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Billy Felz - UWEC (left) spoke about current local retention rates from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire and how to increase numbers. Other panelists include from left to right: Anne Thurmer (CVTC), Courtney Olsom (Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce), Scott Rogers (Co-moderator), Julie Thoney (Xcel Energy and co-moderator), Rachel Downs (RCU), and Elisia Gonsowski (Riverside Engineering)

Oct. 20th, 2023

The October edition of Eggs & Issues featured local businesses on October 20th, 7:00 a.m. at CVTC. Present were Anne Thurmer (Chippewa Valley Technical College), Courtney Olsom (Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce), Julie Thoney (Xcel Energy), Billy Felz (University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire), Elisia Gonsowski (Riverside Engineering), and Rachel Downs (Royal Credit Union).

People attending the event got a chance to hear ways to keep talent local. The moderators, the Chamber's Vice President of Governmental Affairs, Scott Rogers, and panelist Juilie Thoney, Xcel Energy, asked panel members a series of questions involving their businesses, how they’ve kept talent local and issues they’ve seen within the workforce.

Throughout the panel, it is evident that each business is experiencing issues coming out of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Gonsowski mentions the shortage of skilled employees along with Downs issues of hiring specialty roles. Thoney spoke about technical issues within her business. Olsom echoes the previous topics and mentions how she has seen all play a role. Thurmer (CVTC) and Felz (UWEC), have a different perspective as faculty at colleges. Felz spoke about the retention of employees playing a role in students receiving the highest quality education UWEC wants to provide. Thurmer vocalizes the issue of recruiting of students at CVTC due to high competition throughout the community. Panel members also spoke about strategies they are using to keep talent local within the community. Some examples include: joining the workforce committee, Junior Achievement, facility tours, hiring students at RCU branches, career fairs and getting students involved in dual enrollment.


Elisia Gonsowski spoke about the shortage of skilled employees. 

“Its precision machining, it's very technical, there's a lot of skills necessary.” Gonsowski mentions that a lot of the employees they recruit for machinist positions are students in the machine tool program, a program at CVTC. She talks about how the program has gotten smaller over the years despite the necessity from companies to fill those positions. 

Rachel Downs spoke about the financial industry and their challenges of hiring specialty roles.

“We’re [RCU] pretty strong in the roles we hire for on a regular basis.” Downs touches on the roles such as: Member Account Representatives, Member Lending, Member Service Representatives, and their Call Centers who have strong candidates and no issues hiring.

Julie Thoney discusses technical issues like engineering along with Journeymen and Linemen.

“We are so glad CVTC is here…but when they graduate they need to get experience so there is a time gap.” Julie continued by saying “with engineers it's sometimes hard to find accredited ones we need to work in our industry…interns are also hard to find or place.” Julie mentioned that Xcel is struggling to find the right person to fill the technical positions due to the fact that they tend to go to southern Wisconsin. “What we find is there are students that want to apply for our internships but you can't just work in the summer and leave [and go back and forth] in order to really learn that job, you need to work throughout your junior, senior year.” She finishes by mentioning how she agrees with Downs and Gonsowski about finding skill sets that can fill the positions is a challenge.

Courtney Olsom echoes the challenges from previous topics. 

“Everybody is in this workforce shortage area remembering that we all just survived a pandemic and were short on actual people.” Olsom mentions that after talking to a restaurant, it is prevalent that all types of businesses, including local, are short on employees, not just big name brand ones. Courtney also brings up the quality of applications, soft job skills (specifically where the students are learning it), and the shift of attraction and recruitment to retention as issues. 

Anne Thurmer brings up the recruitment issues she's noticed at Chippewa Valley Technical College. 

“There are more and more competitive opportunities right out of high school.” Thrumer continues by mentioning how students know they can get jobs that pay well “but may not understand all the range of careers that they can prepare for that will set them up for a lifetime of skills.” Recruitment challenges are the main issues for CVTC, whether it is students or employees.

Billy Felz concludes the topic of challenges by speaking about employee retention. 

“I always kind of define my job as I am responsible for getting a great bunch of students to come to the Chippewa Valley and go to one of the greatest institutions in the state. [And then] my job is also to make sure that they have a great, successful experience.” A part of that is getting the highest quality faculty. He mentions that employees come to UWEC, stay for about a year and ultimately decide that it is not for them. There is a demand to work from home following the COVID-19 pandemic and Felz mentions it's hard to meet that need.

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Anne Thurmer - CVTC (Second from left) spoke about recruitment issues the Chippewa Valley Technical College is facing in current years.

Keeping Talent Local:

Courtney Olsom speaks on how the Chamber is responding to needs by its investors. Olsom mentions the first way would be to contact her directly to join the workforce committee or the K-12 program. One of the K-12 programs is known as Junior Achievement in a day (JA in a day).  Courtney teams up with the local Junior Achievement for a full day of curriculum and employer tours. “The first half of the day is classroom oriented, we'll meet with manufacturers, financial institutions, and health care in a career fair setting… to focus on soft skills.” She continues on, mentioning how the Chamber is working with four schools in the area and still needs some volunteers for the employer tour. As far as post secondary education, the focus is getting students into internships.

