From “CVTC students make the cut at salon competition” – When Chippewa Valley Technical College barber/cosmetology student Angelica Johnson finished her model’s hair, she checked out what other contestants were doing and her confidence level soared.

“After I looked around when I was done, I knew I was going to win,” she said.

Johnson’s confidence was not misplaced. She placed first in the Men’s Cut, Color and Style category and received the Most Creative Fashion Award at the Minnesota State InSalon competition Oct. 14.

Johnson, who is originally from Milwaukee, was one of three CVTC students to earn awards in the prestigious competition for student stylists over a four-state region.

Amanda Gildea of Glenwood City placed third in the Women’s Evening Look category, and Lydia Ulwelling of Durand placed sixth in Men’s Cut, Color and Style.

Seven CVTC students participated in the competition this year.

Competition for the awards is intense, said CVTC instructor and barber/cosmetology department chairwoman Becky Hicks.

The event draws about 80 competitors from private cosmetology schools and technical colleges.

Students must develop an original style for the competition, provide a model and complete the styling within a given time frame. They generally know what they are going to do and have practiced the style. Any hair coloring is done in advance.

“We take about a month and a half for training, to practice and get the style down,” Hicks said.

Johnson’s task was particularly challenging because she created an ethnic style. A shortage of such models prevented her from getting a lot of practice.

“It was my second ethnic haircut,” Johnson said.

In addition, the model’s hair texture was a little more difficult to work with.

She was nervous and “shaking the entire time,” she said. “I didn’t want to look around and see what the others were doing.”

In developing a style, Johnson used tips her brother provided. He also attended CVTC and is a professional stylist.

Gildea used pictures of other styles as inspiration for her evening style. “In the end, what it looked like was totally different than imagined,” Gildea said.

Her model has long hair, and she had trouble completing the style in the time allowed.

Gildea was surprised at her award. “There were a lot of pretty updos. I was intimidated,” she said.

Ulwelling’s big challenge was devising a new plan days before the competition, when her model’s hair turned out to be too short for her original idea.

She came up with a “bald fade,” which is a tapered cut that is longest in front and fades to a shorter cut at the back.

Prizes included trophies, medals, plus $250, $150 and $75 scholarships for first through third places.

All three students recently finished the program at CVTC.

From “Candidates agree on community college support, CVTC hopeful for future” – EAU CLAIRE, Wisc. (WEAU) – In a debate focused on showing voters their differences, President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney actually agreed on the need to support community colleges’ cooperation with hiring businesses.

“One of the things I suspect governor Romney and I probably agree on is getting businesses to work with community colleges so that they’re setting up their training programs,” Obama said.

“Oh yeah,” Romney said in response. “It’s going over well in my state, by the way.”

Doug Olson with Chippewa Valley Technical College said the school has always had those types of connections and is glad to hear of the bipartisan support.

“We tailor our programs and even add new programs or eliminate programs based on that need. Our entire focus is meeting the workforce needs of the businesses in our district,” Olson said. “I think both parties really recognize the importance and need for a skilled workforce.”

Eau Claire’s Plank Enterprises, a parent company to three manufacturing companies calls CVTC its “lifeline” to find new skilled workers, employing graduates like machinist Cody Pattison.

“I knew that right away that I was going to acquire the skills to find a job,” Pattison said. “I need people to come in that I can train and help out, so I don’t have to work a crazy amount of overtime and it worked out for me.”

“We’re in constant interaction with CVTC, both with instructors and administration there as well to share what our needs are in the manufacturing industry,” Plank Enterprises President Mike Ottum said. “The real challenge today is trying to find that skilled workforce.”

The candidates do differ on how the programs should be funded.

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From “Arcadia Police Department makes historic hire” – After graduating from UW-Stout and CVTC, 28-year-old Diana Anderson is taking on the role of new mother and police chief.

“This is something that I’ve strived to do in my career. I didn’t think it would happen this early in my career,” said Diana Anderson, Arcadia Police Chief.

The Independence native worked in the Arcadia Police Department for more than five years after working in Dunn County and she says she wants to help people.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to the community and help out the community. A lot of times within our job were seen as the people who hand out tickets,” said Anderson.

Diana says although she has a lot of paperwork to do in the office, she still gets the opportunity to drive police cars and help the community. She also gets to assist officers.

Mayor John Kimmel says the previous police chief served about 25 years in the department but decided to try new things.

“He’s got big shoes to fill but I think she is certainly up to the challenge. She’s energetic. She’s got some great ideas,” said Mayor John Kimmel.

Anderson says she’s not worried about being young as well as the first female chief.

She says she’s respected and hopes to help serve as a role model.

“I hope the younger youth within our community look up to me, e specially young girls and know that they’re able to do this job in the future if they like to,” said Anderson.

“The two roles she’s going to serve is obviously the function of the police chief but I think she’s going to be a great liaison to the city,” said Kimmel.

“I want people and citizens of the city of Arcadia to see us in a positive light and they understand whatever they need us for we’re here to help them,” said Anderson.

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From “CVTC at 100: Still working to train skilled workers” – Jobs mostly demanded a strong back and a fifth-grade education or less before the Industrial Revolution.

As electricity spread across cities and machines began powering the economy in the early 20th century, employers required brains and brawn.

Locally, the lumber boom had run its course in the Chippewa Valley by then, leaving local workers to change with the times and search for the next big industry.

To break into careers in burgeoning industries or new businesses, they needed more training than traditional schooling could offer.

This need prompted the state government in 1911 to create what eventually became the Wisconsin Technical College System, including Chippewa Valley Technical College.

Turning 100 years old next month, CVTC is Eau Claire’s oldest institution of higher education — predating UW-Eau Claire by four years.

The basics

Funded through local property taxes and state aid, what were known as continuation schools sprouted up in Wisconsin with populations of 5,000 or more.

In October 1912, Eau Claire opened its school with seven classes, including shop arithmetic, carpentry, sheet metal, cooking and citizenship. Chippewa Falls opened with a few classes in the same year, and Menomonie followed in 1913.

Some of the original subjects have remained through the years, but in a much more sophisticated and technologically advanced form.

“The basics are still there,” said Bruce Barker, CVTC’s current president.

Machinists still need to study math, but it’s now used to program computers that tell machines what to do.

Carpentry skills are still taught at CVTC, but they’re used to build energy-efficient homes out of green materials.

The college’s offerings also have grown into 61 programs, most of which will have demonstrations or displays at Saturday’s centennial celebration.

To go with the school’s milestone, it has produced “CVTC: A Century of Proven Education,” a 100-page book detailing its history.

Dealing with downturns

Along with jobs created by post-World War II prosperity and other economic good times, CVTC has helped local workers through rough patches too.

In addition to helping local workers during the massive unemployment in the Great Depression of the 1930s and more recently the job losses of the Great Recession, CVTC retrained workers when a major Eau Claire employer closed.

Chippewa Valley Technical College was on the front line to retrain workers and offer career assistance when the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. plant, which employed more than 1,300, closed in June 1992.

“We sort of moved into Uniroyal,” said Norbert Wurtzel, CVTC’s president from 1974 to 1994. “We were down there in the building with those people.”

As the plant was closing and after the doors were shuttered, CVTC employees were on-site to train workers for other industrial jobs or new career paths entirely.

Some chose paths in health care or more advanced manufacturing — two economic sectors that saw growth during Wurtzel’s tenure.

“The exciting part was that technology all the way from automotive to health care and (other sectors) was changing so rapidly, and we were able to bring on new faculty and help current faculty upgrade,” he said. “It was just an exciting time with ideas, innovations and creativity on their part.”

To meet employment needs created by large additions to Sacred Heart Hospital, Luther Hospital and Midelfort Clinic in the late 1960s and ’70s, CVTC expanded its health care programs and added a building for them in 1973 on West Clairemont Avenue.

Advances in computer technology in the 1980s also made manufacturing more sophisticated. CVTC students could design metal parts on a computer and fabricate them with precision on electronically controlled machines — a cutting-edge concept at the time, Wurtzel recalled.

Wurtzel gives credit to instructors during his tenure that suggested new programs CVTC could teach that would help students get jobs.

“We succeeded in a lot of those areas because of faculty who were willing to roll up their sleeves,” he said.

Auto shop legacy

CVTC initially taught students how to fix Model T Fords, the automobile that revolutionized transportation and gave birth to assembly-line manufacturing. Now the college teaches repairs for hybrid and electric engines.

