The newly installed chairman of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's biggest and most vocal business lobby, on Friday vowed to tackle an issue that's infuriated plant managers for years: a chronic inability to fill manufacturing jobs for lack of qualified or willing candidates.

Todd Teske, president and chief executive of Wauwatosa-based Briggs & Stratton Corp., made the vow to tackle the skills mismatch as his top priority as he took over the two-year rotating chairmanship of the 101-year old business group. Teske replaces Thomas Howatt, chairman of Wausau Paper Corp.

Industrial jobs are the core of Wisconsin's middle class, Teske said: "But those jobs are threatened by a number of factors including a shortage of skilled industrial workers to fill existing and expected job vacancies."

If left unaddressed, the worker shortage will become a crisis for manufacturers, and ultimately for Wisconsin's economy, Teske said in a statement from the WMC:

"Manufacturing is our state's number one business sector. It is also a foundational economic sector because it doesn't just create jobs in factories. It also creates jobs in banks and retail stores, restaurants and hotels, local governments and hospitals. If Wisconsin doesn't develop or attract the skilled workers needed for today's advanced manufacturing, companies will be forced to look elsewhere."

States that address the nationwide skills disconnect "will have a tremendous competitive advantage over states that don't," the statement said.

The WMC becomes the latest organization to vow to tackle the issue. The Milwaukee 7, a business development group in the seven counties of Southeastern Wisconsin, began to delegate study work to committees in October.

The mismatch is a long-standing problem in metro Milwaukee. By its own count, the M-7 estimates that 5, 600 industrial jobs go unfilled in southeastern Wisconsin for lack of qualified or willing candidates.