From “A vision for 21st century tech colleges” – By Rebecca Kleefisch – We should celebrate our sons and daughters who become nursing assistants and machinists just as much as those who become lawyers and doctors. That was my message this weekend at Waukesha County Technical College’s commencement ceremony, when hundreds of students walked across the stage and stepped into new careers and new opportunities.

Governor Walker said the same thing this past January in his State of the State address. He and I know that the twin drivers of our state’s economy are manufacturing and agriculture. Both of those industries rely heavily on technical colleges for expertise and employees. A strong Wisconsin economy needs strong tech colleges in every part of the state, staffed by top-notch teachers and filled with cutting-edge technology. Our tech colleges are a good investment for students, a good partner for employers, and a good value for taxpayers.

The students graduating from WCTC are entering into careers offering the promise of prosperity. An associate’s degree graduate in Aircraft Electronics can get jobs with a starting salary of $47,000. A one-year technical diploma in brick-laying and masonry leads to jobs with a median starting salary of almost $43,000. A dental hygiene grad starts with a salary just shy of $50,000. In fact, for the past 15 years, the tech colleges have placed at least 86 percent of their graduates into jobs within six months of graduation. In other words, tech colleges are equipping our workers with the skills they need to get the high-paying jobs they want and the economy offers.

One reason these jobs pay so well is because our Wisconsin employers are actively searching for employees with the skills and experience to fill jobs across our economy, especially in our agriculture, health care, and manufacturing sectors. It’s vitally important that technical colleges gear their services to the jobs available in their communities today and in the future. That’s why I was so impressed by the Fab Lab at Gateway Tech, for instance, which offers itself as a resource to students, faculty, and local manufacturers to try new ideas and products.

Tech colleges need to stay connected to both the community and to the state as a whole. The Governor’s Blueprint for Prosperity, which invested the state’s $911 million surplus, included $406 million in property tax relief through the tech colleges. At Madison Area Technical College, for instance, state funding jumped from 10 percent to nearly half of MATC’s budget. With the property tax caps in place, that will drop MATC’s local tax levy by almost half, saving the owner of an average Madison home about $200.

We need to continue investing in our technical colleges because of the crucial role they play in our communities and our economy. For instance, given all the technical advances discovered by our tech college staff and students, I’d like to see new programs that help commercialize these innovations as new products and processes for use in business.

My address at WCTC on Saturday was my 37th stop at a technical college since taking office. All those visits reflect the high priority that Governor Walker and I place on our tech colleges. Commencement provides each of us, as friends, family, and neighbors of the graduates, an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and to appreciate their new careers building a stronger Wisconsin.

From “Column: Local employer feedback is essential to providing relevant MSTC programming” – Collaboration with local employers and community partners is critical to achieving the Mid-State Technical College mission.

MSTC works closely with these stakeholders through membership on program advisory committees and participation in focus groups. This collaboration enables our college to understand the current and emerging skills needed by the workforce and provide the training employers need and seek.

We rely heavily on this information in order to keep our offerings up-to-date. This critical information is used to plan and develop curriculum, determine the length of training and establish certificate or degree requirements. It is also a resource to learn which technical skills are necessary in various sectors of the local workforce, which seem to change every year. In fact, many of these skills were unheard of just a generation ago.

At times, this valuable input might point to workforce needs for a new program offering.

A recent example of employer collaboration is the development of a new Stainless Steel Welding certificate. MSTC was fortunate to receive a federal grant through the Department of Labor that permitted us to remodel and retool the Marshfield Campus welding shop. This process was aided by a meeting of stainless steel fabrication employers last year that verified the skills entry-level stainless steel welders needed for local employment.

Employers also provided input into welding lab equipment selections, course content and the structure of training. The outcome, the new Stainless Steel Welding certificate, runs year round. New students can start any month and can work at their own pace and ability.

Beginning in August, MSTC will offer a new Health and Wellness Promotion associate degree. Health care providers and educators, along with several community agencies, came together to advise MSTC on this emerging field. This associate degree will prepare students with knowledge of health and wellness concepts, as well as program development and promotion skills. We plan to deliver this coursework in a flexible format, mostly online.

Local, regional and national trend data from the Department of Workforce Development, or DWD, help us determine emerging and growing workforce training needs, yet local employer feedback is essential when investigating a new offering. By staying in contact with employers and employees in the industry, the DWD, and many other sources, MSTC is able to offer relevant, in-demand, and up-to-date education and training.

For more information about these or any of the exciting educational opportunities available at MSTC, go to or visit your local technical college campus.