Tom Day attended the school during the era when automakers were adding more steel to vehicles to increase safety.

Graduated from Gilman High School in 1976, Day didn’t want to spend four years in college. An interest in cars led him to the automotive collision repair program taught at CVTC.

When he attended the college, it was called District One Technical Institute, a name adopted when the state created 16 technical school districts in 1968, resulting in an 11-county area that paid taxes to support the Eau Claire-based school.

In those days, auto body technicians had to do all steps of the repair process from taking off the damaged steel, welding repairs, smoothing out dents and matching paint. Now each of those tasks is done by different people, he said, due to more sophisticated automobile materials and demand for quicker repairs.

Hired a couple of weeks before graduation, Day has been working at the body shop of Eau Claire car dealer Ken Vance for 35 years. He now is the shop’s manager.

“That was a better career choice for me, and it’s proven to be a good choice,” he said.

Day was recognized in 2008 as a distinguished CVTC alumni for his accomplishments and the career day he’s hosted for several years at the dealership, allowing high school students to see where CVTC’s automotive repair classes can take them.

Changing student needs

Starting as continuation schools that mostly taught teenagers, technical colleges now have adult students from every stage of their lives.

“You’ll literally be seeing students of all ages,” Barker said, recalling commencement a couple years ago when the school graduated two 60-year-old nursing students.

The school still gets many recent high school graduates — a quarter of the Chippewa Valley’s high school seniors go to technical colleges for their education.

But the average age of a CVTC student is 27 because of all the older adults seeking training in a new career, Barker said.

“We’ve always been the home for the working adult, the underemployed or unemployed adult,” Barker said.

As students collectively trended older, the school changed to meet their needs.

During the ’70s and ’80s, the college had club and varsity sports teams. The Tech Tigers competed against other technical schools in basketball, hockey, golf, volleyball and bowling.

Those sports were popular at the time, Wurtzel, the former college president, said, but they were discontinued at the behest of students as their priorities changed.

“There was a shift in student interest,” he said.

Instead of spending their fees on sports, student leaders reallocated much of them toward establishing a child care center for CVTC students’ children, which was created with help from the Hobbs Foundation.

That represented a change in the college’s demographics, as students with families just didn’t have the time for competitive sports, Wurtzel observed, instead wanting to spend time with their spouses and children.

Campuswide activities including winter carnivals and talent shows also fell by the wayside through the years.

“As the college grows, it’s really tough to find those common hours,” said Alisa Hoepner Schley, student life specialist. “Today our student population is quite diverse, they have many competing priorities from working to balancing family.”

The current slate of entertainment activities includes occasional guest speakers, lunchtime comedians and noon concerts. Clubs also create community service opportunities and the chance to attend conferences to help with professional development, Hoepner Schley said.

Mission still same

As much as the Industrial Revolution gave birth to technical colleges, improvements in technology have kept them changing.

“You can point to some strong similarities between 1912 and 2012,” Barker said.

Energy, the driving force behind industry, continues to evolve.

“Back then, we moved from wood to coal to oil,” he said. “Now you’re looking at something similar from that oil and coal to the next stage — what’s going to power our economy in the future.”

To teach students about new, renewable energy technology, the college has plans to build a $7.8 million Energy Education Center in Eau Claire next summer.

One of the area’s latest growth industries, sand mining, is driving increasing enrollment in the college’s trucking, engine repair and manufacturing programs, Barker said.

To keep up with needs of area employers, college offerings are continuously changed so that students can get a job quickly after graduation.

Of the students who graduated earlier this year, 92 percent found a job within six months, 89 percent of them in their field of study, Barker said.

Technology and hot industries may change, but CVTC’s mission has remained essentially the same through the past century.

“There may have been subtle changes, but the strong directive has always been to make a highly trained workforce,” Barker said.

From — “CVTC receives training grants” -- EAU CLAIRE — More than a quarter-million dollars in grants will help area businesses invest in their employees.

Chippewa Valley Technical College was recently awarded more than $270,000 in state grants.  The money will be used to train and develop current employees’ skills in the area of manufacturing.  The grants will help off-set regular training costs by 65 percent.

“If we can provide a workforce that is better than other locations in the country or internationally, that’s a reason to stay here. And so that’s one of the reasons that you want to invest in your workforce so you can sustain the businesses that you have,” says Tim Shepardson, Chippewa Falls CVTC campus manager.

The grants can be used in a number of area’s including industrial maintenance and welding.

From “CVTC launching college for working adults” — EAU CLAIRE — A local college is targeting adults hoping to make it easier for them to get a degree.

Chippewa Valley Technical College is launching a new program for working adults. The program offers associate degrees and certifications in a more flexible format. Most classes will be eight weeks long instead of sixteen, and will be held from 6 to 9 p.m., others will be offered online. CVTC is hoping this will give job seekers the opportunity to learn skills that will make them better qualified.

“There’s a mismatch between the skills that people have today and the openings that are out there. For example in manufacturing, whether it’s in welding where now a two year training program is more inline with what the manufacturers need for more sophisticated equipment, robotics, laser cutters and things like that. So this gives people an opportunity to improve their skills, change their career paths, while they’re still working,” said Doug Olson, Chippewa Valley Technical College.

Some of the programs being offered include business management, human resources and marketing.

Informational meetings are being held at 6 p.m.Thursday, for those who have an interest in the program. Those meetings will take place on CVTC campuses in Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and River Falls.

From “CVTC launches College for Working Adults” – EAU CLAIRE — Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) has launched the College for Working Adults, a convenient program that offers associate degrees and certifications on a flexible format for adults looking to advance their skills.

Classes begin in August, with informational sessions Thursday, Aug. 9, at CVTC’s Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and River Falls campuses.

CVTC will be offering associate degrees in Business Management, Human Resource Management, Liberal Arts and Marketing Management. Certification programs include Leadership/Supervision and Professional Selling.

Most classes are eight weeks long and held from 6 to 8:55 p.m. at CVTC campuses in Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and River Falls.

“We know that the majority of new jobs will require some postsecondary education, and in looking at our population base, only one-third have an associate degree or higher,” said Margaret Dickens, director of Planning, Research & Grants for CVTC. “This initiative will provide courses the working adult can take in the evening without quitting their job,” she added. “The value will be more employment opportunities and a highly trained workforce for our regional employers.”

The information sessions to be held on Aug. 9 begin at 6 p.m. at the Chippewa Falls, Menomonie and River Falls campuses. Attendees will learn more about the College, meet with academic advisors, learn about financial aid and may apply for a program and register for classes.

Reports indicate Wisconsin is facing a “workforce paradox,” in which there is a 7 percent unemployment rate, yet there are many job openings available for those who qualify.

In the 11-county CVTC district, about 200,000 adults have not obtained an associate or higher degree. Of that number, about 100,000 have a high school diploma with no college; 61,676 have some college experience; and 30,000 do not have a high school diploma.

The goal is also to provide occupational training programs to those looking to enhance and enrich occupational skills that may or may not be related to their current occupations.

For more information, visit Registration for the information sessions may be made by calling 715-738-3841 for the Chippewa Falls campus; 715-233-5341 for the Menomonie campus; and 715-426-8241 for the River Falls campus.

From “CVTC changes will benefit employers and organizations” – Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) recently made changes to its Business and Industry Services area to better assist area employers and organizations with their plans for success.

Judi Anibas, former dean of emergency services, transitioned to a faculty position to train employers and organizations on security and personal safety-related topics.

Suzanne Blau was recently hired as the business and industry business technology trainer/consultant to assist employers with software and social media training.

Anibas and Blau join three other CVTC faculty members who specialize in customized training programs for employers. The others include: Dan Burns, who provides leadership and supervisory training; Dave Otto, who provides electromechanical and industrial maintenance training; and Jon Leenhouts, who offers safety-related training.

CVTC’s Business and Industry Services team includes: Pam Owen, NanoRite manager; John Kleven, River Falls campus manager; Tim Shepardson, Chippewa Falls campus and Neillsville center manager; Roxann Vanderwyst, Menomonie campus manager; and Jessica Cather, seminar and continuing education specialist.

From “Trucking industry needs drivers” – Karl Pinter has been at his current job for roughly eight days, and he’s already getting inundated with phone calls.

Pinter, who previously worked at Fox Valley Technical College, is a truck-driving instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College. He said four local employers called during his first week in search of job candidates. Demand in the industry is on the rise both in the Chippewa Valley and across the U.S.

