From “Shortage of qualified manufacturing, construction workers” – As the economy improves, many parts of Wisconsin are in need of qualified builders and skilled manufacturing employees.  Those companies often look to the state’s apprenticeship program to fill their needs — but the apprenticeship pool has gotten smaller.  State officials said there were almost 9,800 apprenticeships in the various building trades last year — down from almost 16,000 in 2001.

The Wisconsin State Journal said it has become more of a challenge to get young people to consider apprenticeships, despite the need for skilled workers.  Madison electrical contractor Mike Pohlman said his company does a lot of outreach to schools — and some schools don’t seem to want to direct students to the building trades.  Madison College apprenticeship manager Jim Cook the situation has improved in Dane County because of a recent construction boom.  He says the demand for apprentice services has not been this strong since World War Two.

From “MATC revamps south side Milwaukee building for worker” — Milwaukee Area Technical College’s failed enterprise center and business incubator on the south side has been converted into an education center that will provide academic and training programs in the largely Latino community.

For many years the MATC enterprise centers — one on the north side and one on the south side — provided low-cost rent designed to help launch new businesses and create jobs.

But a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation in 2008 and 2009 showed many problems with the tax-supported business incubators. Tenants were behind in rent, expenses for the incubators exceeded revenue and there was little or no tracking to determine if the incubators created jobs.

The Milwaukee Enterprise Center North at 2821 N. 4th St. started in 1985 and was sold by MATC in 2011.

But MATC retained the Milwaukee Enterprise Center South, 816 W. National Ave., which opened in 1994.

For a time, the dislocated worker program run by the HIRE Center, in partnership with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, was housed in the building to train workers who had lost their jobs.

But the investment board and the HIRE Center consolidated their operations at the investment board offices at N. 27th St. and W. North Ave. in October, said Dorothy Walker, interim dean of MATC’s School of Technical and Applied Sciences.

At the same time, MATC’s F building on N. 4th St., which housed some training programs, was sold to the BMO Harris Bradley Center next door, she said.

Some of the businesses in the incubator didn’t seem to grow well and the economic downturn contributed to the failure of the enterprise center, Walker said.

“As we looked at using space more efficiently and looking at new programs and new areas to best serve the community, we decided to re-purpose the MEC south with a focus on building more educational and training programs there,” she said.

“What we’re doing there now focuses on our core mission and meets the needs of the community.”

So the 127,000-square-foot south side building has undergone $2.3 million in renovations to accommodate the many training programs once located in the F building.

The MATC Office of Workforce and Economic Development, which works with businesses and industry to provide corporations with customized programs, has been moved to the south side.

The college is focusing on locating construction and trade-related training programs there because there are a lot of small contractors on the south side, Walker said.

Now called the MATC Education Center at Walker’s Square, it’s also close to Bradley Tech High School, which has a technical focus on construction. The college will look for ways to connect with the high school, she said.

Bay View High School also has some focus on construction and links there will be sought, she said.

The plumbing program has been moved from the F building to the south campus. The one-year program leads to a technical diploma, and it’s the only plumbing program offered at a technical college in the state, instructor and master plumber Mike Geiger said.

The training program also leads to apprenticeships in three unions — plumbers, steamfitter and sprinkler fitters, he said. Last week students were busy moving washers, dryers and water heaters into the new spaces to begin the plumbing lessons required.

The brick and masonry program also has been moved. The one-semester technical diploma program serves as a pre-apprentice program, said Dragomir Marinkovich, the associate dean for engineering and construction.

Next year the school plans to move its appliance technician program from the downtown campus to the south side, he said.

He said the trade programs are critical because it’s estimated that in the spring construction jobs will start picking up again and “these guys will be ready.”

Continuing education classes also are offered in upholstery and sewing.

Alfredo Luna, associate dean of the office of workforce and economic development, said he’s working with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, the Walker’s Point Association and other nonprofits and businesses in the area to determine the needs of the community and how the center can help.

Walker said that in addition to construction, there will be a focus around energy, solar and water services.

The south center is not far from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Fresh Water Sciences that’s being constructed on the south side and MATC will look for training areas related to water, she said.

Ald. José Pérez, who represents the area, said he’s excited about the new education center and the possibilities for developing training and jobs for so many who live within walking distance.

“With time, I think there will be so many services, such as registering for classes, filling out financial aid forms, taking classes and specialized training in the trades,” he said.

He’s especially interested in sustainability and water programs. He said that seems to be a natural progression for the area with the new fresh water sciences school, the water council and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, all located on the south side.

From “La Crosse college will building homes with advanced energy efficiency” – Western Technical College will soon be building three “passive homes”:  buildings with a rare design that significantly reduces the amount of energy use.

A La Crosse neighborhood filled with quaint, single-family houses will become the home for three new, three-bedroom passive houses. In a passive house, heating energy usage can be reduced up to 90 percent. The wall insulation is much thicker than what’s found in a standard home.

Western Technical College architectural technology instructor Mike Poellinger says the air tight windows play a key role in the design.

“The windows actually become part of the heat source. We have a great amount of window glazing on the southern exposure as we’re collecting that heat. It’s minimized on the northern exposure; usually it’s there for lighting a stairwell or secondary lighting, and we minimize on the east and west.”

Poellinger says passive homes are quieter since they don’t have active heaters.

Western is hiring a contractor to start building the first passive home this summer. Western building system technology instructor Josh VandeBerg says students and instructors will be able to study the home as it’s built.

“We’re on this lesson here, talking about air tightness. Ding! Let’s go to the passive house and take a look at it in action. Not only is this house bringing my students to the passive house and the community to the passive house, but it’s also an opportunity to for my students to learn some of the very principles we’re talking about in the classroom.”

The Western Technical College Foundation will sell the homes. There are two other certified passive homes in Wisconsin.

From “NTC takes next step in connecting students with gold collar careers” – Advances in technology and an increasing demand for skilled workers have transformed the manufacturing world, leaving employees to trade in those trusty old blue collars for ones with a gilded sheen.

With the help of its partners in local industry and education, Northcentral Technical College (NTC) is taking the next step in giving students a chance to wear that gold collar, provided it is a good fit for them, said Bobbi Damrow, dean of NTC’s North Campus in Phillips.