From “Walker plan for worker training gets support” — Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to spend $35 million to help technical colleges train people for high demand jobs is finding support at a legislative hearing.

Backers of Walker’s proposal testified Tuesday before the Assembly’s Committee on Workforce Development. The full Assembly was expected to vote on the plan next week.

Walker wants to spend $35 million to eliminate waiting lists for high demand fields at technical colleges, help high school students get trained for high-demand jobs through dual enrollment programs and support programs that help people with disabilities find work.

Wisconsin technical college system president Morna Foy says she is “stoked” about the possibility of the funding being approved. She says it would definitely result in more people getting trained for jobs in high-demand areas.

From “CVTC leader: State aid boost keeps job training in high gear” — Any way you look at it, Gov. Scott Walker’s announcement during his State of the State address Wednesday that Wisconsin technical colleges will receive an additional $35 million is good news, Chippewa Valley Technical College President Bruce Barker said.

Barker was enthusiastic after hearing Walker’s remarks about increasing funding for the technical college he oversees and others.

“It’s certainly good news,” Barker said of the additional money, part of a program dubbed Wisconsin Fast Forward. “It’s definitely more money for training and education, and that’s a good thing.”

However, Barker said while that money can be used to hire more teachers, he doesn’t believe it can be spent to add laboratory space, already in high demand at CVTC.

“It’s additional dollars, but we have to see what the requirements will be,” Barker said. “The problem is the capacity of our labs. Our welding lab goes from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and these are year-round programs.”

The main components of Wisconsin Fast Forward aim to eliminate waiting lists in high-demand job markets such as manufacturing, agriculture and information technology, and help high school students get credits through dual enrollment programs between high schools and technical colleges.

CVTC has longer waiting lists for nurse hygienists and nursing programs than in manufacturing or agriculture programs, Barker said.

“We’re certainly seeing a big demand in manufacturing and transportation, for truck drivers. Both of those programs, we’re at maximum capacity,” Barker said.

State Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, who introduced Wisconsin Fast Forward in the Assembly, said the initiative is a step in the right direction.

“Linking job seekers with employers that target critical and in-demand jobs while working with tech colleges and workforce development centers across the state puts a sharp focus on employment issues at a local level, where need and demand can be best addressed,” she said in a news release.

In addition to those programs, Walker proposed replacing $406 million in property taxes for technical colleges with state dollars. That would be accomplished by lowering the property tax levy that technical colleges can assess on homeowners.

“It’s a step in the right direction for local taxpayers,” Barker said. “But with the switch to state dollars, you fear losing local control. You also fear a cut in the state budget.”

Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy said in a statement Thursday that Walker’s plan brings better balance to the system’s funding structure. Foy said the system has “long sought greater equity between local and state investments.”

From “Scott Walker signs bill providing $15 million in work force training grants” — Madison - The state will distribute $15 million in worker training grants under a bill Gov. Scott Walker signed into law on Wednesday.

The measure will also create a system to better and more quickly track jobs data in an attempt to guide workers to in-demand professions. The jobs database is scheduled to be in place by next year.

The measure has broad bipartisan support, passing the Senate unanimously and the Assembly 94-4 in recent weeks. Despite minority Democrats’ support for the bill, they said it fell short and lawmakers should do more to develop workers’ skills.

“We all agree we need to continue to do everything we can to ensure workers have the necessary skills for the jobs available today,” Walker said in a statement. “This bill will help address the skills gap by investing in worker training grants and developing a Labor Market Information System. Altogether, these investments will focus a concerted effort to connect workers with jobs.”

The jobs database and training grants are part of the Republican governor’s platform of improving the skills of the state’s aging labor force and boosting the state’s economy in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The training plans draw on reports by Competitive Wisconsin and Tim Sullivan, the former Bucyrus International chief executive officer.

Democrats, however, have noted that Walker has proposed far less new money for training workers than the hundreds of millions of dollars that he and GOP lawmakers cut two years ago from the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Technical College System to help balance the state budget.

Walker made those cuts, as well as ones to local governments and school districts, just after approving a measure that all but eliminated collective bargaining for most public workers and required them to pay more for their pensions and health care. He has argued that those savings and the added flexibility offset the cuts, saying the bill he signed Wednesday amounts to new money.

The governor’s proposed budget would provide additional money for state universities and technical colleges, though the increase would be less than the amount he cut in 2011. Lawmakers will decide this summer whether to keep or alter Walker’s proposal on higher education spending.

