For all the talk of a down economy, Riverside Machine & Engineering in Chippewa Falls has had pretty steady growth. Human Resources Director Rita Bernard estimates it at about 12 to 20 percent each of the past few years.
“We are adding to our workforce. We want to add two full-time and two part-time people,” she said.
A manufacturer of metal parts primarily in the medical and aerospace industries, Riverside has need of people in the machine tool trade. To find them, Riverside came out to the Career Fair at Chippewa Valley Technical College Tuesday, where 27 manufacturers had registered for tables.
The employers were not necessarily in the driver’s seat at the Career Fair. Many were in recruiting mode, looking to convince students who will graduate soon to consider their companies.
Brandon Halmstad felt that. The second-year student originally from Ladysmith in the Electromechanical program found quite a bit of interest – in him.
“It’s hard to keep track of where (which tables) I’ve been,” he said. “I looked into ConAgra, and I looked into Presto a lot. I’ve heard from a few different people that they’re a nice company to work for.”
Yes, there are positive signs in the local economy, even with an unemployment rate hovering in the 6.8 percent range in the Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls area. CVTC’s Career Fair was a bit of a good sign itself, with 72 companies registering for 76 tables at three locations. Last year, there were just 51 registrants.
Of course, whether or not there is a surplus or shortage of workers for job openings depends on the field, but having companies in growth mode tends to help an economy across the board.
“We just about doubled our workforce in a year’s time,” said Gary Fenner from Pro-Cise, a contract manufacturer on Eau Claire’s north side. Pro-Cise is part of the Plank Enterprises family of companies, where Fenner is corporate vice president.
Fenner said there are 26 current employees at Pro-Cise, which has seen growth in orders from the oil industry.
“We’re looking for machinists and welders, just like every other manufacturer here,” Fenner said.
That includes Thomas & Betts Corporation, whose plant in Hager City has a huge demand for welders to make those huge metal power line poles.
“We have a high demand right now. We just added a third shift not too long ago,” said company representative Rod Peterson.
Other opportunities are available outside the manufacturing area. Service Manager Frank Paulich of EO Johnson Office Technologies was primarily recruiting people from the Information Technology programs at CVTC, but still someone with some mechanical aptitude.
“Our real need right now is someone in the middle – someone who carries a screwdriver in one hand and a laptop in the other,” he said.
For job seekers, it’s often all about training for the jobs that are available. First-semester CVTC student Alex Henry of Eau Claire was looking for internships in the Information Technology field.
“Long term, I would like to program mobile applications or games, but I just need to get some experience in the industry,” he said.
Henry set up a couple of interviews at the Career Fair and has a generally positive outlook on his prospects once he finishes the two-year program. However, he’s a little guarded because he knows a job search can be frustrating. He already has a college degree, in English, from UW-Eau Claire.