“The market for drivers is very strong right now,” said Pinter, who added that demand is up for both local drivers and over-the-road truckers who typically are away from home for longer periods.

“The biggest factor is baby boomers are retiring and we’re seeing a huge shortage of drivers nationwide and locally.”

Bigger picture

A job seeker looking through classified advertisements in North Carolina is very likely to see trucking companies from as far away as Massachusetts and Nebraska calling for applicants for open positions they cannot fill. Companies seeking drivers also permeate the Leader-Telegram’s classified ads.

Despite a national unemployment rate topping 8 percent, trucking companies are struggling to recruit and retain enough drivers due to a host of factors.

The shortage dates back to the years leading up to the Great Recession, when well-paying construction jobs were plentiful and the industry had problems finding replacements for all of the veteran drivers who were retiring. That there remain hundreds of thousands of driver vacancies today — four years after the real estate bust — speaks in part to the waning popularity of the profession made famous by such movies as “Smokey and the Bandit.”

“You have drivers retiring every day,” said Charlie Gray, owner of Carolina Trucking Academy in Raleigh, N.C. “For every driver that goes out the back door, you better have a driver coming in the front door. There’s not a lot of people coming in the front door.”

The shortage is good news for those looking for work in the industry.

Companies desperate for quality drivers have begun offering sign-on bonuses, higher salaries and safety bonuses. Yet there’s still a national shortage, conservatively estimated, of at least 200,000 workers, said David Heller, director of safety and policy at the Truckload Carriers Association.

Age an issue

An aging workforce, a requirement that long-haul drivers be at least 21 years old and new federal safety regulations have all played a role in the current shortage. The aging population of truck drivers, in particular, has become a bigger issue than anyone expected.

Demographic changes mean there simply aren’t as many men younger than 35 as there were in the baby boomer generation, said Charles Clowdis, managing director of transportation industry services at IHS Global Insight.

Younger workers who traditionally may have gone into trucking choose other occupations over a life that requires long stints away from home. Since a college education is not required for truck driving, but truck drivers have to be 21 to cross state lines, trucking companies lose potential employees who go to other industries, enroll in a trade school or enter the military.

Although the industry is suffering from a shortage of all types of drivers, most of the open positions are for truckload carriers, which transport goods over long distances.

“The job of being an over-the-road truck driver is difficult,” Clowdis said. “You’re away from home; it’s somewhat of an unset schedule; you may leave on Monday, get somewhere Thursday, and Friday get sent in the total opposite direction. That’s the segment that’s hurting the most.”

Rules influential

New government regulations limiting drivers’ hours and monitoring drivers for safety violations have exacerbated the shortage, said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations, which put the industry’s annual turnover rate at 88 percent in December.

“Some companies say they could actually add more equipment if only they could find more drivers,” he said. “As long as you have a good driving record, you can easily get a job in this industry.”

The new rules, which went into effect in late 2010, are forcing companies to hire more workers from a smaller pool of potential drivers with no blemishes on their safety record.

Costello said the steep cost of training, averaging about $4,000 to $6,000 for four to six weeks of driver-training school, is a barrier to entry for the pool of potential workers who would be most interested in trucking. While many nationwide companies retroactively reimburse newly hired drivers monthly for the cost of schooling, potential drivers still have to front the money in advance to the school or try to qualify for student loans.

Sources of federal funding for truck-driver training through the Workforce Investment Agency also have dried up because of budget cuts, said Cindy Atwood, deputy director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association.

Still, at a time when many professions offer little job security, truck driving is as close to a sure thing for those who meet the qualifications.

“You can take a person making minimum wage and put them into school, and four to six weeks later they will be making anywhere between $38,000 (and) 40,000 entry-level, with benefits,” said Atwood. “That’s a pretty good story. And that job can’t be outsourced.”

State needs

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck driver job openings in Wisconsin will rise 7 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. They are expected to rise 21 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020. A disproportionately high number of the top truck carriers in the nation are based in Wisconsin.

“The growth of the sand-mining industry is one factor that has increased the number of driving jobs,” said Tim Stanton, CVTC instructor. “Some experienced drivers have opted to work for these companies.”

CVTC, which also provides contracted training for regional employers and services for those who drive school or coach buses, offers an eight-week training program that includes behind-the-wheel, classroom, online and simulated instruction. The focus is to graduate entry-level drivers, according to Tim Stanton, and the cost is about $2,359. There are 16 people signed up for the next course scheduled to start in August. Capacity is 24 students, but CVTC is phasing in changes to the program in an effort to meet increased demand and changes in the industry.

“Typically the most difficult thing for people to grasp is backing,” Pinter said. “A lot of people have never backed up anything with a trailer before.”

He added that a passion for driving is a help for those entering the industry. Drivers are limited to 11 hours a day.

“You can got to school for eight weeks and be job-ready,” Pinter said. “It tends to give you a pretty good return on your investment. The pay is good because they need to attract drivers into this industry.”

From “First Hmong woman in Wisconsin earns law enforcement certification” – For one local student, the graduation march is not only significant because of the certification she’s earned but the barriers she is breaking.

Shoua Bauer, from Altoona, is the first Hmong female in Wisconsin to earn a law enforcement certification, and only the second in the entire country. Friday she received her certificate from Chippewa Valley Technical College.

Shoua Bauer, was presented with her law enforcement certification.  She is the first Hmong female in Wisconsin to go into the field.

CVTC Graduate, Shoua Bauer, says, “This is a really hands on, dirty, gritty job that we were taught from a young age this is mens work and then there’s girls work. And I think it’s one of those things where we’re still really new to the country and still changing into the American culture and I think that’s one of the reasons why we don’t see too many Hmong females in this type of profession.”

For a long time, Shoua kept her training a secret.

“I didn’t tell anybody until my dad passed away, it was actually the day before he passed away that I told him I was going into law enforcement” says Bauer.

In 2008 Shoua’s dad passed away suddenly from a heart attack, but she says she is happy she was able to tell him.

She says, “He was supportive, the only thing he wanted me to do was remember, who I was, where I came from, and don’t get a power trip.

“My dad’s final words to me were, leadership is not a position you have, it’s in the actions that you take.” These are the words Shoua shared with her classmates during their graduation ceremony. She was chosen by her peers to be their class leader throughout training.

“She’s a lot of things that were very important to the academy, through communication and leadership. She did a lot of mentoring with the students and helping other students and at the same time she’s trying to get herself through the academy. She’s stepping up and being a mentor and a leader to others” says, CVTC Law Enforcement Academy Director, Eric Anderson.

Shoua stands at 4-feet 10-inches, and as she prepares to enter the work force, she has concerns.

“I am not intimidating appearance wise by any means. I fear that I many not set the right impression to be a law enforcement officer, I do worry about that” says Bauer.

But what has Shoua excited about her career path is one of the reasons she pursued law enforcement in the first place ….. The chance to help other people in the Hmong culture.

“There’s the Hmong females out there that do need help and sometimes they’re not comfortable with speaking to those, to those guys, and so I think by me brining myself out there, I will  be saying, hey, it’s ok. You can talk to me, you can talk to anybody out there” says Bauer.

Shoua says she would like to stay in the area and has been applying for jobs.  Eventually, she would like to be a canine officer.

From “A shortage of truck drivers nationwide leads an area tech school to look at expanding programs” – EAU CLAIRE – A shortage of truck drivers is leaving jobs unfilled, delaying some deliveries, and pushing up freight rates.

According to the American Trucking Association, the annual turnover rate at large carriers rose to a four-year high of 90 percent. In the first quarter last year it was 75 percent. Turnover at small carriers jumped even higher to 71 percent – up from 50 percent

The shortage leading to Chippewa Valley Technical College looking at ways to help fill the gap. Mark Fredrickson has been driving truck and training new drivers most of his professional career.

“It’s more of a life style than a job because it does take you away from your family for longer than an eight hour day and you can be gone around a week,” says Fredrickson.

A long haul that has led to more people quitting the industry and an increasing demand for drivers.

“I was just drove for a guy yesterday that lost two drivers,” says Fredrickson.

CVTC is trying to meet the demands of the industry by expanding its training program and making it more flexible for students.

“We find a lot of people are interested in getting their CDL but a lot of people can’t afford to quit their current job to take the course so we are trying to find ways to work around that.”

CVTC currently offers a CDL certification course every 8 weeks.
“I have twelve students right now and I expect all of them to have jobs after graduation,” says Fredrickson.