The competitive grants available under the new law would go to technical colleges, local workforce boards and regional economic development organizations working in partnership with state businesses, which could provide matching funds.


Dems present jobs proposal

February 11, 2013

From “Sen. Chris Larson talks jobs proposal, legislative agenda” — Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D, Milwaukee) and the Democrats unveiled an expansive jobs proposal last week made up of nine initiatives.

Among the proposal’s plans are giving small businesses grants up front to get started rather than tax credits down the road, requiring Wisconsin to buy American products when it comes to infrastructure and a new grant program to fund workforce development partnerships between businesses and technical colleges.

“If we restore funding to technical colleges that was cut and we’re able to close the skills gap that we have, that’s 35-thousand jobs,” Larson said on a visit to La Crosse Tuesday. “With the buy American and prioritize Wisconsin initiatives, as well as the one putting grants up front as opposed to tax credits, those would take more time to come through.”

“But all in all we’re looking at several thousand jobs,” Larson said.

The prioritize Wisconsin initiative requires the state “attempt to purchase at least 20-percent of materials and contractual services from Wisconsin-based businesses.”

“You can make sure there’s a priority given,” Larson said. “When we send money out of state for contracts or supplies, that money’s likely not coming back.”

“But if we incentivize to make sure, even if it means we have to pay a little bit more, that we’re employing Wisconsinites and making sure they have a job, then that money is staying in our state’s economy,” he added.

Larson also called on Senate Republicans to approach job creation with greater urgency.

“We haven’t seen a jobs proposal come through the senate yet, which is why we put these out,” Larson said. “The first thing to pass was a bill settling a political score against the secretary of state.”

“So (Democrats) shrugged our shoulders at that and decided that, if the Republicans aren’t willing to put forth jobs proposals, let’s put some forward and hope the Republicans see them,” he said.

Larson added that, while job creation is his party’s top priority as the new legislative session continues, the Democrats also have other goals.

“We saw largest cut in state history to education in the last budget — $800-million to K-12 education alone,” Larson said. “So we’re looking to see those funds restored. With the Governor touting extra money from those cuts and looking to spend that money, we’d like to see that priority set to make sure all kids have access to a quality education.”

“I also think another priority everyone can agree on is making sure we have more accountability and transparency throughout our government,” Larson said, “particularly in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation which has seen inherent problems.”

“We’ve seen millions of dollars lost and now we’ve seen least qualified individual on the list of people to be hired getting the reigns to the organization from the Governor,” he said.

Governor Scott Walker announced that Reed Hall, who had served as the WEDC’s CEO on an interim basis, would accept the post full-time earlier this month.

The state paid for a search firm which recommended three finalists to the Governor, but the Governor said all three of those finalists recommended he appoint Hall instead.

View WXOW video


From “Economic impact $80 million WTC plan could have locally” – Wisconsin Technical College is asking for an almost $80 million bond to enhance facilities and curriculum.

Before taxpayers vote this November, the college had a consulting group look at the economic impact if the number of Western graduates were to increase.

Thursday, Northstar Consulting Group revealed their findings.

All results apply to the year 2020.

Experts said in that time, an additional 300 graduates each year will stay and work in the Western district.

They said this will add more than $6 million to the local economy, which will rise to $97 million by 2034.

“We’re confident we can meet the goal if we can do these things, if we have the community’s support,” said Lee Rasch, president of WTC. “And then we’re also confident that the community’s gonna benefit because the increased wages are going to go back and help the regional economy.”

The community can vote on the plan Nov. 6.

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 “Technical college, UW-Fox make case for two-year degrees” — Because of the current bleak job market for four-year graduates, school officials at Fox Valley Technical College and University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley are hoping more Wisconsinites see the power of two-year or technical college degrees.

Employees at both schools think that by increasing their visibility at the high school level and changing attitudes about post-secondary education will increase the number of students who explore their programming — something that could gain them well-paying jobs more quickly, said Patti Jorgensen, vice president of students and community development at FVTC.

Fox Valley Technical College will open its doors to Fox Cities residents Tuesday for its annual open house — an event the school relies on to draw in potential students, said FVTC spokesman Chris Jossart.

The school could see as many as 2,000 people during the open house, Jossart said.

A recent Georgetown University study discovered that 29 million U.S. jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree — most required a two-year associate’s degree or post-secondary certificate.

Forty percent of those jobs paid more than $50,000 a year, according to the report by the university’s Center on Education and the Workforce and Civic Enterprises departments.