Elisia Gonsowski mentions the actions taken to reach students. Riverside participates in JA in a day as well. Gonsowski says “we bring our parts along, they can handle them, we have a video  that they watch, we are also doing the tours.” She brings up how if parents are not familiar with manufacturing, they will bring them into the facility to show the clean, bright facility they offer. She finishes by mentioning the Youth Apprenticeship program they offer to expose high school students to the facility as well.

Rachel Downs gets local schools involved with RCU by hiring elementary school fourth and fifth grade tellers to run branches at their school. Middle school tellers are also hired as well to do deposits and marketing. She mentions that “they go through the process just like any adult does. They have to apply, they have an application that they fill out. They go through interview processes, they go through training at our corporate center and get to see all of the different jobs and departments.” High schools such as North and Memorial, have four tellers and are hired to go into the local branches to get other experiences.

Julie Thoney engages students by attending local career fairs. Students were shown EVs they could ride or drive, if old enough. There was energy modeling, wind power, solar power, mobile lab and bucket trucks, hydrogen power, drones, and much more. This helps allow students to better understand what Xcel Energy does and that “it is not just hard hats.”

Anne Thurmer spoke about how getting students involved earlier helped retention and dual enrollment. In 2022, 42% of the district's high school students were dual enrolled at CVTC. Some facts connected with dual enrollment are: 80% of dual credit students who enroll in college choose CVTC, 95% of students in a high school academy course earned a C or higher, students who earned a dual credit in high school are retained in college at a five percent higher rate and also graduate at a five percent higher rate, and finally CVTC has received $9.78M in grant funding to support dual enrollment efforts. Thurmer mentioned how CVTC allows dual enrollment options, work-based learning opportunities, reaffirmation days/degree transfer agreements, and programs that directly link students to the community through services. In addition to that, 96% of CVTC graduates are employed, 82% are employed in a field related to their training, 86% remain in Wisconsin, and 66% remain in CVTC’s 11-county district.

Billy Felz has spoken with freshmen on why they choose Eau Claire, when asked, they responded with “ when they stepped on campus and the community, it feels like home.” Since 2021, nine percent of local students have continued education at UWEC. Felz mentions the goal is to raise that number to about 15%. Additionally, when students graduate, the percentage of retention from 2020 has grown from 27% to 32% in 2022. After graduation, it is also known that students are finding remote employment yet staying in Eau Claire due to the lower cost of living.

Top Employers Hiring Blugolds:

Baker Tilly, Clifton Larson Allen LLP, Dove Healthcare, Eau Claire County, Eau Claire Area School District, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, JAMF, Marshfield Clinic Health Systems, Menards, Mayo Clinic Health Systems, UW- Eau Claire, Wipfli, and Volume One. Top employers are Eau Claire Area School District and Mayo Clinic.

What To Do Next and How to Get Involved: 

Engagement In The Classroom

Mentioned by Billy Felz, the College of Business hosts multiple organizations each semester to work on real-life projects. This allows employers to not only meet but work with students. This allows local employers to educate students on the work that they do.

For more information, contact the Department Chair of Management and Leadership Programs, Kristy Lauver:


Again, mentioned by Felz, internships, student teaching, service learning, and practicums are happening in the Chippewa Valley. These give students the opportunity to learn about local organizations. It also allows students to test drive a career option and better understand employment in the area. Both UWEC and CVTC are looking for internships.

For more information about UWEC internships, contact:

For more information about CVTC internships, contact: or click here: Internships at CVTC

Youth Apprenticeships

Youth Apprenticeships are a great way to collaborate with high schoolers in order to get them into the workforce before college. Youth Apprenticeships hires students for one year or two years. It focuses on courses related to the profession of a high school junior or seniors choice.

For more information and how to get involved, contact:

Junior Achievement

The Chamber and Junior Achievement are teaming up to continue their joint efforts to introduce local middle school students to career opportunities in the Chippewa Valley. To help make that happen, they're seeking employers who are open to providing group tours for students, and volunteers for "JA in a Day" classroom events at area middle schools.

Upcoming dates include:

Altoona Middle School: Feb 15, 2024, Classroom Site & Employer Tours
DeLong Middle School: Feb 21, 2024, Classroom Site & Employer Tours
South Middle School: Mar 6, 2024, Classroom Site & Employer Tours

Click here to for information and to sign up, or Contact the Chamber's Workforce Initiatives Director, Courtney Olsom, at 715-858-0617 or

More Information:

PowerPoint Visuals from Eggs and Issues

Junior Achievement seeks volunteers out of Eau Claire, Dunn Counties (Leader-Telegram $)

Local businesses, colleges speak on student career opportunities (Leader-Telegram)

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