Keynote Sketch by Lin Wilson of StudioMGI’s, division of MasterGraphics

The Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s annual Manufacturing Matters! conference attracted a capacity crowd of about 450 people to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Milwaukee on Feb. 23.

Michael Stull, Senior Vice President of Manpower North America, delivered a captivating keynote address to kick off the conference.

Stull oversees Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup’s staffing business in the United States and Canada, where the firm has about 70,000 people on assignment on any given day across 320 branches.

He offered his key perspective into why it is more important than ever to assist job seekers in becoming more employable by developing relevant skills and helping them build careers, while at the same time connecting businesses with the best-matched talent.

“We need people that are employable and have some level of learnability. We need people who are willing to learn,” Stull told the audience.

But recruitment difficulties in Wisconsin are increasing, he warned.

“It’s impossible to find people,” Stull said. “There is more demand for work but less people willing to work. There’s not a day where I don’t hear something around the labor shortage.”

Compounding the labor problem is that half of the people who come to Manpower seeking employment don’t pass a background check, Stull added.

Lee Swindall, vice president of sector strategy development with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation also a packed conference room at the start of the conference to discuss an initiative in which Wisconsin manufacturers are being called upon to lead the charge to improve productivity as a means of boosting the state’s economy.

The WEDC has joined the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce to address drains on productivity.

Together, they have launched the Transformational Productivity Initiative (TPI), which consists of a diagnostic assessment and strategy implementation that has a goal of reaching a dramatic 40 percent productivity improvement within 18 months.

“Robust productivity performance remains one of the fundamental components of a healthy economy,” Swindall told the crowd.

Action must be taken in the short term to address productivity issues, he said.

“We can’t wait for policy solutions for this problem,” Swindall added.

Following the morning addresses, conference attendees selected from 18 breakout sessions with three sessions each in the following conference tracks: Growth; Operational Excellence; Human Capital Management; C-Suite Essentials; Technology and Innovation; and Wisconsin Manufacturing.

A post-conference survey found that 96 percent of attendees indicated that they will use information garnered from the conference to move their business forward, while 100 percent of respondents stated that they either would like to attend (90 percent) or maybe would like to attend (10 percent) next year’s conference.

In addition, 75 percent of respondents stated that Manufacturing Matters! provided superb or above average value with not a single conference attendee indicating that the conference provided little or no value.