And in this economy students say that’s rare and something that’s not lost on them.

“I love it, big trucks heavy loads being on the road and meeting all the people it’s just fun,” says Christian Fredrickson

From “Skilled workers sought after” – With more than 12.7 million Americans unemployed, companies have no trouble attracting applicants. What’s tougher for some firms is finding qualified workers.

More than 40 machinist jobs have been available recently in west-central Wisconsin, according to Mark Hendrickson, dean of manufacturing at Chippewa Valley Technical College. He said further growth is expected, and CVTC has arranged for more classroom space in its manufacturing program to meet that demand.

“Manufacturers we’ve talked to say they need welders and machinists, skilled workers, to help with their infrastructure to get their products out the door,” he said in a news release.

Steve Michaud, a CVTC machine tool instructor for 26 years, said filling manufacturing jobs will have a ripple effect on the economy. Michaud is a consultant for Plank Enterprises, a holding company for four businesses that manufacture and distribute industrial and commercial products globally.

“Statistics show every manufacturing job will create six to seven support jobs in that community, which creates wealth,” he said in the release. “If we could solve the problem in manufacturing, we would solve the problem in unemployment because of the multiplying factor.”

California Steel Industries needs experienced electrical and mechanical technicians to help it make metal pipes and flat-roll sheets used in construction projects. The pay is good. An industrial maintenance mechanic can make $64,000 a year plus health benefits. In good years, company profit-sharing can boost pay by $5,000.

Still, California Steel, which is based in Fontana, Calif., is struggling to fill 18 openings.

While these workers don’t need college degrees, they need at least two years of specialized training plus strong math, reading and writing skills. The plant is loud and filled with heavy machinery. And because the facility operates 24 hours a day, workers must rotate shifts, making it even harder to recruit, said Brett Guge, executive vice president of finance and administration.

“It’s been a chronic problem for many years,” Guge said. “You would think it’d be somewhat easier in this economy.”

There’s no doubt that the nation’s sluggish labor market continues to favor employers, many of whom are holding back on hiring amid global uncertainty. In May, the national unemployment rate increased to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent the previous month. Millions of U.S. workers have been jobless for so long that they’ve exhausted their unemployment benefits.

Still, companies in some industries or certain parts of the country are having difficulty finding workers. Tighter immigration enforcement has squeezed the nation’s agricultural sector as farmers from Washington state to Georgia scramble to find enough field hands. Thinly populated North Dakota is so desperate for bodies to keep its oil boom going that the state’s governor has pleaded publicly for out-of-state workers to relocate there.

In California, where the April unemployment rate was 10.9 percent, some renewable energy firms are searching hard for qualified engineers. So are technology companies in Silicon Valley, where the rush to produce next-generation mobile and tablet technologies has sparked bidding wars for top candidates, who can fetch starting salaries from $85,000 to $100,000.

“Everyone’s vying for the same talent,” said Shannon Callahan, a technical talent partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm. “They’re all trying to build … the next great product.”

Even firms that aren’t designing the next iPhone are struggling. In a recently released study by recruiting firm ManpowerGroup, nearly half of U.S. employers surveyed said they’re having trouble filling key jobs despite continued high unemployment.

Some economists are skeptical about all that griping. Adjusted for inflation, incomes for most Americans have been stagnant for years. The recent downturn has given workers even less leverage to demand better pay. Many companies complaining of a “shortage” of talent simply don’t want to pay more to get it, said Andy Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

“There are some spot shortages,” he said. “But the norm for the country, though, is a massive (labor) surplus. I’ve never seen a surplus this large.”

Still, Sum agreed with Manpower’s findings that some high-skill positions in information technology and engineering are hard to fill. Ditto for skilled trades, which include jobs such as heavy-equipment operators, electricians, welders and sheet-metal workers.

Many of those blue-collar workers are starting to retire and won’t be easily replaced, said Stanley Stossel, senior assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 47, in Diamond Bar, Calif.

“In some ways, the economic downturn staved off the tsunami,” Stossel said. “A lot of people were working a few years longer than they had planned on.”

Machinists and machine operators also are hard to find. Manufacturing has been a bright spot in a slow recovery, adding almost half a million jobs nationwide since January 2010.

The average hourly wage for a manufacturing job is $23.96, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And some positions pay upward of $31 an hour. Still, experts said a manufacturing career isn’t even on the radar of many U.S. workers. Years of layoffs and outsourcing of factory jobs to foreign countries have convinced some that there’s no future in it. Others are attracted to white-collar work and sexier industries such as technology.

To cope, some firms are beefing up the skills of current employees or partnering with nonprofits and community colleges to train students for blue-collar jobs.

California Steel Industries, for example, launched a paid internship program this summer with Chaffey College in nearby Rancho Cucamonga. Nine electrical technician interns have been hired so far, Guge said.

Oil refineries in the South Bay have taken similar steps. Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips are among the companies working with the nonprofit South Bay Center for Counseling to train process operators and instrument technicians to monitor refinery operations.

Graduate Joseph Morales, 24, recently started a job with Marchem Technologies, a Long Beach chemical plant. He’s making $17 and hour to start, with the prospect of more raises ahead. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chemical plant operators earn an average of $27.23 an hour.

“I wanted something more stable,” said Morales, whose last job was selling sporting goods on commission.

In Silicon Valley, the hunt for workers with skills in mobile software and user-focused applications has gotten so competitive that some companies have resorted to offbeat recruiting strategies.

Quixey, a Palo Alto company that has built a search engine for mobile apps, created a monthly contest to appeal to game-loving techies. Programmers are invited to solve a bug in a 10-line piece of computer code in 60 seconds. Winners get $100, a sweatshirt and a followup recruitment email.

“We search the entire nation,” said Liron Shapira, Quixey’s chief technology officer. “We’re able to find candidates who don’t browse job forums but would be considering opportunities.”

The 25-person firm has hired four full-time engineers and three interns through the challenge.

“Quixey Challenge is more effective than anything else in beginning the pipeline of engineers,” Shapira said. “It appeals to what engineers like to do.”

Michaud said manufacturing jobs in west-central Wisconsin start at $35,000 to $40,000, not including overtime.

“It’s not the hot, sweaty, dirty job that Grandpa had,” he said. “Today we have a great environment, high skill set and the pay is not low by any means.

“If you can machine, you’ve got a job today. It’s very professional. You have to have the math and problem-solving skills.”

From “CVTC board approves budget; notes enrollment decline” – After rising enrollment peaked in 2010-11 at Chippewa Valley Technical College, student numbers are declining even as area employers see growing need for trained workers.

Technical colleges in Wisconsin noticed rising numbers around 2008 during the recession as people lost their jobs, said Margaret Dickens, CVTC’s director of planning, research and grants.

This is what CVTC leaders referred to the “workforce paradox” — continued high unemployment, but not enough trained workers to fill high-demand jobs in skilled manufacturing.

“We have people out of work, but we have jobs waiting,” Barker said.

Training offered

In the 2012-13 CVTC budget approved 8-0 Thursday night by the college board, there are a couple of initiatives meant to address that demand.

The budget expands manufacturing programs to train high-tech workers in that sector, Barker said. The number of seats in a diesel trucking program also is going up because of one of the region’s other fast-growing industries.

“That’s a direct effect of the sand mining industry,” Barker said.

And as they’re seeing a decline in the number of high school graduates, the college wants to court people 35 and older who want to take classes.

“We have to reach out to the adult learners as well as we do the high school graduates,” Barker said.

CVTC’s strategy to boost older adult enrollment is to offer more classes at night and online, award credits for previous education and compress classes so they last eight weeks instead of the standard 16 weeks.

The new budget had no increase in total taxes CVTC collects from property owners in its 11-county district, but the impact to individual homeowners may vary.

The owner of a $100,000 home who paid $174.17 in taxes last year to CVTC will see a $2.65 tax increase under the new budget. But that’s assuming the property value of the hypothetical home did not decrease, and many did in the region.

The new budget also includes spending for a new Energy Education Center on CVTC’s West Campus, but that project still needs about $1 million in private donations and state approval.

“There was a bubble from the unemployment,” she said.

Enrollment reached an all-time record in 2010-11 at 4,720 full-time equivalent students. But it fell to 4,469 in the academic year that just ended, and the college expects it to stay level for 2012-13.

Reasons for drop

CVTC leaders said several factors could be contributing to the recent declining enrollment.

College President Bruce Barker said those eager to get retrained did so in the past few years.