Positions making up the shiny, new field of gold collar careers fall into a variety of trade areas, including welding, electromechanical work, fabrication and even to some extent, information technology, as Damrow explained.

Workers who enter jobs forming today’s manufacturing sector aren’t likely to find the shop conditions that awaited their grandparents; use of robotic equipment and other advanced technology are now all part of a day’s work, according to Damrow.

NTC is but one partner in a group of northwest Wisconsin educational institutes and businesses that have joined together in advancing the Gold Collar Careers initiative – a grassroots response to challenges regional manufacturers were facing in their efforts to secure workers equipped with the advanced skills needed to thrive in the industry.

“Manufacturing growth was being inhibited due to a shortage of these skilled workers,” according to the introduction page on the Gold Collar Careers initiative Web site.

Damrow said that NTC has been involved in the movement for probably over five years due to demographic trends showing where job openings would be as Price County’s workforce ages. “In Phillips, we have a manufacturing focus.”

That focus is evident on a much larger scale at the Wausau campus where “they’ve got a number of very high tech, complete programs for the gold collar career sector,” Damrow said.

NTC’s North Campus already offers Phillips and Chequamegon High School students an introduction to this in-demand career sector along with a shot at earning 12 transferable college credits in the same certificate area via its newly introduced Manufacturing Electronics Maintenance (MEM) Academy.

Now, the campus is poised to debut a symposium on that same class of high demand careers geared at students in grades 7-12. They’ll be holding the Gold Collar Careers Symposium at Phillips Middle School Thursday, April 4 at 5:30 p.m. in partnership with the Chequamegon School District, Phillips High School, Price County Economic Development Association and Northwest Wisconsin CEP (Concentrated Employment Program) Inc. Among other areas of work, CEP offers youth apprenticeship programming.

Students in all three Price County school districts – Chequamegon, Phillips and Prentice – are invited to take part in the event.

One simple goal stands as the driving force behind the symposium:

“…We want to give the students some orientation that we do have gold collar careers in Price County,” Damrow said.

The event is set to open with displays presented by Price County manufacturers and a spread of light snacks. Students, whether already taking transcripted courses with NTC or just starting to think about future career options, will get a chance to learn about local industries, the products they produce and employment needs foreseen in the future. The second part of the event, slated to run from 6:30-7:30 p.m., will feature a panel discussion with local gold collar employees, employers and Northwest Wisconsin CEP reps weighing in on industry topics. After that, viewing of tabletop displays and talks with local manufacturers should resume, according to Damrow.

Students are asked to come to the event accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“I think it’s important that everyone is on the same page for what types of jobs are in the area,” Damrow said.

Price County students who’d like to participate in the event are asked to return a registration slip to their high school offices by March 22.

While Damrow said that she realizes gold collar careers won’t be a good fit for everyone, she would like each student to get a chance to try the job field on for size in case it suits them well.

One other upcoming event aims at giving students an even earlier introduction to manufacturing careers. The program Get S.M.A.R.T. (Science and Math Activities Using Real-World Thinking) delivers “a day of hands-on fun and exploration” to area students in grades 5-12.

Get S.M.A.R.T. is scheduled to be held at the Manufacturing Lab of the NTC North Campus in Phillips Saturday, March 9 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Program participants will be divided into two separate sessions. They can expect to spend half of their day at NTC completing a welding project and the other half creating a mystery project using state-of-the-art technology. As in the symposium, students taking part in this program will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Seventeen of the available 24 spots had already filled up as of Monday, Feb. 25, so Damrow encouraged any students who might be interested in participating to act fast and register today. There is a $10 fee for the event to cover the cost of electronics kits used in program activities. The registration fee will secure students lunch, a T-shirt, their completed projects and door prizes.

Damrow said that she’s excited for the chance to be able to give younger students a taste of the type of work at the heart of gold collar careers.

“It’s going to be a fun day,” Damrow said, adding that Get S.M.A.R.T. events will be held at all three of the largest NTC campuses, including Antigo and Wausau in addition to Phillips. Each of the events are structured consistently so that students will find the same experience, both educational and enjoyable, no matter which site they head to for the event, according to Damrow.

NTC has gradually cast a wider net in terms of getting educational offerings in the area to complement the needs of businesses, as Damrow explained.

First, new welding and MEM training was introduced in response to feedback from members of local industry that they’d like to see programs at the Phillips campus oriented more toward the demands of the manufacturing field. The next step was bringing MEM programming to the county’s high schools via academy courses.

“Now, we’re actually bringing some of those very basic concepts down to the middle schools,” Damrow said.

She explained the benefit of introducing students to the career field at these younger grade levels, touching on the key role technology has come to take on in every area of life, not just manufacturing.

“They’re very tech savvy and with the gold collar careers kind of adding that very technical, automated element, I think that introducing it to them at such a young age should really instill in them some excitement about that type of career path,” Damrow said.

Anyone with questions about the Get S.M.A.R.T. program is asked to give Samantha Buchberger a call at (715) 803-1711 or send her an email at

From “A career with a solid future” – It’s a job that dates to the building of the Egyptian pyramids, the Roman Coliseum, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.

Throughout civilization, architects and builders have chosen masonry for its beauty, versatility and durability, according to Mason Contractors Association of America. Masonry resists the effects of time and weather, and it remains beautiful for centuries.

The association points out there are several opportunities to start a career in masonry because the industry is facing a shortage of skilled employees. As a trained and skilled mason, individuals will have the job security that promises a lucrative career for years to come.

No matter what the job, the skill and precision required by a mason cannot be replaced by machines.

The bricklaying and masonry population is aging, and the need for trained masons in the field is crucial.

Local help

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore is doing its part in addressing that shortage with a nine-month program. It gives students basic masonry skills.

In addition to the core bricklaying classes, they also take courses in estimating, blueprint reading and construction safety and health, which includes a 30-hour Occupational Safety & Health Administration class combined with First Aid/CPR certification.

According to Don Borchert, bricklaying program instructor and industrial occupations coordinator, the program is focused on hands-on learning, with students spending 20 hours per week in the lab working with the tools. The last eight weeks is spent doing community service projects for area communities.