Parents and teachers often point students in the direction of four-year college and forget other options simply because that was their only post-secondary experience, Jorgenson said.

“I think kids hear about college, and associate it with the four-year schools,” said Joe Lamers, counselor at Appleton East High School. “As they get older, we try to give them all options … I know that I tell kids all the time that it’s their decision. No one should be telling them what to do — technical or two-year colleges can be a great option. They’re cheaper, quicker, have high placement rates — we always mention the positives.”

FVTC hosts large meetings with teachers from local districts to show off the school’s educational pathways, and often sends representatives to public schools so students can hear about what job options become available after studying at the technical college.

Gina Fisher of Waupaca is a parent who’s tried both four-year and technical colleges.

After attending the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for two years and working to support herself, Fisher said she felt incredibly “burnt-out.” She decided to get an associate’s degree in accounting instead and graduated from FVTC.

That’s how she knew that, after discussing career interests with her sons, FVTC would be the best option. Both of her sons are homeschooled, and Fisher said taking a class or two at FVTC was an easy way to transition into college.

“My older son wanted to go into physical therapy, and the tech is a lot more hands-on,” Fisher said. “I really like the tech school for that reason … It’s a cheaper option, and he can go on to (University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) later to finish up his bachelor’s degree.”

Fisher said she thought more parents and students would choose the technical college option if they knew the financial benefits.

“I just don’t think people are well informed about their options for college,” she said. “I know I wasn’t, and I really don’t remember getting much advice when I was in high school.”

George Wojcik’s daughter Valarie enrolled in FVTC after working on a motorcycle in a Hortonville High School class. She graduated from the school’s welding program, and later enrolled in the welding engineering program at Ferris University in Michigan and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. After some convincing, the school accepted all of her credits from FVTC, Wojcik said.

“She was far ahead of the game,” Wojcik said. “She had a lot of hands-on experience, and her teachers were very impressed.”

Both Wojcik and Fisher are part of a parent panel that will speak Tuesday night during FVTC’s open house.

UW-Fox tries to work with students and parents to understand the application and enrollment process, which often can be muddled and confusing, said Martin Rudd, dean of UW-Fox. The school holds parent nights and open houses throughout the academic year.

UW-Fox also reaches out to teachers in local districts to discuss what skills students need when applying to the school or other colleges in the state.

“Not only do we have a lot of programs with high schools, but we’re constantly developing new relationships with schools,” Rudd said.

Unlike many technical colleges, UW-Fox often thinks of itself as a “step toward a baccalaureate degree,” Rudd said. The school’s associate’s degrees transfer easily to other colleges in the state, and the school has set up programs like “Madison Connections” UW-Madison and their Guaranteed Transfer program that can ease the transition and get more general classes out of the way, Rudd said.

Like FVTC, UW-Fox offers some dual enrollment programming for high school students, and the UW system plans to greatly expand the program in the future, Rudd said. The school also is trying to connect with students in local charter schools, who may not have as much familiarity with UW-Fox.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all method for recruiting students,” Rudd said.

UW-Fox will hold its next open house at 6 p.m. Oct. 23.

Jorgenson said she hopes the increased attention from public schools will help students discover interesting career paths earlier.

“We’re talking with our K-12 partners, saying ‘Hey, we need our students to have more information about technical colleges,’” Jorgenson said. “A large percentage of students may say they’re headed to four-year colleges, but in our experience they aren’t. There’s still a large percentage of students who aren’t doing much after high school.”

In the Fox Cities region, 23 percent of FVTC students begin classes directly after high school. Forty-six percent arrive roughly two years after graduating, Jorgenson said.

“They’re doing something for two years that’s probably not particularly productive, and then they’re circling back to us,” Jorgenson said.

From “Madison College dedicates wings” — New opportunities for training in manufacturing and other areas of study now are available at the Madison Area Technical College campus in Fort Atkinson.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday to recognize completion of a campus renovation and expansion that was part of the a larger $134 million vision of growth within the college’s 12-county district.

Madison College’s $134 million Smart Community Plan for new facilities, renovations and upgrades at the affiliated campuses was approved by voters in the November 2010 election. The referendum received nearly 60 percent of the ballots from electors in the 12-county vocational-technical college system.

The plan called for meeting the increasing demand of local residents who need affordable education and job training during a time of struggle in the economy while Madison College’s student enrollment and waiting lists are at all-time highs, and interest rates and construction costs are low.

The Fort Atkinson project consisted of remodeling 3,000 square feet of existing space and adding 6,000 square feet of new space to the current facility. The addition, a house nearly 3,000-square-foot metal fabrication/manufacturing lab.