“Those who were laid off and needed to go back to school did and are graduating,” he said.

Shifting demographics in CVTC’s 11-county area also can be playing a role.

Enrollment in western Wisconsin elementary and high schools are lower than they were in prior years, CVTC communications director Doug Olson noted.

Current third-graders are anticipated to create another “bubble” in higher education when they graduate high school, Olson said, but not as big as what CVTC saw the past couple of years.

Reduced financial aid from the government also could be preventing some students from attending, Dickens said.

As the college sees a slight drop in enrollment, it’s coming at a time when local industry demands more trained workers.

“They’re just desperate for employees,” Dickens said.

From “Funds sought for building on CVTC’s West Campus” – A $7.9 million Energy Education Center planned for Chippewa Valley Technical College’s West Campus in Eau Claire is included in the school’s budget for the upcoming academic year.

Scheduled for a hearing and vote Thursday evening, CVTC’s 2012-13 budget would increase spending for the building and associated renovations but would not raise property taxes.

“There’s zero dollar change in the levy when compared to last year,” said Kirk Moist, CVTC’s director of finance and budgeting.

The upcoming budget is the second year of a state-mandated freeze on technical colleges’ operating costs, and CVTC’s debt payments are staying level.

CVTC plans to pay for the Energy Education Center — consisting of a 24,000-square-foot renovation of the Transportation Center on the West Campus and a 30,000-square-foot addition — through a mix of its own funding and donations.

“The big ‘if’ is there still is private-sector money being raised to pay for a large portion of the project,” said Doug Olson, CVTC’s executive director of facilities.

About $1 million in business donations still is needed before the project can move forward, he said.

When all the money is secured, CVTC would need the approval of its own board and the state Technical College System Board before building the new center.

The center will teach applications of alternative energy sources, including biofuels, solar power, geothermal heating and wind energy. College programs including heating, ventilation and air conditioning; civil engineering; construction; and electrical power distribution would be based at the center because those fields are seeing increasing use of green technology.

In recent years the college renovated parts of the Business Education Center, but the last major project was the creation of the $10.25 million Health Education Center in 2004.

“Anytime we do a major project, there’s an upward blip,” Moist said of CVTC’s spending.

The proposed budget shows a minor bump up for what taxpayers will be billed for CVTC.

The owner of a $100,000 home that paid $174.17 in taxes last year to CVTC would see a $2.65 tax increase under the proposed budget. But that’s only assuming the property value of that hypothetical home did not fall.

While the tax rate paid by homeowners will appear larger on their bill in December, that’s because property values have fallen in the technical college district’s 11-county area and are expected to again decline.

“Our property values have gone down three years in a row,” Moist said.

Currently valued at about $20.3 billion, properties within the district are projected to fall in value by about $305 million in the next year, according to CVTC’s proposed budget.

From “The Apprentice Dunn County Winners Announced” – A team of Chippewa Valley Technical College students took first place in The Apprentice Dunn County with their project for a website design for the Dunn County United Way.

Team members included Gloria Koroghlanian, Tyler Bauer, Adam Lowe and Gregory Haug.

This was the third season of The Apprentice Dunn County, a program that connects small businesses with students who work together to build realistic strategies that can help the participating companies become more successful.

Twelve student-led teams from CVTC and UW-Stout presented solutions to eight area businesses.

The program is coordinated by the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce through volunteer members of the Workforce and Education Committee. It is based in concept on the popular NBC television show. Employers submit real world project challenges and are matched with student teams. Project challenges ranged from working on websites, database systems, facility plans, marketing plans and market research.

Teams presented their solutions in early May. A panel of judges scored each team based on how well they met the needs of the business they were paired with.

Second place went to the UW-Stout team made up of Paul Mulligain, Kyle Pieters, Nicholas Geske and Joradan Cepress, Rebecca Iverson and Jason Kern for their facility plan for Arbor Place. Third place went to the UW-Stout team of Sue Her, Nou Chee Her and Kalvin Chue Yang for their promotional video for Optimum Therapies.

From “CVTC faculty and staff honored for excellence in education” – Chippewa Valley Technical College was well-represented at the 76th annual conference of the Wisconsin Association for Career and Technical Education held recently in Appleton.

President Bruce Barker was honored by WACTE, being chosen by the association as Wisconsin’s Outstanding Career and Technical Education Leader.

Two instructors from CVTC’s Center for Behavioral Sciences and Civic Effectiveness were honored by Chippewa Valley Association for Career and Technical Education (CVACTE) for their excellence in the classroom.  Flint Thompson received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award and Kristi Hagen received the Outstanding New Teacher of the Year Award.

Dan Flaten, a business management instructor; Janet Goldsmith, a program assistant, and Lynne Lindbo, an admissions assistant, received Longevity Awards from WACTE for their 25 years of membership.

The award winners were recently honored at luncheon hosted by CVACTE.

WACTE is a professional organization of over 800 teachers, counselors, school administrators, teacher educators, support staff, and business/industry partners.  The organization’s mission is to unite individuals involved in career and technical education, to provide professional development, to encourage leadership in the political arena, and to promote innovative change to enhance lifelong learning.

From “Partnership helping CTVC students and housing needs in Chippewa Falls” –  A partnership in Chippewa Falls is helping local families with the American dream. The Chippewa County Housing Authority partnered with Chippewa Valley Technical College.

Two brand new houses for low and moderate income families are now up in Chippewa Falls, built with the help of students in CVTC’s residential construction program.

“With the residential construction program, it is a technical diploma, so there’s a lot of detail, so the majority of the learning takes place on the job site through the construction of these homes that we build,” says Brian Barth, a Residential Construction Instructor with CVTC.

“We can get the homes built, spend much less money, saves us grant money, so that we can do additional projects,” Ruth Rosenow, the director of the Chippewa County Housing Authority says.

Half of the funding for the houses came from federal grants, the other half is from a revolving loan from previous projects.

“In new construction, it gives families a chance to get into a home in an affordable way, have affordable payments, and then they have a chance to build up a home improvement escrow fund so that they can save up money, because these homes shouldn’t need repairs for quite a long time,” Rosenow says.

The projects won’t stop at these two houses. Six more are planned over the next four years.

“We have the funds in place for the two that we’ll be starting next fall, and basements and excavation done in August before they start school so when they come to school, the foundation is in, and they’re ready to start the carpentry work,” says Rosenow.

The 16 students who built the houses will be graduating tonight. The housing authority is holding an open house Friday night, where families can apply.

There are some income restrictions for the homes, which are valued at $149,000 each. For example, a family of four must make less than $51,000.

Income Restrictions

$149,900 HOUSE

Must make less than:

Family of 1: $36,150

Family of 2: $41,300

Family of 3: $46,450

Family of 4: $51,600

The open house runs until eight o’clock Friday night at 441 and 449 Pumphouse Road in Chippewa Falls.

From “CVTC hosts regional conference focusing on future of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education” – The future of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in Wisconsin was the focus of a regional conference held recently at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC).

“The STEM conference was a wonderful opportunity to bring together representatives from business and industry, higher education, K12 education, and a number of community agencies to assist us as we work with others from across the state to create Wisconsin’s road map for STEM education,” said Dr. Ellen Kirking, CVTC’s vice president for education.  “Through these conversations we were able to generate ideas that will help us as we build this framework.”

The gathering at CVTC was one of six regional conferences held throughout the state.  In her welcoming address to the nearly 90 participants gathered at the Manufacturing Education Center, Ellen said, “Our economy and the quality of life in Wisconsin will grow and thrive through the development and promotion of STEM education and careers.”

Ellen cited statistics from the State Office of Economic Advisors indicating that 10 percent of all jobs in Wisconsin are STEM-related, and that percentage is expected to rise to 20 percent for all new jobs created in the state between now and 2016.

The purpose of the STEM conference at CVTC was four-fold:

  • To build awareness of the value of STEM education as a pathway to economic success.
  • To provide resources and experiences for Wisconsin educators, from pre-kindergarten through college, to develop STEM knowledge and skills.
  • To position STEM education as a valued outcome for all Wisconsin students.
  • To promote STEM skills as an economic advantage for those entering the Wisconsin workforce.

Aliesha Crowe, dean of Energy, Agriculture, and Technology at CVTC, led the K-12 educators during their discussion of STEM issues at the conference.  Her group included administrators, teachers, counselors, and high school career prep staff from school districts throughout the CVTC and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College districts.

