From thenorthwestern.com: “Life after Oshkosh Corp” — Evaristo Mondragon Jr. got used to the lines.

He had lined up for interviews and skill tests at job fairs across the Fox Valley, welding gear usually in tow, since February. An assembler at Oshkosh Corp. for four years, until he was laid off last July, Mondragon’s unemployment benefits had run out and graduation from Fox Valley Technical College’s welding program in May approached fast.

The cold-calls to companies throughout the valley, like the job fairs, produced only glimmers of hope. Mondragon, 30, was told he wasn’t quite qualified yet, even for the part-time jobs, so often he can still recite the standard response from memory.

“‘We like everything about you, but we really need someone with three to five years of welding experience,’” he said.

So earlier this month, when officials at Ariens Co. directed him to another line, after the lines for his interview and another for the skills test, he wasn’t sure what this line was for.

“Eventually one guy walking by told us ‘They’re offering you a job,’” Mondragon said. “A couple of days later, I got offered a job on second shift. They either liked something in my skills test or they liked everything.”

This summer more than 700 Oshkosh Corp. employees will face those same lines as they look for new work in the wake of another layoff driven by declining orders for the company’s military transport trucks.

But examples like those of Mondragon and others who were let go in previous layoffs offer hope, for both the former employees and for the broader economy, that there is life after Oshkosh Corp. for the company’s former employees.

Life after layoffs

Mass layoffs are never easy affairs.

They can depress a regional economy, push longtime employees into a crowded job market, strain families and require government assistance to support and retrain people in the name of recovery.

And then there’s Oshkosh Corp.’s 2013 layoffs.

As defense revenues declined by more than 30 percent, the size of the company’s workforce had to shrink. After 8,700 Mine-Resistant All-Terrain Vehicles and 26,000 Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles trucks and trailers rolled off the line, layoffs had to come once the orders were filled.

But an odd thing happened: The region’s economy absorbed a significant portion of the 1,150 production and office employees Oshkosh Corp. laid off last year.

After the layoffs in April and July of 2013, local unemployment rates in Winnebago, Outagamie and Fond du Lac counties continued to decline for the rest of the year. At a job fair Oshkosh Corp. held last year to help more than 500 laid off workers find new jobs, it boasted that participating companies had more jobs to fill than there were employees being laid off.

And that hasn’t changed. Even today, 19 companies have 121 welding and metal fabrication jobs available in the region according to Wisconsin TechConnect, a job service offered through Wisconsin’s technical colleges.

“It shows the brilliance of the economy up there,” said Reed Hall , CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. They’ve been through these issues before,” Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. CEO Reed Hall said. “The good news is there are not a lot of mass layoffs going on. Mass layoffs at a 10-year low which is a good sign for our economy.”

Support systems

When Oshkosh Corp. completes the layoff this summer of another 700 production and 60 office employees itwill have laid off more people than the combined workforces of both hospitals in Oshkosh.

Affected employees aren’t the only ones taking notice, though, as local, state and federal agencies continue to look for ways to help soften the blow.

Just last week, the WEDC unveiled a special loan program to help manufacturers, fabrication shops, machine shops, parts suppliers and other parts of the supply chain months ahead of time specifically to help Oshkosh Corp. suppliers.

Hall, WEDC’s CEO, said the agency would provide a loan or loan guarantee of $50,000 to $250,000, provided the company matches 50 percent of the loan amount, to help businesses fund equipment purchases, add staff and take other steps to pursue other business opportunities.

“We certainly understand the impact the Defense Department cuts have and how that ripples through our economy,” Hall said. “We’re doing what we can to retain these jobs here in Wisconsin. And Oshkosh Corp. will make it through. We have a lot of confidence in Oshkosh Corp., that they will … grow again.”

The WEDC program is just the most recent of a series of federal, state and local efforts to mitigate the impact of the layoffs.

The Department of Defense took notice last fall and awarded the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission an $837,000 grant to find ways to soften the blow of defense cutbacks on the company’s supply chain. The grant includes funds to explore diversifying the economy and specifically allocated funds for a marketing and cluster study for the aviation business park under development at the southeast corner of Wittman Regional Airport.

