State Sen. Patrick Testin recently traded in his dress shoes and tie for work boots and a green hardhat to get a taste of what it’s like working in the construction industry.
Not surprisingly, he found the work to be rewarding … yet not particularly easy.
The freshman senator, a Republican from Stevens Point, joined workers from Wisconsin Rapids-based Altmann Construction at a site in Stevens Point as part of his “On the Job” series. Testin said he has been spending time every month with workers in various industries to show the number of job opportunities that exist in the state.
In contrast to seven or so years ago, when nearly one in 10 working-age residents were looking for work, many industries in Wisconsin are now struggling with a labor shortage. The state’s unemployment rate has dipped below 4 percent, and employers are looking to fill as many as 100,000 positions, Testin said.
This is especially true in fields like construction and manufacturing. Testin learned from officials at Altmann Construction, for instance, that the company could be doing even more work if it wasn’t struggling to find qualified people.
“So there is a huge demand for workers,” said Testin.
Jeff Schultz, a spokesman in Testin’s office, said the senator is trying to bring these job opportunities to the public’s attention by “doing” and not just “showing.”
The senator recently worked alongside Altmann crews who were putting up a two-story apartment building in Stevens Point. Testin’s main job was to help a group of carpenters frame walls, said Tom Altmann, vice president of operations at Altmann Construction.
When Testin first arrived at the job site, he and the carpentry crew found little installed save for a concrete slab. By quitting time, they had framed the first floor’s walls. Because of the work, Testin came to feel fairly proficient at using a nail gun.
In working on the apartment project, Testin lacked the luxury of being able to draw on vast experience in construction. Testin, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Military Affairs and Senior Issues, said the most he could claim was the time he hadspent, while at school, working at a lumber yard and loading dock before he started contributing to political campaigns.
“Construction was entirely new,” Testin said, “and I actually learned a lot just from spending one day at the construction site.”
But lack of experience did not mean Testin wasn’t able to keep up at the job site.
“We were impressed with his enthusiasm, work ethic and desire to learn and listen about commercial construction,” Altmann wrote in an email.
The construction industry’s labor shortage, despite attempts at curtailment, has shown little signs of going away. Time and again, contractors responding to surveys from the Associated General Contractors national trades group have listed finding qualified workers as their top priority.
Altmann said Testin’s efforts will only help bring more attention to the shortfall.
“Legislators would be more aware of what good paying opportunities are available for Wisconsin citizens,” he said. And with the unemployment rate being at a 15-year low, he added, “perhaps this will generate interest to these industries that are in such dire need for employees.”
Testin said he plans to continue his “On the Job” series. He has previously visited a bait shop near Stevens Point and a sand mine in Tunnel City.Follow @alexzank