“We treat this as a job site and incorporate the estimating, blueprint and safety aspects into these projects,” he said.

One of those service projects is Grant Regional Health Center’s (Lancaster) Memory Walk project. Borchert and his students have assisted with the project yearly since 2006.

Last year, they won the “Crews That Rock” competition sponsored by the World of Concrete trade show. To date, 200 to 300 pavers have been sold and installed in the memory garden, according to Sandy Leibfried, manager of the Grant Regional Health Center Foundation.

“As individuals purchase pavers, they are invited to participate in the installation of the pavers, which can be a very emotional moment,” Leibfried said. “Don and his students have been very respectful and responsible in assisting the families in the installation of the pavers. The students have been fantastic and hardworking every year. This project would not exist if it were not for Southwest Tech, Don Borchert, and the bricklaying students.”

Decline in workers

Borchert said there’s been a decline of bricklayers and trades workers in general due to the lagging economy and many workers retiring.

“With the growth of construction recently, and the reduced number of active bricklayers, the need is on the rise,” he said. “This is not just a Wisconsin or Iowa problem, it is nationwide.”

Karen Teske-Osborne, executive director of the Masonry Technology Foundation of Wisconsin, agreed.

“Well-trained masons are needed to continue to be able to build the highly desirable masonry structures,” she said.

“The masonry training programs at Wisconsin’s technical colleges helped produce graduates that either were accelerated in the apprenticeship programs or frequently excelled at their first jobs, advancing quickly to the level of foreman or even starting their own mason contractor businesses,” Teske-Osborne said. “The number of graduates do not meet the growing need.”

A lifelong skill

Nearly everywhere, you see the work of a skilled mason — in office buildings, homes, schools, factories, patios and fireplaces — and jobs aren’t sent overseas.

“Once you learn it, you can’t take it away,” Borchert said. “These are jobs that are staying in the United States. You can’t build a trowel that reaches from another country. Buildings have to be built here and they always will be.”

Borchert said the importance of the program to a potential student is that it gives that person a solid base to start from.

“Good marketable skills that contractors are looking for,” he said. “The pros for contractors is that Southwest Tech provides a source for employees — good, committed employees that are coming to work with the training process started. It is a very expensive investment for employers to train employees, and this gives them someone who can be productive from the start.”

Lyndal Anthony, an industrial technology instructor at East Dubuque (Ill.) High School, hears constantly from businesses about how hard it is for them to find skilled labor.

“In today’s ‘electronic information’ world, people/students seem to be looking for the jobs that are easy and pay lots of money,” he said.

Anthony said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that weekly income of skilled labor is more than the weekly income of a person with a master’s degree.

A lesser-known trade?

Anthony, who took a group of students to Fennimore last year to preview the program, experienced that many years ago when he decided to go to college. It was proposed that the income he could earn with a two-year degree was half of what he was already making as a machinist and even with his teaching degree today, it is still half of what he could make in a machine shop.

“I hear about a lot of construction, mechanics, welding, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) jobs where there are shortages of workers, but for whatever reason, I just don’t hear about masonry jobs, which does not mean that there aren’t masonry jobs available, I just don’t hear about them,” Anthony said.

“That is a shame. After taking my students to Southwest Tech to check out the masonry program, my students found that laying bricks was fun and easier to do than they thought it would be, so there has to be a huge misconception about masonry work.

“I would guess that, more than anything, there is a lack of information and masonry programs for people to be aware that there are a lot of jobs and a lot of money to be made in the masonry field.”

The association noted the wages of a skilled mason are one of the highest in the construction trades, but wages depend on where an individual works and who that person works for.

Bureau of Labor statistics indicate the 2010 median annual pay was $45,210, or $21.83 per hour. Teske-Osborne said the bureau projects that there will be a 41 percent increase in the labor force for masons from 2010 to 2020 while the increase for construction workers is projected to be 14 percent.

Data from Wisconsin NetForce show an entry salary range from $33,000 to $65,000. Experienced masons’ salaries range from $49,000 to $74,000.

“Southwest Tech’s bricklaying/masonry program offers a fantastic opportunity and great return on investment,” said Duane Ford, Southwest Tech president. “Students who invest nine months of their time and a current total of $5,430 for tuition, fees, tools and equipment can walk out of graduation into a good, family-supporting job. Financial aid is available for qualifying students. There are plenty of jobs.”

From “MATC [Madison College] students work to revive homes in New Orleans” — The two-story farmhouse was built a century ago on a plantation in Plaquemines Parish, near New Orleans. This week, a student crew from Madison Area Technical College is reviving the hurricane-battered structure so a single mother and her three boys can move back home.

“They have had no luck,” said Brenden Palormo, one of five volunteers from MATC spending the week down south and blogging about it here.

About 15 years ago, a young couple bought the house and dreamed of reviving it. In late 2003, the father and oldest son died in a car wreck, leaving a single mother and school counselor, Robin Leslie, to raise three boys. The reality television show “Extreme Makeover” granted the couple’s wish in early 2005, repairing the house to some of its former glory.

Later that year, Hurricane Katrina came and undid most of the renovation, requiring another extensive makeover. Then came Hurricane Isaac last August, doing even worse damage to the interior. Since then, according to the St. Jude Community Center in New Orleans, the mold-infested house has sat empty; Robin and her sons have rented elsewhere; insurance checks to repair the house have been slow to arrive; rental assistance from FEMA isn’t going very far.

“They’re in limbo,” Palormo said.

The crew from MATC arrived Sunday and will work every day this week before leaving Saturday. They’ll focus on mold remediation on the second floor of Robin’s house with a goal of making it livable again. They’re also working at another house nearby that’s damaged even worse. There, the goal is just to clear the mess, he said.

Sandy Thistle, a carpenter who teaches construction and remodeling courses at MATC, is leading the trip. Each year, the college’s service team sponsors alternative break trips. A contact from past MATC trips to New Orleans told them about the houses in need of repair.