Chamco CEO Elizabeth Hartman said the study will identify a focus, or market, for the aviation business park that would identify 20 to 30 companies economic development officials could target to fill the park.

“When they reach out to contacts, they really try to identify potential folks that would want to be a part of a cluster centered around a business issue or cluster,” Hartman told the Council in March. “You already have built-in prospects as a result. There’s also a marketing aspect to it, but there might be some additional work we want to do locally.”

Moving forward

Some former Oshkosh Corp. employees, like Mondragon, went back to school for new training. He said the state offered him $1,000-per-semester to help with tuition and that FVTC staff “was a pleasure to work with” and helped make sure he started school in the fall.

Fox Valley Technical College Welding Instructor Ben Cebery said the college’s Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center welcomes 64 new students to its one-year welding certificate training program each school year. In addition, students are able to take individual courses to upgrade their skills.

“All of our classes have filled up to the max for a long time now,” Cebery said. “There’s definitely a mix between laid off workers and young people here for their first series of training. The night classes are definitely a big mix.”

Others found new jobs, like machinist Pat Wallace, who said he was offered three jobs within a month after he was laid off last summer.

“It was a good time to be laid off,” Wallace said.

Wallace opted to take a job as an inspector at Eagle Supply and Plastics over ones at F. Ziegler Enterprises and Mercury Marine because it paid better and he could work first shift. An added bonus: He’d be working with his friend and former Oshkosh Corp. coworker John Schmitz.

Wallace, 55, was prepared for the worst, though, because he had already been there five years ago. He had worked at Marvel Manufacturing for 22 years when the recession struck. Sales plummeted and so did the hours.

In 2009, Wallace landed at Oshkosh Corp. at a time when production was ramping up so fast then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the company on Nov. 12, 2009. Gates called what he saw the most impressive military vehicle production run since World War II.

Workers hired at that time largely knew going in that they were being hired for the duration of the order, and that peacetime would bring reduced orders and a scaled back work force.

Wallace said his job search experiences, in good times and bad, have taught him that staffing companies can be useful, but workers should avoid signing contracts with them; that age isn’t the issue older workers may think it is, and that building up savings is key.

“It worked out that my training and experience were right for Eagle,” Wallace said. “The only thing I was worried about was health insurance. I’m older. But I had money in savings to hold me over.”

From postcrescent.com: “FVTC President Dr. Susan May: It’s time to put ‘body farm’ to rest” — You may have seen the flurry of media recently regarding a forensic training field at our Public Safety Training Center. The concept of an outdoor forensic training field may make for a tempting headline, but it is far from being anything final.

I’m sure you may be wondering about this development, so I’ll attempt to provide some clarification about this proposed aspect of the overall facility.

First, the concept of an all-season forensic training field has been included from the very beginning through all planning and referendum communication phases of this center. The very first rough drawings of this facility included this potential outdoor lab, as did early conversations with community leaders in 2009. As the project progressed, we often addressed questions about it, but this part of the center wasn’t highlighted because it’s by no means the primary focus of this new facility. From the beginning, it was considered a longer-range project for possible development in the future.

Right now, the forensic training field is only a concept, an idea, a possibility for further consideration. We are nowhere near actual implementation. Before any action is taken, we would need to address regulatory requirements, reporting standards and operational processes, let alone the research and development our staff would need to undertake. We have many more critical priorities than this, both in getting the PSTC up and running and across the college overall. Ultimately, we may determine that it simply isn’t worth pursuing if the regulations are prohibitive and/or costly.

Looking back, it’s important to remember that public hearings were held to provide information and answer any questions on all of our referendum projects, which were widely supported by the public in 2012. FVTC delivered more than 125 community presentations, our web site included detailed information on the projects, and communications were sent to municipalities, planning commissions, the state Department of Natural Resources, and many other agencies. We sent letters to the adjacent property owners to inform them about the PSTC and invited them to contact us with any questions or concerns.

We were also required to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment for the PSTC development. In that report, the forensic training field was specifically referenced in terms of secured access, visual appearance and odors. This was made available for public review and feedback, and a public hearing was held specifically on this report. The final document has been posted on our website since it was published in September 2012.