Aliesha explained that the Wisconsin Technology Council will compile the ideas and suggestions coming out of the conference at CVTC and the five other regional STEM conferences into a “white paper” that can serve as a guide for a statewide approach to STEM education during the next decade.  This “white paper,” also referred to as a “road map” for the future of STEM education in Wisconsin, is scheduled to be released this fall.

“The people at our conference were excited to contribute to the STEM road map report, and they are very interested in receiving the report when it is completed,” Aliesha said.

“Success in advancing STEM education relies heavily on cooperation amongst those with a vested interest in STEM and a shared knowledge and language of what STEM really means for Wisconsin,” she added.   “I see the road map as a critical step in establishing the partnerships and sharing the knowledge.  In addition, I think the STEM road map report will be very helpful in fostering further development of STEM initiatives at CVTC.”

Aliesha explained that CVTC established a STEM Planning Team in 2010. That team, which includes Student Services and Academic leadership as well as faculty, has been working to increase enrollment in STEM-related programs at the college and to create awareness of STEM education at CVTC and throughout its 11-county district.

“The advancement of STEM education in the state of Wisconsin is not a K-12 issue or a higher education issue, but rather a statewide issue,” Aliesha said.  “The great turnout of K-12, higher education, business and industry, and community representatives at our STEM regional conference clearly indicates the importance of STEM education to west-central and northern Wisconsin.”

Ellen also praised the outcome of the regional conference at CVTC.

“Using our vision for Wisconsin, we can work to overcome myths and misinformation about STEM, give students the foundation they need for their careers, and give employers the talented and qualified workforce their businesses need,” she said.

From “Northwestern Bank recognized as CVTC’s 2012 Proven Business Partner” – Chippewa Falls-based Northwestern Bank has been chosen to receive Chippewa Valley Technical College’s (CVTC’s) 2012 Proven Business Partner award. The award is granted annually to an area business that has demonstrated concern for career and technical education through its support of CVTC and its programs.
Northwestern Bank President Jerry Jacobson will accept the award at the 9th Annual CVTC Alumni Association Spring Gala on Thursday, April 12, at Florian Gardens in Eau Claire.

“This recognition is meaningful, not just for me personally, but it’s particularly meaningful for our bank employees,” Jacobson said.  “In giving this award, CVTC considers what a business’s employees give to the community.  This award recognizes that our employees are willing to pitch in and give their time and talents to our community.  That’s the most important thing about this award for us.”

In nominating Northwestern Bank for the award, Tim Shepardson, manager of CVTC’s Chippewa Falls campus, noted Jacobson’s long history of service to the college.  Jacobson served on the CVTC Foundation Board of Directors for nine years.

Jacobson has been Northwestern Bank’s president since 1998, and under his leadership the bank has supported CVTC financially through the endowment of scholarships and contributions to support the college’s project and facility needs.  For example, a few years ago Northwestern Bank purchased a human patient simulator for CVTC’s health program.

Jacobson said the bank has benefited from its support of CVTC by turning to the college when looking to hire well-trained, skilled employees.

“Our business has about 100 employees, but the four-year college degree is needed for only about 10 percent of them,” he said.  “But there are many other skilled positions that we sometimes need to fill.  And at those times CVTC is one place where we actively look.  We’ve done that in the past, and we’ll continue to do that when we’re looking for someone with the skills that CVTC teaches.”

A recent edition of the CVTC alumni newsletter highlighted the many CVTC graduates working for Northwestern Bank.  They include graduates of CVTC’s Accounting and Business Management program who hold positions with the bank ranging from tellers to assistant vice presidents.

“With a proven track record like CVTC, we will continue to partner with CVTC in our community to help fill future employment opportunities,” Jacobson said.

Northwestern Bank is a locally owned community bank that has been based in Chippewa Falls since its founding in 1904.  The bank also operates branches in Eau Claire, Boyd, Cornell and Thorp.

From “Firefighter Escapes From Being Buried By Collapsed Ceiling” – When a ceiling of a burning Chippewa County town of Lafayette duplex collapsed Tuesday, pinning him to the floor, firefighter John Andersen’s thoughts flashed to a similar fire earlier this month in which an Abbotsford firefighter died.

Once I realized what happened, it was the first thing that went through my mind, Andersen said Wednesday of the March 4 fire at the Abby Theatre in which a roof collapsed, killing firefighter Jamison Kampmeyer. Three other firefighters were injured in the blaze.”But I could see daylight and the door,” Andersen said. “There was no smoke in the room. It wasn’t like Abbotsford — I wasn’t deep inside a building.”Andersen, 60, is chief of inspection for the Chippewa Fire District, for which he has worked for 35 years. During that time, Andersen estimates he has battled between 200 and 300 fires.

Andersen was at home Tuesday when he received a call at 5:31 p.m. that the duplex at 5672 165th St. was burning. He immediately drove the five miles to the scene of the blaze, north of Highway J near Lake Wissota, just east of Chippewa Falls.

”We carry our turnout gear with us, but not our air packs,” said Andersen, who was the entry officer for the crew entering the north end of the burning home. “We (firefighters) waited for our engines to arrive.”Firefighters used a garage to access the fire, which was mostly in the attic. Andersen was making his way through the living room when the ceiling above him suddenly collapsed.

“It just let loose and fell on my head,” Andersen said. “I went straight down. I got buried from the sheetrock and 18 inches of insulation. One of the guys said I looked like I was tarred and feathered.”

Chippewa Fire District Chief Kent Hulett called for assistance for Andersen. Several firefighters ran to his aid and pulled him from the building.

Andersen, who was wearing his helmet, estimates the weight of the fallen ceiling was 100 pounds.

“I couldn’t move it by myself,” Andersen said. “They had to pull me out of there.”

Marcy Bruflat, a fire training instructor with Chippewa Valley Technical College, said she and other instructors make safety a priority when instructing firefighters. She is unsure whether national firefighting safety organizations will recommend changes to battling blazes based on the Abbotsford fire and others in which roofs have collapsed.

“Will training change? No, at least not immediately,” she said.

However, Bruflat is optimistic firefighters will learn from those fires.

“It is such a reality check; maybe people will be hypervigilant about safety,” she said.

But sometimes even the best prevention training can’t stave off accidents, Bruflat said.

“Sometimes you just don’t see something is going to hit you, even with situational awareness,” she said.

Andersen said he had no idea the ceiling would collapse on him.

“There was no cracking, there was no place where seams were showing up,” he said. “There was no indication of anything.”

The fire apparently started in a lower level of the duplex, where several electronic devices were plugged in.

According to the Chippewa Fire District, occupant Chris Snyder was alerted to the fire by smoke detectors. She said the fire was entering the home through an outside window.

All occupants escaped uninjured. The cause of the fire remains unknown, but it is not being treated as suspicious.

From “Retired State Patrol trooper now works at counselor” – Lee McMenamin reached a professional crossroads a few years ago.

McMenamin, 55, retired from a 25-year career with the Wisconsin State Patrol in August 2008.

What McMenamin, of Bloomer, saw during his years in law enforcement prompted him to pursue a second challenging career instead of riding off into the sunset and relaxing in retirement.

“It’s an honorable profession, and it’s something that needs to be done,” McMenamin said of law enforcement. “I loved every job I had with the State Patrol. I never had a bad day with the State Patrol.”

But during his later years as a law enforcement professional, “I was left with a feeling, ‘What is it all about? What did I accomplish?’ I was left with kind of an empty feeling as far as a career,” he said.

“I realized most of what law enforcement is dealing with is people with alcohol or drug addictions. With most crimes, the thread almost always gets back to somebody dealing with an addiction.”

The alcohol and other drug abuse counselors he met during his law enforcement career impressed him.

“You know, I thought that was something I could do,” he said.

In August 2008, McMenamin enrolled in Chippewa Valley Technical College’s two-year alcohol and other drug abuse associate program.

“I was retired a couple days before I became a full-time student. I became the old guy in the back of the classroom,” McMenamin said.

Even though McMenamin never had a defining “aha moment,” he said he had been thinking about this career possibility for a few years before retiring from the State Patrol.

“The longer I was involved with law enforcement, the more I was convinced these were good people dealing with a disease,” McMenamin said of those with drug and alcohol addictions who get into trouble. “I felt a need to explore what it is that keeps otherwise good people from being law-abiding citizens.”

Gail Kinney, chairwoman of the college’s AODA associate program, said McMenamin – who now works as an inpatient AODA counselor at L.E. Phillips Libertas Center in Chippewa Falls – was not an atypical student.

