PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Michael Herrera has multiple openings that he would like to fill for his employer, but he is struggling to locate and attract skilled workers despite advertising across multiple recruitment platforms.

Herrera is the CFO and community manager at Clopas, a Platteville video game developer, which has a staff of about 10 people.

“The local talent doesn’t have quite the skills that we need for what we are doing,” he said. When it comes to recruiting, “we get lots of people who are interested, but if we want them to come here and live here that’s a bit of a different deal.”

But the needs are even greater at Clopas. The company was founded in 2017 and its leaders hope to grow.

“We need artists,” Herrera said. “We need sound people. We need people who are good in business.”

This year, the company is working with administrators at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to develop a course of study in game development within the institution’s computer science program.

Fighting workforce shortages, especially in rural sections of the United States, will require collaboration between industry and educational institutions, a point highlighted Wednesday at a roundtable event hosted by UW-P.

About 30 southwest Wisconsin economic development professionals, university staff, business leaders and government officials attended.

Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate stood at 66.4% in July, according to the most-recent figures available. Unemployment was just 3.9%.

The causes of the crunch are well documented — child care, transportation and housing shortages are among the most-cited reasons — and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem by hastening the retirement of seasoned workers.

“People looked at what they went through (during) the pandemic and had this reckoning,” said Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek, who attended the event. “Several people found they could make their life work on one income if they just readjusted their priorities.”

Nationally, a net total of 2.1 million women and 1.7 million men left the labor force in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, attributed to fears of exposure and the need to care for children living in the household.

The Wisconsin DWD is collaborating with other state agencies like the Department of Corrections to identify new talent pools, including the formerly incarcerated. About 9,000 people are released from Wisconsin’s correctional system annually.

“I think, historically, (employers) may not have always embraced that, but they are a little bit more willing to look at and focus, now that they are really feeling the pinch,” Pechacek said.

Platteville economic leaders also are investigating the possibility of recruiting refugees from Afghanistan. Several thousand fled the country as the United States Armed Forces withdrew the last of its service members in August.

Ela Kakde, executive director of the Platteville Area Industrial Development Corporation, said about five local businesses have expressed support for sponsoring and supporting refugees. Some at UW-P have proposed refurbishing unoccupied dormitories for use as resettlement housing.

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