From “Moraine Park students place in national electricity competition” – Max Paulus of Fredonia and Istvan Biro of West Bend had a powerful performance in the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference held June 23-27 in Kansas City, Mo. Each competing with about 25 other students, Paulus placed 8th and Istvan placed 12th in the Electrical Construction Wiring and Industrial Motor Control competitions, respectively.
“The students spent time preparing prior to the competition and both seemed very confident going into the competition,” said Mark Wamsley, electricity instructor at Moraine Park. “After experiencing the national competition, we all have ideas on how to improve for next time.”         

From  “Fox Valley Technical College Sees More Students in Programs” – Derek Fritsch has never considered himself a “university guy,” although he believes in continuing education. The 19-year-old from Oshkosh always saw traditional four-year colleges “as money pits, really,” where students spend too much time over books and theory. So he settled on taking a one-year home-building program through Fox Valley Technical College that has him working two eight-hour days in the field and two in the classroom each week. After earning his technical diploma, he intends to tackle other programs to expand his skill set.

More and more people, like Fritsch, are following nonlinear and unconventional routes to earning advanced education credentials as the cost of college soars and job prospects constrict. The technical diploma, also called a certificate by community colleges outside of Wisconsin, has particularly swelled in popularity in recent years to become the second most common post-secondary education attainment in the United States, according to a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Technical diplomas and certificates typically take about a year to complete, though some can take less time or several years. They tend to focus solely on training for specific occupations as opposed to a broader general education. More than 1 million certificates were awarded nationwide in 2010. That’s up from 300,000 awarded 16 years earlier in 1994 and puts certificates above associate degrees and master’s degrees in popularity, according to the study published in June.

FVTC has tracked a similar trend. The number of technical diplomas awarded by the college jumped 31 percent in the past five years from 5,572 in 2008 to 8,072 in 2012, according to graduation data provided to The Northwestern. The numbers add another layer to the changing ways in which Americans are pursuing a higher education following the economic recession that started in 2008. Technical colleges are seeing more adults over age 25 enrolling in classes as well as more university grads supplementing their degrees with a technical education.

“When individuals are looking at decisions about how and where to invest in their education … they are going to look for two things: One is the quickest path, and second is the most effective path. When you combine the technical diplomas, and what the Georgetown University study calls certificates, they are set up to do just that — provide students a quick but effective access to the education experiences that build workplace skills,” said Chris Matheny, vice president of instructional services at FVTC.

According to the study, concerns over rising tuition and student loan debt has brought significant attention to certificates, which are cheaper and take less time to complete than traditional two- or four-year degrees. The certificates, in essence, became bite-sized awards that allow individuals to piecemeal their post-secondary education. Two out of every three workers who have both a certificate and a college degree earned the certificate first, according to the study.

“What you’re seeing in those (enrollment) numbers is that those skills are valued by both employers in the marketplace and the students, who are making (education) decisions based on a return on investment,” Matheny said. Fritsch, who will complete his residential building construction program in August, said he will likely use his technical diploma as a stepping stone to earning an associate degree in construction management.
Or, he may enroll in other one-year programs to build up a wide array of credentials.

“It makes me a more versatile worker, I’m thinking,” he said. For now, certificates are not counted by many major surveys of college attainment. The Georgetown survey authors estimate the U.S. ranking among countries involved in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development would move from 15th to 10th in postsecondary completions if certificates were counted.

From “Training, dozens of positions available, but applicants are few” —  Marinette - Career opportunities in the skilled trades are strong, but one of northern Wisconsin’s largest employers hasn’t been able to recruit more than a handful of recent high school graduates for some of the best-paying jobs in the region.

Marinette Marine Corp. said it is holding open 40 positions in its training program for welders and other shipyard jobs, hoping to attract recent high school graduates from the Marinette and Menominee, Mich., area.

The company has reached out to nine schools to find job candidates, but so far only seven recent graduates have applied for the training, which begins in July.

That’s an area where about half of the graduates go on to college, although it’s about 60% in Menominee – which is across the Menominee River from Marinette.

A typical employee at the shipyard can earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year. With overtime pay, some earn more than $60,000, according to Marinette Marine.

Yet, like many companies, it is struggling to persuade young people to enter the skilled trades, including welding, pipe fitting and electrical work.

To fill jobs, companies recruit each other’s employees, said Mark Kaiser, president of Lindquist Machine Corp. in Green Bay.

“If we don’t find enough talent, the fact is we are not going to be able to grow our businesses,” Kaiser said.

With 1,400 employees, Marinette Marine is immersed in U.S. Navy shipbuilding work that should last for years. That has resulted in the addition of thousands of jobs at the shipyard and 700 suppliers in 43 states, including more than 120 Wisconsin companies.

Each littoral combat ship takes about 40 months to build. The 10 ships under contract will keep the work going for nine to 12 years – longer, if Marinette is awarded additional ships in a new round of bids in 2016.

The jobs aren’t going to fizzle out any time soon. Right now, the future looks “pretty rosy for us,” Marinette Marine President and CEO Charles Goddard said.

“We can easily handle 100 or more hires out of high schools in a year,” Goddard added.

But many parents won’t encourage their children to enter the skilled trades. They’ve seen manufacturers cut jobs and wreak havoc in the lives of people who depended on that work.

“It’s a tough row to hoe because the bigger issue is with the parents,” Kaiser said. “When they were young, they probably worked in high-volume, repetitive factory jobs.” Those jobs have disappeared.

Training at the gates

Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of Marinette Marine’s founding. The company has had layoffs in the past involving hundreds of employees, but it has been one of the area’s strongest employers.

The company contacted area high schools last fall, telling school officials about its training program through Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.

The training center is a mere 300 feet from the shipyard gates in Marinette. It will offer paid instruction in welding, ship fitting, pipe fitting and electrical work, along with on-the-job training that pays about $12 an hour.

In addition to work experience, students may earn credits at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College that can apply toward a two-year degree.

It’s the first time Marinette Marine has offered this opportunity to students, although it has provided training for hundreds of its regular employees and offers tuition assistance for employees pursuing a college degree.

The company has added 600 jobs in the past 12 months, largely for the Navy work, but for other projects as well. It has hired people from across the United States but still worries about attrition as older employees retire.

The average age of shipyard employees is 45. That must come down, Goddard said, so the company doesn’t face workforce shortages as a wave of employees heads into retirement in the not-too-distant future.