Our local media sources have really gotten ahead of themselves on this one; perhaps some of our own exuberant and well-meaning staff has as well. I find it very interesting that all of this media attention has generated a number of inquiries from people about donating their bodies for this type of research, as well as contacts from several universities worldwide interested in working with us at this facility. They, too, are perhaps getting ahead of themselves.

Is there merit to the idea of creating the nation’s first all-season forensic training field to support forensics education, training and research? Absolutely. But, as I’ve tried to convey, there’s a lot more homework to be done. And if this moves forward at some point, it will need to be done with respect for process, laws and regulations, neighbors and communications that are appropriate and timely.

From greenbaypressgazette.com: “Health care delegation visits Fox Cities” — APPLETON — International health care delegates will be in the Fox Cities today and Friday to gain insight into health care management best practices and tour facilities.

The Fox Cities Regional Partnership will host nearly 20 delegates from the Special American Business Internship Training Hospital Administration program. The mid- to senior-level health care executives from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Ukraine began their U.S. tour March 28 in Washington, D.C.

“We’re excited to host this prestigious delegation and have teamed up with our region’s world-class health care organizations to share their knowledge and experiences with the group,” Larry Burkhardt, executive vice president at Fox Cities Regional Partnership, said in a statement. “Our local health systems have been able to provide a variety of the best health care options in the region, and to have others outside the Fox Valley learn and benefit from our leaders is an honor.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce is coordinating the group’s visit. A Commerce Department representative contacted the Fox Cities Regional Partnership and requested the visit after finding information about the region’s health care assets on the Partnership’s website. The representative said the Fox Cities was selected for its national reputation as a leader in high quality health care at low cost.

The delegates will visit with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Fox Valley, the Orthopedic & Sports Institute of the Fox Valley (OSI), Neuroscience Group, Affinity Health System at St. Elizabeth Hospital, ThedaCare at the ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value, Neurospine Center and Fox Valley Technical College’s new Health Simulation & Technology Lab.

Discussion topics will include financial management, new medical technologies and risk management, equipment manufacturers, relationships with insurance companies, medical ethics and conflict resolution, and doctor and patient rights.

From greenbaypressgazette.com: “Nienhaus donates Winagamie Golf Course to Appleton foundation” – Winagamie Golf Course has been a second home to Mary Beth Nienhaus for 43 years. Now, the legendary educator, coach, golfer and benefactor has donated the 27-hole facility to the Appleton Education Foundation.

“It’s humbling that Mary Beth would think of the Appleton Education Foundation as such a worthy recipient,” said Julie Krause, executive director of the foundation. The golf course, with an estimated value of more than $2.5 million, is the largest gift the foundation has ever received, she said.

An agreement for Nienhaus, 70, of Appleton to give the golf course to the AEF was finalized at the end of 2013, and was formally announced Tuesday during a news conference at the golf course. The Appleton School District and Fox Valley Technical College are collaborating with AEF to offer local students hands-on learning experiences at the facility — from small-engine repair to horticulture, agronomy, marketing and event planning.

The course will continue to be open to golfers.

Nienhaus, a longtime golf professional at Winagamie, became a partner in the business in 1972. She took over sole ownership in 1993.

She said she had a prospective buyer for the property, but by donating it to the foundation, she will preserve the legacy she’s worked to build. A board of directors will oversee the course’s operations, and it will continue as a for-profit business. Any profits will be set aside for capital improvements to the golf course, Krause said. AEF will eventually receive dividends from the course, and will use them to fund grants for educators in Appleton schools, but no AEF funds will be put toward the course.

This isn’t Nienhaus’ first contribution to AEF. In 1997, she gave the foundation one of its first major gifts — $200,000 for the renovations at Goodland Field. Nienhaus Sports Complex is now home to the Appleton West baseball, softball and soccer teams.

Her relationship with AEF didn’t end there. In 2011, she committed a matching gift of $100,000 to West for improved physical education and athletic facilities.

Appleton School District Administrator Lee Allinger said he isn’t surprised by Nienhaus’ generosity.

“Mary Beth is a person who has this incredible community vision and has really backed up her beliefs with the actions she’s taken over the years,” he said.

The possibilities

Nancy Johnshoy, Winagamie Inc. board president and AEF director, said the foundation thought long and hard about the golf course and how it would benefit local students.

