Lack of younger adults could lead to labor shortage
Tim Brown of the UW-Extension seems the clouds forming on the horizon and he doesn’t like the look of them.
“We not to a crisis point yet,” Brown said. “But it is a ticking time bomb. Twenty years down the road, or maybe even 10.”
What has Brown concerned is the lack of younger adults in the Rhinelander area and the oncoming retirement of the aging workforce that is found in the Northwoods.
“The irony is that many young people leave because there are fewer job opportunities in here for them,” Brown said.
Brown is leading several initiatives at the UW-Extension to determine why younger adults are leaving the area and what can be done to bring them back and make the area attractive for that demographic.
Studies have shown a sharp decrease in the younger population after they leave high school and move away. Moving up the age scale, an uptick happens when the study looks at older working adults.
“I like to say that we are turning out 18-year-olds into 55-year-olds,” Brown said, noting the increase in older working adults after age 40.
While the older workforce is not an issue now, Brown said in a few years it could become an issue.
“When these older workers retire in 10 years, who will be there to fill those jobs,” he said. “We could have a real labor shortage in the area.”
While making it difficult for current businesses to fill positions, having low numbers in the workforce could also mean Rhinelander would be less attractive to businesses who might want to move here.
But what can be done about the youth drain? Brown is looking at several initiatives geared toward determining what younger adults are looking for and why they are leaving Rhinelander.
“A big reason is a sense of community,” Brown said. “It is hard to find a community of younger adults in the same demographic in the area because they are leaving. So it takes young people in an area to attract young people to the area.”
Brown, who fits in to the younger adult demographic, moved here two years ago with his wife, Kim, after living in Milwaukee and said he found some of those difficulties.
“I was married so we had each other,” Brown said. “But it was much harder to find friends that we had a lot in common with. We have met many people now and have a group that we socialize with but it was definitely harder than in Milwaukee.”
But building that community is a difficult task since Rhinelander needs to attract youth to the area to attract more youth.
Brown is working on solutions to that as well. Using asset-based research, Brown is attempting to find out what would bring young adults to the area.
“We all know the lakes in the area are a great resource, but I wanted to see if they were a driver other than as a natural resource and a tourist attraction,” Brown said. “And what we found was that the lakes have an incredible economic impact.”
Brown points to the Oldenburg Group as an example.
“The owner of Oldenburg Group chose this area because he had a vacation home in Eagle River and loved the area,” Brown said. “That is just one example.”
Brown said seasonal working residents who reside in larger cities and work in professional fields also were drawn to the lakes but needed help to spend more time here.
“We asked some of these professionals who own homes here if they had reliable access to high speed internet how much more time could they spend here,” Brown said. “They said they would three to four more weeks a year here. That is three to four more weeks of eating at restaurants and using local shops.”
That is why Brown is pushing for better high speed internet access in the Northwoods and wants to use that as a way to attract younger adults.
“If you have reliable technology, then you can attract those professionals who can work from home and telecommute to their jobs,” Brown said. “Engineers, IT professionals, they could work from here and enjoy the amenities they would move here for.”
And bolstering those recreational opportunities is also on Brown’s radar. Brown is hoping to see Oneida County begin construction of bike trails similar to the system that is being constructed in Vilas County.
“That is a real asset in Vilas County,” Brown said. “They are building trails to connect their towns. We need to provide that opportunity in Oneida County. If a younger adult wants to move here because they love to bike, we need to make sure that opportunity is available to them.”
And providing opportunities that appeal to the younger generation is key.
“It used to be you find a job and then you move to where that job is,” Brown said. “Studies are showing that millenials don’t pick a job. They pick a location, move there and then look for a job.”
Brown hopes to make Oneida County one of those places that younger adults will seek out.