It’s also why Marinette Marine has reached out to area high schools to recruit young talent, Goddard said.

Marinette school officials did not return calls asking about the training program that was offered to their graduating seniors.

Thinking of the future

Erik Bergh, superintendent of the Menominee School District, said Marinette Marine was very aggressive, “in a good way,” about trying to provide opportunities to this year’s graduates.

“They are really encouraging students to see that there are many roads in life, and that working for them would be a great experience,” Bergh said. “Manufacturing has been a big part of our area ever since the timber industry went away. We have companies that have rebounded nicely from the recession and are now concerned about the availability of talent in terms of expansions and the aging workforce.”

Still, persuading students to enter the skilled trades hasn’t been easy. They are attracted to other careers, and the area has a low unemployment rate.

“There is no doubt it’s a quandary. We have spent an awful lot of time with this,” Bergh said.

Too many high school students don’t have a career plan or interest in college, said Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board in Green Bay.

“The top kids are very motivated, and they’re going to college or tech school. But there’s a whole group of kids, and I would say it’s a pretty large group, who are not thinking about what happens after high school,” Golembeski said.

“I see it over and over again. Those are the kids who could really benefit from something like the Marinette training,” he added.

Justin Plansky of Menominee, Mich., is one of the seven applicants for the company’s training. He graduated from high school earlier this month and works as a dishwasher at Applejacks restaurant.

Plansky said he was the only one in his graduating class who took four years of mechanical shop classes. He preferred the hands-on instruction, with hot metal and sparks flying, over classroom lectures.

“Some people think shop classes are boring, but they’re really not,” Plansky said. He’s pursuing a career as a welder but said he might switch gears someday and become a high school metal-shop teacher.

Homegrown talent

Plansky is the type of student Marinette Marine wants. He has welding experience, is mechanically oriented and doesn’t want to leave the area.

The company may widen its search for recent graduates if it can’t fill training positions locally, but prefers homegrown talent.

“This is a very rural area, which is why we cast the net to approximately nine schools,” said Phillip Henslee, a Marinette Marine human resources manager and the company’s vocational outreach coordinator.

Henslee came to Marinette from the semiconductor industry.

Given the area’s shipbuilding heritage, he was surprised at how difficult it was to find skilled-trade recruits.

“I was very amazed at how much of a downturn the trades have taken over the last several decades,” he said.

This fall, the company will reach out to high school juniors, trying to get them interested in the training before their senior year, when many students already have made post-graduation plans.

Henslee remains optimistic, saying the program will build on its success over time.

“This is a challenge,” he said. “But it’s a winnable challenge.”

From “Home sweet (tiny) home: Fond du Lac family downsizes” – When Peter and Abby Simon decided they wanted to downsize, they weren’t kidding. The young Fond du Lac couple is in the process of building a tiny house and they can’t wait to move in.

Given the state of the current economy, they are among a growing number of Americans with ordinary lives who choose to scale down — way down.

The Simons say the downsizing — from a three bedroom, two-story home to a 300-square foot house — will bring them a sense of contentment. Many others across the country are doing the same.

“It’s about doing more with less. It’s about enjoying people and not things. It is some people’s response to the wasteful ‘McMansion’ trend,” Peter said.

Peter, who is employed as an instruction technology specialist at Moraine Park Technical College, enlisted the help of instructor Don Enders and his building trades construction students. The class is building the tiny house as part of their semester project. A couple of welding students are also assisting.

Enders said he first heard about the movement a few years ago, and is excited to be working on the project. He said the biggest challenge was working without blueprints.

“We sort of did it as we went along. It’s just like building a regular house, the size of the walls are the same, the materials are the same. It’s nice to be able to build a whole house in a few weeks,” he said.

The tiny house trend isn’t new. Sarah Susanka’s 1997 book “The Not so Big House” is credited for first getting people to think smaller when it comes to living accommodations. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Marianne Cusato developed the Katrina Cottages that start at 308 square feet, as an alternative to FEMA trailers.

In fact, the Simon’s project started with a utility trailer.

“We had to level the trailer first so we jacked up the ends and front to make sure we started out on an even surface,” Peter said. “Then we put six and a half inch carriage bolts through the joists and the bed of the trailer.”

The mobility of the house frees the family from being tied down in one spot.

“We can build this and know that we have shelter wherever we move it. This will open up our property search options. We don’t have to find land with a house already on it,” Peter said.

With a 14-month old son, Elliot, Abby likes the idea of setting an example.

“I don’t like putting an importance on material possessions. Instead, we want to focus on each other and the things we do together,” Abby said.

Because of less storage space, the couple will keep only what they need.

Sometimes owners of tiny houses face zoning issues, Peter said. It all depends on city and state codes.

“As of right now, most tiny houses are treated like RVs, and are hooked up (to utilities) in a similar way,” he said.

The Simons first looked at RVs and campers as an alternative to their large home but Peter said the materials are often flimsy, and cheaply made.

Costs to complete the Simon’s tiny house should run about $14,000.

Whether a family of three can get along in such a small space — time will tell. Peter and Abby view it as a social experiment.

“It is entirely possible that this experiment will fail but we are going to give it our best and I’m fairly confident we can make it work,” he said.

From “Workshop promotes trade apprenticeships for women” – Green Bay - Northeast Wisconsin Technical College hopes a workshop being held on campus Tuesday night will help push more women to become involved in a new apprenticeship program at the school.

The workshop is from 5:30 to 7:30 on April 17 in the executive dining room of the student center.

Mandy Dombrowski is an electrical apprentice at NWTC, and is proof the trade isn’t just for men.

Tuesday she was working on bending pipe that would run to electricity boxes.

What she loves about this trade is that no two days are the same.

“You think, you troubleshoot. It’s a lot of different things, not one thing sitting at a desk. You go to different job sites all the time,” she said.

NWTC is working to attract more women to the apprenticeship program through a workshop Tuesday. Women working in different trades will give out information and be on-hand to answer questions.

“I want to make sure that anyone that thinks about it at least comes to check it out as a viable opportunity,” NWTC apprenticeship manager Todd Kiel said.

Kiel says NWTC would like to increase the number of women in the program from 10 percent to 25 percent.