“At first glance, owning a golf course operation may not seem like a natural fit for the Appleton Education Foundation, but as we thought about it and let our imaginations wander, we realized it has a natural tie-in for the school district and Fox Valley Technical College,” Johnshoy said.

Teachers from FVTC and the Appleton School District will collaborate to create learning opportunities for students at Winagamie.

Susan May, president of FVTC and a member of the Winagamie board of directors, said she’s thrilled to see students learning in a “realistic laboratory” at the golf course.

Nienhaus will continue to be involved in golf course operations as a member of the board of directors and through the junior golf academy. When she decides the time is right, Neinhaus will give AEF control of the junior golf academy. The foundation will continue the academy’s mission into the future.

With more spare time on the horizon, Nienhaus hopes to travel more during the summer, to continue volunteering and to play golf.

“I have this wonderful golf course here and I hardly play golf,” she said. “Years ago I used to play well, and then once I turned professional I gave lessons — tons of lessons, thousands of lessons over the years — and, of course, then I couldn’t do everything, so I didn’t play a lot of golf.”

When Nienhaus looks out over the expansive golf course, which opened in 1962, she is reminded of her parents.

“I see my dad (Sylvester) all the time, because he planted over 600 evergreens out here,” she said. “When he planted them they were probably three, four feet high. And now you take a look at them and they’re huge.”

The hard work ethic that drives Nienhaus came from her parents, she said. Her father spent more than 40 years at Kimberly-Clark Corp. and worked part time at Gelbe’s Nursery. Her mother, Mabel, worked a variety of jobs over the years and was employed in the pro shop at Winagamie for a time.

Enviable career

Nienhaus distinguished herself in teaching, golfing and coaching over the years.

She won the Wisconsin Women’s Public Links Golf Association Amateur Championship in 1963 and 1964. The victories helped her become Marquette University’s first female varsity student-athlete: She joined the men’s golf team in 1965.

Nienhaus was the first person to represent Marquette in intercollegiate postseason play. She won the Wisconsin State Golf Association Championship in 1968 and 1969, and was named the Wisconsin Female Golfer of the Year in 1969.

Teaching has been a passion for Nienhaus. She taught physical education at Appleton West High School for 28 years and coached the girls’ golf team for 25 years. During her tenure as a golf coach, West won four state championships. She was named the LPGA Coach of the Year in 1987 — the only high school coach ever to receive the award.

Her passions for teaching and golf led her to start the Winagamie Junior Golf Academy, which teaches the game to children. It’s funded through the Winagamie Golf Foundation and is one of the state’s largest junior golf programs. Even though she retired from the school district in 1999, Nienhaus still logs 80- to 90-hour work weeks during the golf season.

An independent person and trailblazer, Nienhaus is single and has no children. She said people at the golf course often ask where her husband is.

“They think I’m sort of a token owner or something. When I tell them I’m the sole owner I think that takes them back a little bit,” Nienhaus said.

“The cute thing I always say is because I’m so independent if I would have married and had children, then the husband clearly would have been the one to take care of the kids and make the meals and everything,” she said. “Of course, years ago that never would have happened. Nowadays it’s a more common occurrence.”

From inwisconsin.com: “State launches expanded, accelerated training program for trucking jobs” — Pewaukee – Governor Scott Walker made a stop at the Waukesha County Technical College today to announce the launch of a new program, designed to channel Wisconsin residents, including veterans, through accelerated training courses and into guaranteed placements at companies in the growing trucking industry.  Up to 300 Wisconsinites who pass eligibility screening will earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and advance to a placement at one of three Wisconsin trucking firms.

“Wisconsin’s transportation industry is experiencing a significant skills gap that will continue through at least 2020, and we need to act aggressively to address this issue,” Governor Walker said.  “Innovative approaches, like this accelerated training program, are the kinds of investments we need.  The incentive of a guaranteed placement at the conclusion of the program makes this initiative a win-win for employers and Wisconsin’s working families.”

The new CDL training program represents collaboration between the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA), Department of Transportation (DOT), Wisconsin Technical College System, transportation industry leaders, and three major Wisconsin employers: Schneider National of Green Bay, Roehl Transport of Marshfield, and WEL of De Pere.

The Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) currently offers the course, and Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) will begin offering it this summer.  The Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) and Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) offer related instruction at their sites.

“As Wisconsin’s lead state agency for talent development, DWD supports innovative workforce solutions that prepare individuals for careers in growing industry sectors,” said DWD Secretary Reggie Newson.  “We were pleased to convene the workgroup that ultimately led to this new initiative.  Wisconsin workers benefit with skills training and guaranteed placements and participating employers benefit with a direct pipeline to fill their openings.  Both efforts benefit Wisconsin’s economy.”

“One of WEDC’s areas of emphasis is to work with our partners throughout Wisconsin to help expand workforce training systems, especially for the state’s key industries,” said Reed Hall, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s lead economic development organization.  “There is no question that Wisconsin trucking companies need more qualified drivers to ensure their continued success, and the continued success of our economy.  We believe this program will play a key role in helping to fill that need.”

Up to 300 eligible job seekers will complete a four-week training course that results in a Commercial Driver’s License and a guaranteed placement at one of the three participating companies.  Once placed, the successful graduates will complete the standard introductory stage at the company and become a permanent hire.  Experienced semi-truck drivers can earn more than $23 per hour, or approximately 15 percent above the average wage in Wisconsin.

In the program, potential participants register on JobCenterofWisconsin.com and complete a series of assessments to determine their eligibility.  Those deemed eligible will complete the four-week training course offered through FVTC or WCTC, and then be matched with a guaranteed placement at one of the three trucking employers.

Given a capacity of 300 placements, DWD is prioritizing veterans, dislocated workers, workers who receive federal Trade Adjustment Assistance, and certain individuals who are eligible for programs under the federal Workforce Investment Act.  The training and placements will be at no cost to the participant.  Other interested job seekers who are deemed eligible for the program will be asked to cover the $2,500 cost of the training.

The transportation companies’ hiring needs are in line with projections showing the need for semi-truck drivers will grow by 21 percent between 2010 and 2020, to more than 55,000 semi-truck drivers.

Governor Walker recently signed legislation as part of his Blueprint for Prosperity initiative to increase funds in the nationally-recognized Wisconsin Fast Forward by $35.4 million to focus on three key areas, including:

  • Grants to Wisconsin technical colleges to reduce wait lists in high-demand fields;
  • Collaborative projects among businesses, school districts, technical colleges, and educational partners to equip high school pupils with industry-recognized certifications in high-demand fields; and
  • Programs that enhance the employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Additionally, the current round of Wisconsin Fast Forward grant program announcements includes $1 million in available funds for employer-driven worker training programs for transportations, logistics, and distribution occupations.  These funds can be used to train new workers for job openings or train existing workers that results in a wage increase.

Interested job seekers are encouraged to visit https://jobcenterofwisconsin.com/Trucking/ or contact their local Job Center, which can be located at http://www.wisconsinjobcenter.org/directory/.

From jsonline.com: “State offers four-week driving course, guaranteed trucking job” — Up to 300 Wisconsin residents will be able to earn a commercial driver’s license in a four-week training course and be guaranteed a trucking job through a program announced Friday by Gov. Scott Walker.

Fox Valley Technical College currently offers the course, and Waukesha County Technical College will offer it this summer. Applicants must pass eligibility screening, and priority will be given to veterans, dislocated workers, workers receiving federal Trade Adjustment Assistance and some persons eligible for programs under the federal Workforce Investment Act.

The training is free for members of the priority groups. Others will pay $2,500. People completing the training will be placed with one of three trucking firms — Schneider, of Green Bay; Roehl Transport, Marshfield; or WEL, DePere.

 

From whby.com: “FVTC hosts ag competition” – About 1,000 high school students from 70 schools are participating in an annual competition, at Fox Valley Technical College today.

It’s the career development event for the Future Farmers of America.

Agriculture department chair Randy Tenpas says the number of jobs in the industry is growing, and so is technology. He says demand for skilled workers has never been higher.

Tenpas says students are competing in 13 different areas, including veterinary, dairy and horse sciences, and forestry and wildlife.

Qualifiers will move onto the state competition in Madison. Nationals are in Louisville, Kent. in October.

 

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