group touts its status as the largest nonpartisan organization of millennial policymakers in the country.

“We have to really get to this group of people,” said Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah. He pointed to large corporations as a model for how to reach college students and other young workers.

“My suggestion is, find other companies in health care, other organizations that are really targeting college students, and you’re going to find out what they’re doing,” he said. “You’re going to find out what works.”

See more on the Millennial Action Project:

Watch a WisEye video of the event:

–By Alex Moe