“We always think of construction jobs as being jobs for big burly men and you have to really be strong, and that’s not necessarily the case anymore,” he said.

“So many people think it’s just job site, construction, but once you’re done with the apprenticeship program, there’s so many different areas you can go into,” Dombrowski said.

Different areas that are opening new doors for women.

WITC unveils lab home

March 28, 2012

From “WITC unveils lab home” – Douglas County handed over the keys and the deed to a tax-forfeited home in Superior Tuesday, and it became official. The Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College is a homeowner.

They bought the property to use as a lab home for students in the Building Performance Technician Program. Students are training for careers to improve energy efficiency in buildings and homes.

“In a lot of our education we focus on providing real world, hands-on activities for our students, and this is a real world hands on activity,” WITC Academic Dean Ted May said.

Students said they’re ready to roll up their sleeves, “I can’t wait to get working on it,” student, Matt Underdahl said.

One look inside and It’s clear they have plenty to rehab. They’ll use tools like a “blower door” to help fix things they can’t see.

“On this little monitor right here, it tells us what the leakage rate is for the home. How much heat you’re losing, or how much heat you could be saving in our business,” student Derek Leslie said.

From there It’s on to retro fitting the home to save energy and keep costs down. Students said after this house, they’ll be prepared to take on many more in their future careers.

The school said once this property is finished, they’ll sell it and put the money towards purchasing another home to keep the project going.


From “MATC’s Pathways to Construction Trades (PaCT) Project earns award” – Milwaukee Area Technical College’s  Pathways to Construction Trades (PaCT) Project received a Showcase Award at the 2012 Careers Conference hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center on Education and Work, held Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Madison. MATC was the only Wisconsin institution recognized at the conference.

Project coordinator Mona Schroeder-Beers, carpentry instructor Bev Sroka and students Byron Speed and Aron Covert accepted the award and presented information at the conference.

PaCT is funded through a Department of Education grant and provides participants with skill development in construction, information on career pathways, and assistance in planning education. The project addresses the impending shortage of construction workers and is designed to increase the number of minorities entering the industry through the development of a short-term technical training program in construction and green skills.

For more information about the PaCT project, contact Schroeder-Beers at

From “Jauch Signing Proclamation Today” – State Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) is signing a proclamation at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior today recognizing February 2012 as Career and Technical Education month.

The signing will take place at 10 a.m. in the WITC-Conference Center on the Superior campus. Jauch will be joined by local lawmakers and business leaders, along with WITC administrators and staff.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Technical College System are using February’s observance of Career and Technical Education Month in Wisconsin to highlight the wide range of opportunities available to youth in the state who wish to explore their career options, and the benefit of those programs to Wisconsin industry and communities.

Career and technical education has become increasingly relevant in the United States economy, preparing workers for jobs that are in high demand, with 10 of the top 20 fastest growing careers requiring a technical education, WITC reports.

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College serves the educational and career needs of more than 25,000 residents of northwestern Wisconsin each year. WITC is a member of Wisconsin Technical College System. For more information, call 800.243.WITC.


From “Manitowoc man takes first in HVAC contest” — WISCONSIN DELLS — John Pelnar Jr. of Manitowoc took first place in the Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning contest at the ABC of Wisconsin Skills Competition held Jan. 20 in Wisconsin Dells.

Pelnar is an HVAC apprentice in the ABC of Wisconsin Apprenticeship program on the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Green Bay campus. He is an apprentice with Schaus Roofing and Mechanical Contractors in Manitowoc.

The competition consisted of a two-hour written exam and a four-hour practical exam judged by construction craft professionals.

Pelnar will advance to the ABC National Craft Championships, which will be held in April at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio.

Approximately 100 top apprentices and craft trainees throughout the country will compete in 12 different trades at the 26th annual event.

The ABC HVAC apprenticeship program at NWTC has had an ABC Craft Competition state champion and national competitor in six out of the seven years an NWTC student has participated, according to a news release from the school.

From greenbaypressgazette: “Welder-fabricator program unveiled at NWTC” – A welder-fabricator apprenticeship program starting at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College as early as next month is aimed at helping bolster the skills of the area work force while helping meet employer demand for workers with fabrication skills.

The apprenticeship program could start as early as February with an initial group of about one dozen participants in the four-year program, said Todd Kiel, NWTC apprenticeship manager.

It’s envisioned program participants will come from — and fill — jobs within the marine sector, paper industry and manufacturing sectors — to name a few. The program is designed to give participants an American Welding Society certification.

“A lot of people can get to that through the regular (welding) program, but there are a lot of businesses who want their guys to upgrade their skills and this fits in perfectly,” Kiel said. “We had a company call last week that could find welders but can’t find fabricators. We can give them credit for their welding and teach them the fabrication portion.”

About 90 percent of the program is on-the-job training from a skilled worker.

Larry Adamus, maintenance coordinator at Domtar Paper in Rothschild, said the apprentice program allows the mill to beef up the skills of its work force; something needed as more experienced workers move toward retirement age.

Domtar, which has several locations in Wisconsin, initially expects to send three people through the program, Adamus said.

Participants in the program are sponsored by their employers who

pay for employees to attend the 440 hours of required classes.

The program was developed by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards and NWTC.

While the college offers a basic welding program, the welding-fabricator apprenticeship is designed to help teach welders some of the more advanced and niche skills needed in the workplace.

“With all the retirees coming, apprenticeship is going to be big, and these guys are going to have to learn on the fly,” said Scott Massey, welding instructor at the college. “We will cover some of the (welding) fundamentals when they come back, but we’ll also take it up to another level, and these new students will be allowed to move into more realistic situations from work.”

Troubleshooting and problem-solving are skills the program will include, he said.

“The companies I’ve seen show interest have been across the gamut from local fab shops that will build anything you want them to build to specialized shops like the shipyard or Oshkosh Truck and the sheet metal trades,” Massey said.

The program also is expected to train workers in skills that can be applied to green industries, such as the construction of wind turbines, said Owen Smith, Wisconsin Sector Alliance for the Green Economy outreach coordinator.

The welder-fabricator program is one of six apprenticeship programs developed through a $6 million SAGE grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. It is the second such program developed with NWTC.

