5 Things Chippewa Valley Job-Seekers Should Know

So you’re looking for employment? Here are some facts, figures, and projections to keep in mind

Tom Giffey

A Chippewa Valley Technical College student operates a computer numerical controlled (CNC) lathe.
A Chippewa Valley Technical College student operates a computer numerical controlled (CNC) lathe. Image: Chippewa Valley Technical College

1. CHECK OUT THE HOTTIES

If you’re looking for work, it helps to know what the most in-demand fields are. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development keeps tabs on the “hot jobs” for regions across the state. It defines “hot jobs” as those that are growing faster than the regional average, have greater-than-average job openings, and offer median salaries above the average (cha-ching). Here are the hottest jobs for the state’s west-central region, which includes Eau Claire, Dunn, and Chippewa counties:

Installation, Maintenance, and Repair (including bus and truck mechanics, diesel engine specialists, industrial machinery mechanics, and general maintenance and repair workers)

Production (computer-controlled machine tool operators, machinists, and inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers)

Transportation and Material Moving (heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers)

Office and Administrative Support (billing and posting clerks, first-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers)

Sales (sales representatives for wholesale and manufacturing)

Construction and Extraction (construction laborers and carpenters)

Management, Business, and Financial (accountants and auditors, general and operations managers)

2. BE THANKFUL

Historically speaking, the Valley’s unemployment rate is low – really, really low. In the Eau Claire metro area (that’s Eau Claire and Chippewa counties), it was just 2.6 percent in May (the last month for which figures were available). That’s even better than the statewide rate, which was 3.1 percent (and which is a full percentage point lower than it was last year at the same time). While there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to getting a job, a low unemployment rate is definitely a positive sign.

3. BE THANKFUL (PART 2)

If you’re a young-ish person entering (or re-entering) the labor market, you should be grateful for long-term demographic trends that play in your favor, most notably the retirement of baby boomers. The oldest boomers are already retired, and the youngest boomers (born in 1964) are just a couple of years from 55, the age at which workforce participation typically starts to nosedive. Interestingly enough, Eau Claire County has the second-lowest median age – 33.7 years – among Wisconsin’s 72 counties, so the workforce around here won’t be tipping off the retirement cliff as sharply as in most places. Our low average age is due in part to the presence of UW-Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Technical College, and that has pluses and minuses when it comes to the labor market. As a 2016 report from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development put it, “While Eau Claire’s young population may blunt some of the impact of the retiring baby boomers (on) the area’s labor force, it’s important to remember that many of those younger workers are post-secondary students. … However, having a pool of possible workers available after graduation, if the county has the higher-skill jobs to absorb them, is a much better situation than many counties around the state will experience. Employers will need to convince them to stay in the area, which is often an easier prospect for an area than luring in workers from elsewhere.”

4. ON THE OTHER HAND …

While unemployment tends to be pretty low around here, so are wages. In terms of per capita personal income, Eau Claire ranks third lowest among Wisconsin’s metro areas, above only Oshkosh and Janesville. (That’s according to 2016 numbers tallied by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.) Per-capita personal income around here is  $43,276. That’s about $600 less per year than in Wausau, $1,500 less than in La Crosse, and more than $9,000 less than in Madison. Of course, this fact is balanced out by Eau Claire’s rock-bottom cost of living. And, wages are growing faster in Wisconsin than most other states (we currently rank 15th in the nation).

5. USE YOUR DEGREE

Your high school guidance counselor was right: A college degree really does give you a leg up in the job market. And placement rates for Chippewa Valley university grads are pretty high – meaning that if you recently got a piece of parchment from UW-Eau Claire or UW-Stout, you’re likely to be headed for gainful employment soon. One year after graduation, 96 percent of UWEC’s class of 2015 was either employed or continuing their education, and 98 percent of those working full-time had found a job related to their career goals. Outcomes were similar for UW-Stout grads: Within six months of graduation, more than 97 percent of those who got Blue Devil degrees in August or December 2015 or May 2016 were either employed, continuing their education, or serving in the military. Those are pretty good odds!

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