When 40 new students enter the program each fall, only one or two are 18- or 19-year-olds fresh out of high school. The vast majority are older, usually ranging in age from the mid-20s to the mid-50s, Kinney said.

Students share a common motivation.

“The common thread is most people in this world have been touched by addiction, and that piques their desire to keep it from happening to others,” Kinney said.

The program’s difficulty surprised McMenamin.

“The number of people who start and finish the program … there’s a big gap there,” he said. “But the training has to be hard. It’s dealing with a disease that’s very cunning. It’s devastating and blunt.”

Kinney admitted the program is difficult.

Addiction is a brain disease, and students must understand the workings of the brain and the drugs involved, she said.

“Some students find it wasn’t what they thought it was,” Kinney said. “There’s other things we have to know than just talking to people. The rigor of the program is higher than most people think.”

Addiction changes the brain, Kinney said. “It’s not as simple as, ‘Haven’t you learned your lesson?’ Addiction takes everything from you before it takes your life.”

Kinney is not surprised at how quickly McMenamin adapted to his new career.

“Lee was an exceptional student. He was hired as a counselor before he even graduated from this program,” she said.

McMenamin has the right mindset for this profession, she said.

“He’s had an appropriate dose of humility,” she said. “He’s always had that attitude, ‘There’s something new to learn here.’ We all think we know something about addiction.”

As a CVTC student, McMenamin served internships with the Fahrman Center in Eau Claire and the St. Croix County Department of Human Services.

After graduating in May 2010, McMenamin first worked for Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. His primary client was the Eau Claire County Drug Court, where he worked as a counselor for a year.

Drug Court works with criminal offenders who have drug or alcohol addictions. Offenders can reduce their incarceration time by successfully completing the court’s treatment program.

“These are good people who need another chance,” McMenamin said. “I don’t know how many chances that is, but they deserve it.”

The Drug Court team, which consists of criminal justice, treatment and social services professionals, “truly get it that second, third and fourth chances are the key,” he said.

Seventy to 80 percent of Eau Claire County Jail inmates have some type of connection with drugs or alcohol, Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said.

Some who get in legal trouble realize their issues with substance abuse and can correct their problems on their own, Cramer said. “Unfortunately, we see some of the same people over and over again who do not self-correct.”

Drug Court has shown some success, “but it’s a long road,” he said. “I know people who slip and fall and have to start all over again.”

McMenamin believes education and treatment for criminal offenders with addictions is at least as important as incarceration.

There are sanctions for participants who aren’t successful with Drug Court, but the bottom line is treating the addiction, he said.

“I understand punishment is sometimes necessary, but I truly believe it can’t stand alone,” he said. “If we successfully treat the disease upfront, we won’t spend as much money as a society on incarceration.”

Drug Court coordinator Patrick Isenberger said he admired McMenamin’s transition from one challenging career to another.

“It’s fascinating and it’s admirable,” Isenberger said. “He’s doing that for a reason.”

McMenamin said while talking to some of those he arrested over the years, many times he thought, “This is really a nice guy. Either he’s really fooling me or he’s a really nice person who is acting bad for a reason.”

That is when he realized substance abuse was a key consideration for criminal activity, he said.

Cramer hopes initiatives such as Drug Court and the county’s new evidence-based criminal justice approach aimed at addressing each offender individually instead of using a traditional cookie-cutter approach will show dividends.

“Hopefully they will start showing with numbers going down in the jail or in the number of cases we refer to the district attorney’s office,” the sheriff said.

With the State Patrol, McMenamin started as a trooper for Dunn and Chippewa counties and worked his way through the ranks as a sergeant, training instructor, lieutenant, chief of personnel, deputy commander and then finally commander of two of five of the State Patrol’s regional districts.

McMenamin was married to State Trooper Deborah McMenamin, who was killed in 1989 after she pulled over a car for speeding on Interstate 94 near Eau Claire and a passing van drifted onto the right side of the road, striking her patrol car and then hitting her. She was 31.

He’s now married to Mona. He has three grown children and nine grandchildren.

As McMenamin worked his way up to one of the State Patrol’s top administrative positions, something kept gnawing at him.

“Law enforcement could have been a struggle for me if I would have let it,” McMenamin said. “But I was a cop that never concerned myself with the final outcome.

“There are some cops who get eaten up by (criminal) sentences,” he said. “Somewhere along the line I shifted toward the philosophy of there’s more to this than the criminal act.”

McMenamin has been working at the Libertas Center since October.

“I came here because it was really one of my targets when I decided to become a counselor. This was the place I really wanted to get to work in,” he said.

“I hear it every day. Patients say, ‘You people treat me so good and with respect,’ ” he said. “We bolster their dignity and self-respect to give them the tools they need to deal with sobriety. It’s a disease, not a lapse in character.”

Law enforcement officials are coming to realize the importance of treatment and education, McMenamin said.

“They’re getting there,” he said. “And as a taxpayer, we should all be on board with treatment and education instead of incarceration. It just costs less.”

From “CVTC hosts manufacturing show” – An event aimed at growing jobs in one specific industry was held Thursday at a local tech college.

People were given a peek inside the world of manufacturing Thursday at the Chippewa Valley Technical College.  The manufacturing show included hands on demonstrations.

The college also showed off its latest addition, a state of the art, 10-thousand square foot welding lab. They christened the new portion of the building with a unique ribbon cutting.  The lab was designed based on input from local manufacturers and will help to teach the skills they want future employees to know.

“Under our old curriculum, on the job training was becoming a bigger and bigger factor for employers so we actually added a second year to our welding program, to our industrial mechanical program and made modifications in our machining program so that the skills that the students learn here are more in line with the skills that the employers need” says CVTC President Bruce Barker.

The school also said this was a way to connect with high school students who might have an interest in a manufacturing career.

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From “Number of fraudulent tax claims filed on the rise” – An area accountant is offering tips to make sure you’re the only one filing your taxes this year.

The Federal Trade Commission says the number of complaints of people filing taxes in someone else’s name was up eight percent last year.  This recently happened to dozens of workers in Ladysmith.

DeeAnne Peterson-Meyer, an accountant and instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College, says she’s had two clients who had someone else file taxes in their name.

“This is the first year seeing the fraud of already having filed a tax return,” says Peterson-Meyer.  “We see them in other ways, but I think more-so it’s the ability to access W-2s online.”

Peterson-Meyer says all it takes is for someone to get your social security number to file your taxes.  One way to protect yourself is to change passwords for online accounts often.  Make the password unique and don’t store it on your computer.

“Your employer can have the best security in the world, but if someone has all the personal information needed to download that W-2, well they can file a return and get a refund before you do,” says Peterson-Meyer.

Peterson-Meyer says some other tips include not storing tax information on your computer and don’t respond to e-mails inviting you to use free file services.

“You can click on that and it will give you an identical looking site for you to supposedly file your return,” says Peterson-Meyer.  “The only place you’re going to go for free file access is to the IRS web site.”

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue says 80 percent of people file their taxes online.

“We do take all those complaints of fraud very, very seriously,” says Rick Chandler, Wisconsin Department of Revenue Secretary.  “Overall, we have a low rate of fraud.  If there are any cases of identity theft, we’ll work with the IRS or other organizations to try to resolve them.”

“I think it’s a good thing, I think people just need to be aware of all the different ways their personal information can be obtained,” says Peterson-Meyer.  “And we don’t think about that all the time when we’re out there socializing.”

If someone files taxes in your name, it can take months for the IRS and Department of Revenue to clear your name.

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From “Students today, lineworkers tomorrow” – If there’s one thing that electric cooperatives, municipal utilities and investor-owned utilities have in common, it’s this: a lineworker shortage looms. But as one generation packs it in for retirement, an all-out effort is under way to ensure that a new generation is prepared to take its place.

According to the Center for Energy Workforce Development, about 42 percent of all skilled lineworkers could retire by 2015. Nearly 31,000 entry-level apprentices will be needed by all utilities.NRECA is among the center’s members working to make more training available on a local or regional basis.


“We have helped establish five programs at community colleges in Mississippi. The first one was developed about 12 years ago,” said Micheal Weltzheimer, vice president of safety and loss control for the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi.

“The programs enable us to hire green employees that have most of the certifications they’d otherwise need two years to acquire,” said Weltzheimer. “Those include forklift operations, pole climbing, commercial drivers’ licensing, first aid and CPR training.”