Kiel said apprenticeship programs can help stabilize a work force by providing upgraded skills to the employee, who in turn, may be more likely to stay with their employer.

“There’s always a fear that once you credential people they’re going to leave, but generally speaking the opposite happens. They stick around and become more loyal,” he said. “It builds a higher-skilled, more competitive work force from the employer’s perspective, and it creates an employee who knows you want them around because the employer) is investing in them.”

Kiel said beyond the first group of workers, he doesn’t know what kind of numbers to expect, but he pointed out the program could be run on other NWTC campuses if needed.

From “MATC student finds the positives in negatives” – Dennis Sabourin, a student at MATC in the Electricity Program, was incarcerated a few times for mistakes that he made in his past. At twenty six years old he has realized that righting wrongs is important. “One thing my mother said to me and it stuck with me, was that, ‘If you search good enough you will always find that positive in any negative, no matter the magnitude of it,’” Dennis said smiling.

When asked, how did he come to find the positive out of everything he been through? He said, “I’m my mother’s only boy and the second child. My father wasn’t around. The influences that were around were all negative.” Talk about magnitude.

“When I was in Colombia Correctional Institution I knew I wanted to enroll in school but wasn’t sure for what.” Maybe it was fate or a force of hand. “I tried my hand at the one year Building Services Diploma through Madison Area Technical College; it was all they offered at Colombia. Most of the coursework barely interested me,” Sabourin said. He then found a vital sign or as he so elaborately put it, ‘his positive in negatives’, when he started the electricity portion of the program.

He continued to say, “I knew without a doubt that this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to be an Electrician. I would stay in my room all day reading those old ‘Electrical Textbooks’ wrote in the early ‘80s. I finished one and picked up another. I even fell asleep thinking about working as an Electrician.”

Dennis was able to see his dream manifest itself into reality when a posting from the Joint Apprenticeship and Training for the Electrical Industry caught his eye. He immediately wrote to the Training Director, Mike Chetney, exclaiming his interest in the program.

A letter came back to Dennis from Mr. Chetney and he recommended Dennis to Big Step, one of the best community based organizations in Milwaukee to tutor him for the Electrical Aptitude Test and to help meet their Electrical Apprenticeship’s standards.

Dennis said, “The very last part of Mike’s letter inspired me. The part when he said, ‘Mr. Sabourin, you can make your dreams come true with hard work and dedication’ that positive feedback reinforced my positive motion. I hope the outcome of my story to be a clear example that when you take shortcuts your path is cut short. Even though this field is competitive the rewards are worth the wait.”

Heidi Peterson, Electrical Instructor and Department Chair of MATC, said, “When Dennis first walked into my classroom he was smiling, polite, always asking questions, and always offering to help. One would think that he slept in a bed of roses and woke up in an array of sunlight. I would not have thought he had the kind of background he had. Obviously, it was a growing experience. The highest you can get in my class is 100. Dennis has 109. Most students who need extra credit don’t take advantage of it. This is not the case with Dennis. He does the extra credit anyways.” Talk about getting the most out of your program.

Heidi continued, “Dennis has incredible drive, he takes this serious. With his grades, drive, toppled with his positive attitude; Dennis will go far. He has a future as an Electrician and Dennis will be great.”

Chuck Wimmer, Electrical Instructor at MATC, said, “Dennis is an aspiring outstanding individual who has a strong future as an Electrician. I’m going to have him back as my tutor next semester.

What strikes me as unique about Dennis is that he has the willingness to learn and help others. One day, after class, he urged some students to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for the experience and to craft their skills. I don’t see this type of drive from many of my students.

Most are just doing what they can to get by, while Dennis is doing more. On the days he doesn’t have class he comes and helps his classmates with their lab.”

Dennis, your future is promised, keep surpassing the negatives and continue to make good on the promises. Greatness awaits you.

From “MATC instructor offers to complete park pillars as class assignment” – A masonry instructor has offered up the services of his class to construct pillars to mark the 70th Street entrance to Hart Park.

The Milwaukee Area Technical College students would provide labor and the instructor the oversight to complete a design component of the park’s master plan. However, purchasing the materials and the cost of delivering them to the park would fall to the city.

“We haven’t budgeted for materials in 2012,” Ken Walbrant, Parks and Forestry superintendent said Tuesday.

As a capital project, it should go to the city’s Engineering Department for consideration and to be priced out. If there’s interest, engineers likely would design the plans for the class to follow, Walbrant said.

The project would give masonry students an opportunity to work with limestone, Parks Board member George Haas said.

While it’s a generous service donation, it would still end up costing the city, parks officials said.

“I really think we should pursue this, but pursue it cautiously,” board member Steve Berg said.

Several of the board members weren’t serving in 2007 when the park’s master plan was created. With so many projects in the works – such as the playground – or on the horizon – the skate park, teen area and picnic pavilion, for instance – it’s time to review the plan again early next year, parks officials said.

From “Woods students learn fundamentals at MATC” – The Cabinetmaking and Millwork program at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) in Madison, WI, has been a  WoodLINKS USA site since 2005. Our one-year training program provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to plan and complete cabinetry, furniture and millwork projects. Students learn to work with prints, specifications and shop drawings. Emphasis is placed on selecting proper materials, determining the best procedures, manufacturing parts to specification and assembling and finishing individual projects.

In our state-of-the-art lab, students learn the fundamentals of working with wood, from planning a project to adding the finishing details. From traditional woodworking equipment and hand tools to the latest CNC machinery and software, students learn to plan and process wood in the most efficient manner. With two WCA Certified Instructors on staff, students are able to obtain Green Level Certification through the Woodwork Career Alliance.

Our program is currently pioneering a unique, online self-directed curriculum which allows students to learn at their own pace. Machine use and theory can be learned outside of class, leaving more time for students to take advantage of valuable lab time. Madison College recently approved a building and remodeling plan which will double our classroom and lab space by 2014. We receive tremendous industry support as machinery manufacturers and suppliers have contributed almost a million dollars in equipment, software and supplies over the past decade to the Cabinetmaking & Millwork program.

