Portrait of a Futuremaker: Manufacturing student/Student Government President Justin Wheelock

October 27, 2009

The following is the result of an interview with Justin Wheelock, who epitomizes the concept of what we at Wisconsin’s Technical Colleges call a “Futuremaker.” He is surely destined for great things, and he’s in it not just for himself but for his community. Using his brain power for a greater good, he is actively advocating for his fellow students and Wisconsin residents.

Justin is currently the Wisconsin Student Government (WSG) President, attending Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay and expects to graduate in December of 2011. Studying Manufacturing Engineering Technology, which has a baccalaureate completion agreement with UW-Stout, Justin also plans to get a professional engineer’s certificate which requires experience in industry. He then hopes to complete a Masters degree or an MBA depending on what program he settles on. He’s looking at either UW-Stout, which has a graduate study opportunity for Manufacturing Engineering, or through UW-Madison for anything related to business.

Wisconsin Technical Colleges: What will your education prepare you to do as a career?

JW: I want to either work in industry as a Manufacturing Engineer, or use my skills to start a company manufacturing a product that represents both my passions and my community. Today I could see myself running a manufacturing operation that would provide component parts for the renewable energy industry. This is something that could be run by a small company while still providing jobs and a positive impact on our ecology.

WTC: Can you describe the importance of your program to advanced manufacturing and therefore the state of Wisconsin?

JW: I was recently informed that right now Wisconsin leads the nation in manufacturing when Governor Doyle spoke before the WTCS board in Rhinelander, WI on September 30, 2009. Even if that status were not maintained the manufacturing industry will remain a significant influence on the economy of Wisconsin. There are many different areas of manufacturing, and many of these operations are more financially advantageous when run overseas in more affordable labor markets. The manufacturing that appears to be staying in the United States are the more technically advanced fields that require a more highly skilled workforce. If we do not maintain a pool of highly skilled workers to preserve the advantage of our advanced manufacturing in Wisconsin we will lose that market as well.

The degree program for manufacturing engineering developed between NWTC and UW-Stout is a cutting edge approach to maintaining a skilled workforce in Wisconsin. It provides an excellent opportunity for non-traditional students as well as new high school graduates. I was making the tough decision to relocate to a different state when I found out about this program.  The fact that an engineering program is available in Green Bay is the only reason I live here today. Even now as I consider the possibility of finishing the program at a four-year university that school is undoubtedly UW-Stout. I no longer have any plans to leave Wisconsin at any time in my future.

My personal experience is one aspect of what is important about having education available for advanced manufacturing in our region. Another important consideration is addressed when employers look to where they can most effectively and successfully do business. If we don’t educate people capable of fulfilling the roles and responsibilities of careers in manufacturing we will not have manufacturing in Wisconsin.

WTC: There is a lot of talk about the mass exodus of manufacturers from Wisconsin overseas. Do you feel there is job security in the program/career and why?

JW: This has been mostly answered above. There is indeed a transfer of many manufacturing operations overseas, but this doesn’t reflect all manufacturing in the state. I feel secure in my program of study because there will always be manufacturing in Wisconsin, and I know that the advanced skills developed through our program will ensure that I am a valuable asset to employers.

WTC: What would you tell people about the future of manufacturing?

JW: Manufacturing will continue to change in Wisconsin until there is a balance in the costs of overseas productivity. While the overseas market is more favorable there will be a market for high technology locally, and maintaining this advantage is critical to a healthy manufacturing industry. As transportation and overseas labor costs begin to shift productivity back to local economies there will be resurgence in manufacturing in Wisconsin, and having a workforce ready and capable of meeting that demand will be necessary for the continued success of our community.

WTC: Can you tell me anything additional about your educational and/or career goals?

JW: I don’t just want to be a manufacturer, a manufacturing employee, or the student sitting next to you in class. I want to do everything in my ability to contribute the most positive addition to my community. I wish to be a community leader and a dedicated servant to my family, friends, and neighbors. I see that this requires an education to give me the tools necessary to be my best. I’m receiving that education and learning more about myself every day.

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