Local company tackles skills gap issue

Experts in our area said there isn't an unemployment problem rather an unemployable problem

Experts in our area said there isn’t an unemployment problem rather an unemployable problem. Companies like Inland are looking to hire, but are having a hard time finding the skilled workers to fill open positions. Now Inland and other companies are trying to work with schools to help shorten the skills gap.

This year La Crosse company Inland will print out 26 billion labels.

“Coors Light the mountains turn blue, that’s one our labels, Tabasco Sauce, Clorox,” said Mark Glendenning the CEO of Inland.

That printing is made possible by skilled workers like Randy Starkey.

“We are growing really fast and so every week we are either putting in new equipment or planning for it or pre-planning for it,” Starkey said.

Starkey said he knows he wouldn’t be able to meet the daily demands of the job without his extensive training.

“I went to Western Tech to the electromechanical technician program, two year program; I went for over three years because I worked full-time,” Starkey said.

He learned even more by working for Inland’s sister company Intech, during that time. Employers said finding people as qualified as Starkey is more difficult than ever.

“We are not fighting for a larger pool, we are fighting for, unfortunately, a much smaller pool of talent so what we really need to be able to do is expand that talent pool,” Glendenning said.

To deal with the issue Inland is asking for local colleges to expand their training programs.

“We need to go a lot faster and we need a lot more collaboration between employers and the people who are training our future talent,” Glendenning said.

And they are already working closely with Western Technical.

“We are not expecting a kid to be trained on our specific equipment, what we want them to be trained on is the principles, mechanical principles, electrical principles, and then we will train them up or coach them on our specific equipment,” Glendenning said.

In return Inland will get skilled workers right out of the gate and those workers will be better compensated.

“In more than three years I’ve more than doubled my income hourly and annually,” Starkey said.

Inland is currently working on developing an apprenticeship program with local high schools. They said the program will help target younger talent from the La Crosse area and will give high school students a broader idea of future careers.