Co-op staffers, serving on advisory panels or as guest instructors, help make Rural Utilities Service standards, employed by co-ops, central to the coursework offered by many programs.

“RUS standards provide consistent training focused on the needs of distribution co-ops and the generation and transmission co-op,” said Mary Lund, vice president of human resources at Dairyland Power Cooperative.

The La Crosse, Wis.-based G&T has supported lineworker apprentice training at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire for more than a decade.

“We were involved in designing the training field, and we also provided some of the equipment,” said Lund.

In Indiana, co-ops have incorporated community college training into their apprenticeship programs, so that all entry-level lineworkers receive the same instruction.

“If we have storm-related problems, we know that when we send guys from one end of the state to the other, the training is exactly the same,” said Gayvin Strantz, manager of job training, safety and loss control at the Indiana Statewide Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives.

“Over the past 20 years, the majority of the lineworkers in Indiana have been through our program or an identical program run by Hoosier Energy, our Bloomington-based G&T,” said Strantz.


Students at Ivy Technical Community College in Indiana attend one of the required apprentice lineworker classes. (Photo By: Indiana Statewide Assoc. of Rural Electric Cooperatives.)

Craig Moeller was a member of the first lineworker class at Missouri’s Linn State Technical College. Co-ops have been working with the school for nearly two decades.

After graduating with an associate’s degree in December 1998, Moeller began a lineworker apprenticeship with Boone Electric Cooperative in Columbia, Mo. Today he is the manager of field training for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

“The Linn State experience gave me work skills and knowledge to work in the field and further my career by going back to school and getting my bachelor’s degree,” said Moeller.

The specialized training  pays off.   “Once you get your journeyman’s certification you can earn $28 to $48 an hour, plus benefits,” said Dan Hopkins, professor of electric power technology at Dodge City Community College in Kansas. “This can be a very good living.”

Average annual lineworker salaries top $63,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.


Trident Technical College in Charleston, S.C., provides a 14-week lineworker training course that offers students graduating high school in the spring the potential of being hired by a co-op come autumn.

“This has opened up some doors for some high schoolers who have wanted to get into this field,” said Kevin Mizzell, technical training coordinator at Berkeley Electric Cooperative, Moncks Corner, S.C.

Each training program is tailored to meet evolving needs.

For instance, Western Texas College runs its program from a district office of Roby-based Big Country Electric Cooperative. It recently switched from a three-month program to a nine-month program.

“We spend a lot of time on climbing and basic troubleshooting,” said Dave Stephens, an electric lineworker instructor. “When a student has been through our program, they know what to expect on a jobsite.”

Another example: Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Wadena. It has “a number of co-ops that make recommendations to us on how to improve our program,” said Stephen Johnson, an electrical lineworker instructor.

The school, which offers a 12-month diploma program and a two-year associate’s degree, “added more emphasis to underground construction as a result of input from co-ops and other utilities,” Johnson said.


An increasing number of co-ops and statewide associations point toward the advantages of longer associate’s degree programs. Those include more concentration on math and science, and refining the skills needed to read staking maps, and use global information systems and other technology.

Dave Stephens of Western Texas College works with lineworker training students. (Photo By: Western Texas College)

Dave Stephens of Western Texas College works with lineworker training students. (Photo By: Western Texas College)

Completion of a two-year program qualifies students for employment with advanced apprenticeship ratings, said Kevin Wheeler, assistant manager of member services and safety director at Lancaster, Mo.-based Tri-County Electric Cooperative Association.

In 1997, Wheeler left an investor-owned utility to help organize the program at Linn State, the school that helped Craig Moeller launch his co-op career.

“When people leave the schools they understand the basic fundamentals of line work,” said Wheeler. “The students coming out of the classes have a lot more information than someone you hire off the streets.”

From “CVTC student carries on family tradition” – As she walks the halls of Chippewa Valley Technical College’s River Falls campus, 500 S. Wasson Lane, Haylee Sommer knows she is walking in the steps of her mother and sister.

In her first semester at CVTC, Sommer is carrying on a family tradition that began with her mother, Rita Fosterling, who graduated from the nursing program in 2005, was carried on by her sister, Abby Chapeau, a 2007 grad, and now has been passed on to her.

“There’s definitely been some family connections here,” says Renee Christensen, a River Falls nursing instructor who can recall one other mother-daughter pairing, three sister acts, and a few sets of cousins who have come through the nursing program in the 10 years CVTC has offered it at its River Falls campus.

For most of their primary and secondary school years, Haylee, 22, Abby, 27, and their siblings were homeschooled by their mother at the family home in Hudson.

Rita, 59, says that when Haylee, the youngest of her five children, was ready to leave home, “I started wondering, what am I going to do when everybody leaves.”

Rita had earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from UW-Stevens Point in 1975 before marrying and raising her family. But when it came time to begin a new chapter in her life, she was drawn to health care, primarily due to an interest in nutrition, fitness and biology she had long shared with Haylee and Abby.

After completing the certified nursing assistant program at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond in 2003, Rita says, “I kept thinking, ‘I shouldn’t stop my education now, otherwise everything will be wasted.’ So I kept on going.”

She enrolled in the CVTC nursing program in River Falls and graduated two years later. Since then she has worked for Adoray Homecare and Hospice in Baldwin.

Rita’s final semester in the CVTC nursing program in River Falls was Abby’s first.

Abby had already completed a year at the Philadelphia Biblical University and a year of pre-nursing studies at Winona State University before coming to CVTC.

“I was just shocked at how much less expensive it was to get an education here,” she says. “I think there is this misconception that a state university has much higher standards than a technical college, and maybe in some areas there are. But I think the nursing education I received at CVTC was as good as I could have gotten anywhere else — maybe better.”

Abby, now married and raising two children of her own, is a part-time R.N. for Edelweiss Home Healthcare, based in Maple Grove, Minn.

Like her mother and sister, Haylee began her college education elsewhere before settling on CVTC as the place to earn her nursing degree. She attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for a year and took some classes at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minn.

Haylee initially considered pursuing a degree in physical therapy or occupational therapy before deciding to carry on the family’s nursing tradition. Perhaps not surprisingly, that decision came with some gentle familial prodding.

“We kept advising her to go into nursing,” Abby admits. “We told her it’s the most versatile health care degree to have.”

Eventually, Haylee came to that decision on her own. But, she adds, “Mom’s and Abby’s experience at CVTC probably influenced where I was going to go to nursing school more than if I was going to nursing school.”

As she nears the halfway mark of her first semester, Haylee says she’s quite satisfied with her decision.

“I think the faculty here are really helpful and they’re really fair,” she says, adding that her family legacy hasn’t led to her being treated differently than any other student in the CVTC nursing program.

But she admits that her close relationship with her mother and sister is helpful when it comes to her studies. Rita and Abby have shared stories from their professional experience that have helped Haylee better understand the lessons from her nursing classes.

She smiles and adds, “And I got a free stethoscope.”

Haylee, who was married last June, mentions yet another familial benefit that anyone who has studied health care would appreciate. “My mom does my flash cards with me,” she says. “When my husband does them, he doesn’t even know how to say the words.”

Haylee recently began the first clinical training experience of her nursing program at The Lutheran Home, a skilled nursing facility in River Falls. There she provides long-term care for seniors.

She anticipates graduating from CVTC in December 2013 and, at this point, hopes to work as an obstetrics nurse.

Her mother and sister have assured Haylee that her CVTC studies should prepare her well for any sort of nursing career.

Rita says she regularly encounters on-the-job situations that remind her of specific classes at CVTC. “I’m continually amazed at that,” she says. “I feel very well prepared in that way. CVTC prepared me as well as any nursing program could.”

Unlike in her previous college experiences, Abby found that most of her fellow students at CVTC had families to raise or jobs to hold down while pursuing their education.

“Everyone in nursing school was driven,” Abby says. “At a technical college we’re not here to party.” To which her mother nods in agreements and says, “The students (at CVTC) are so much more focused.”

As she takes on the challenge of her first semester at CVTC, Haylee is aware of the family legacy.

Rita and Abby both maintained near perfect 4.0 grade point averages at CVTC, and Abby was chosen to be the student speaker at her graduation ceremony. “It’s not because we’re super smart people, but we both studied really hard,” Abby says. “It’s not an easy program here.”

Haylee smiles and takes a deep breath. “I guess there’s a little pressure because they did it and they got good grades,” she says. “I have a name to live up to.”


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