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Training for the trades

December 6, 2011

From “Training for the trades” – Even in these dark economic times, 19-year-old Andy Koldeway is still following the light to a brighter future. But the light he’s walking toward isn’t found in the hallowed halls of higher education. Koldeway is working for Schneider Electric in Burlington.

A recent high school graduate, Koldeway will soon enroll in an apprenticeship program with one of the state’s technical colleges for training needed to become an electrician. Unlike most high school graduates, his secondary education at Burlington High School prepared him for the job he got straight out of high school.

“It kind of gave me a jumpstart and was practical for what I wanted to do,” Koldeway says of Burlington’s Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) program. “I wanted to go into the trades, and it helped me do that.”

Koldeway’s willingness to jump toward a career in the skilled trades is something the nation — and Wisconsin — need right now, say some employers. According to a recent Manpower survey of 1,300 U.S. employers, skilled trade workers are in short supply and one of the three most difficult job categories to fill.

But not everyone is certain a shortage actually exists. Ken Kraemer, director of the Construction Labor Management Council of Southeastern Wisconsin, is among the doubters.

“Manufacturing may be seeing a shortage … but I’m not seeing a shortage for the union construction skilled workers,” says Kraemer.

Numbers seem to support Kraemer’s assertion. Nationally, unemployment is higher in construction than any other field. In October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate in the construction job category of 13.7 percent and just 7.7 percent in manufacturing.


From “Valley Apprenticeship program recognized” – KAUKAUNA – The state superintendent of education says there’s a training gap between workers and available trade jobs in the state.

Superintendent Tony Evers toured a training center for millwrights and carpenters in Kaukauna Wednesday, where some young people who are going into those fields say they’re finding financial security.

As Evan Gibbs pounds way at his carpentry apprenticeship, he says he’s glad not to be nailed by student loan costs.

“I’m actually making money as I’m training,” said Gibbs. “I have cousins who went to college and stuff, and they’ve been out of college for 10 or 15 years and they’re still paying off student loans.”

In order to start, Gibbs first found an employer willing to take on an apprentice, and then began training through this center and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.


From “An effort to foster the next generation of entrepreneurs” – In 2006, Mark Anderson and Steven Horvath started MASTEQ, a machine shop in suburban Milwaukee that designs and manufactures tooling for foundries. Anderson was 28 at the time. Before starting the company, Anderson received instruction as part of a registered apprenticeship program at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

He worked his way up through the ranks as a computer-based designer, where he met Horvath, who served as his boss and a mentor. The two decided to go into business together, and today they employ six people and have plans to expand in 2012.

We need to encourage more young people in Wisconsin and throughout the country to follow in Anderson’s and Horvath’s footsteps by learning a trade and becoming entrepreneurs.

I am in Milwaukee on Thursday for an event in the Small Business Administration’s Young Entrepreneurs Series. At events across the country, young entrepreneurs and Obama administration officials have engaged in a discussion about how and why the Obama administration is supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs.

To further support young entrepreneurship, the SBA and the Department of Labor are announcing the Start Young Initiative, a new partnership to bring entrepreneurship education to the young people enrolled in the Labor Department’s Job Corps. Start Young will run as a pilot program in three cities; Milwaukee is being considered as a potential site.

As part of the Start Young Initiative, the SBA will work with our network of resource partners on a specialized entrepreneurship training curriculum. Job Corps students receive academic and technical training that helps them transition into the workforce, higher education or the military. Now, they will be able to make the transition into entrepreneurship as well.

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From “LTC offers seminar for plumbers” – CLEVELAND, WI – Lakeshore Technical College will offer an evening seminar in December for plumbers who need to earn continuing education credits. The Plumbing Code Continuing Education seminar Dec. 12 will focus on plumbing codes for wastewater treatment devices in commercial kitchens.

This seminar provides three hours of continuing education credit as approved by the Department of Commerce for those with credentials as master plumbers, journeyman plumbers, UDC plumbing inspectors, and commercial plumbing inspectors. The course will be taught by John W. Kollman III, a master plumber and plumbing instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

The seminar will take place from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in the Wells Fargo Conference Room on LTC’s Cleveland campus. Cost is $50; refer to class No. 68172. To register by phone, call 888.GO TO LTC (888-468-6582), ext. 1366, or register online at For questions or detailed information, call Ruth at 920-693-1167 or email at

From “Neighborhood group rehabilitating foreclosed homes, hoping to draw buyers” – The recession has created a huge foreclosure problem in cities around the nation, including Milwaukee, and in its wake comes abandoned homes, unkempt property, and dropping home values. Now, one group, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors is taking action to make their neighborhood more appealing to buyers. The group takes foreclosed properties and renovates them, making them move-in ready.

With the help of carpentry students from the Milwaukee Area Technical College, the group takes a foreclosed, unkempt home and makes it look like new again. So far, the group has purchased and rehabilitated five foreclosed homes in the Burnham Park neighborhood through its turnkey program, using grants from the city. They plan to sell the refurbished homes to interested buyers at an affordable price. The group says the goal is to promote home ownership, while giving the neighborhood a much-needed upgrade.

“There really is that ripple effect, that when people see investment happening in a neighborhood, they want to do something to sort of keep up with that, and make the block look that much nicer,” Will Sebern with the Layton Boulevard West Neighbors group said.

The group will host a “Tour of Homes” Saturday the 19th from 10:30am to 1:00pm. It will start at Sacred Heart Center on South Layton Boulevard.

From “Retired LTC instructors receive apprenticeship awards” —  Two retired Lakeshore Technical College employees received state honors at the 25th Wisconsin Biennial Apprenticeship Conference and Centennial Celebration in Madison.

Jack Mattner, who led LTC’s apprenticeship programs until his retirement in 2008, received the Hall of Fame award for his distinguished record of contribution to the apprenticeship system.

“Jack could answer any question you had about apprenticeships,” said Mike Thompson, dean of Trade & Industry and Apprenticeship at LTC. “Even today, I’ll give Jack a call.”

Mattner was innovative in developing LTC’s apprenticeship program and sponsored many initiatives to expand and improve the program, Thompson said.

Richard Schmidt, a millwright, machine maintenance, and maintenance mechanic instructor who retired this year, received the Centennial Educator award.



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