Meanwhile, the addition on the east end of the building is for student support, and will include a new library and a Student Achievement Center.

Ribbons were cut on each end of the building, one traditional ribbon representing the library, achievement center and student support expansion and the other, a stainless steel ribbon with the Madison College logo designed by Brian Boden of Boden Machining Services in Cambridge for the new manufacturing lab.

Mark Dziewior, who is enrolled in welding classes this semester, had the honor of “cutting” the ribbon with a torch.

“It seems like we’ve been doing this a lot in Fort Atkinson,” Madison College President Bettsey Barhorst said of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, referring to past renovations and projects at the Fort Atkinson campus.

In 2008, the campus underwent an extensive renovation and expansion of nursing skills labs, science labs and community rooms. Two years ago, Madison College constructed the vocational district’s first small wind energy system in Fort Atkinson.

Barhorst recalled the groundbreaking for the latest project last fall.

“It was an exciting day, but it was a bit daunting,” the college president said. “We had embarked on a significant project that we knew would have a substantial impact on the community and we knew we had to get it right.”

With a smile, Barhost said it appears they got it right.

“I think the new facilities here are just wonderful for what they will give to our students,” she said, thanking taxpayers for supporting the building referendum.

Also, Barhorst recognized the faculty and staff at the Fort Atkinson campus for providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to be work-ready and “real-world” smart.

“We celebrate today the opening of a wonderful facility that will enhance Madison College’s ability to collaborate with business and industry partners in the Fort Atkinson area, as well as build tomorrow’s workforce,” she said.

Barhorst stressed how every square inch of the expansion was carefully designed to maximize the learning experience for students and the rate of return for area taxpayers.

“Now we’ve been referring to this project as a ‘renovation,’ but we’re not just talking about the renovation of physical space,” she said. “This project is really about expanding educational opportunity for every learner who steps through these doors.”

Meanwhile, the college president pointed out that 2012 marks Madison College’s 100th anniversary.

“While that alone is reason to be proud, it is a new century of promise that excites us most,” she said. “I’m proud of this campus, of what we hope to do for the future and I hope that you are because it’s your campus.”

Lynn Forseth, executive director for economic and workforce development in Madison College’s Eastern Region, served as the master of ceremonies for the ribbon-cutting event.

“This is a very exciting event this afternoon as it celebrates the culmination of several years of hard work on behalf of numerous college staff and external community partners,” she said. “The college is eternally grateful to the Fort Atkinson community and our contributing partners for your ongoing generosity and support of the Fort Atkinson campus.”

She said the additions were designed to address two critical needs: the shortage of skilled workers needed to fill jobs in advanced manufacturing and renewable energy.

“Specifically, this flexible lab space will be used to train individuals in welding, metal fabricating, machining, CNC operations, industrial maintenance and automation using a combination of fixed and mobile equipment,” Forseth said.

Secondly, the space provides access to facilities and support services that help student succeed academically, socially and emotionally at Madison College. Forseth said the center is intended to support students so they can get extra help on campus with their coursework, meet with faculty or work in groups with each other.

“I hope you agree that the college’s recent investments in Fort Atkinson were well spent,” she said.

Representatives of the Madison College Board of Trustees also offered praise for the project.

Board President Frances Huntley-Cooper, who usually would share her perspective on the importance of the campus expansion and how it enhances the learning experience of the students, instead yielded the microphone to board Treasurer Joel Winn of Fort Atkinson.

“The renovations of the Fort Atkinson campus affirm the commitment of Madison College’s Board of Trusteess to respond to the unique needs of the communities that are served by each of our regional campuses,” he said. “Foremost among those needs is providing our students with the digital-age tools technology and facilities that create an environment that builds knowledge and promotes hand-on learning.”

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.

NWTC celebrates 100 years

September 4, 2012

From “NWTC Centennial interview with NWTC President” — NWTC President Dr. Rafn appeared live on WBAY’s News at Noon to discuss the Centennial Celebration of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, set for September 29th, 2012 on the Green Bay campus.

View video

From “Partnership lets high school students try hand at tech careers” — As most local students head back to the classroom today, some are gearing up to earn community college credits without leaving their high school.

The Green Bay School District partnered with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College this year to offer several technical-college level courses at Southwest High School. The students will earn dual high school and college credit, with hopes that they will continue studies at NWTC and move into a technical career.

Students can learn welding, blueprint reading and graphic-design computer programs as a way to explore careers in fields with a shortage of qualified workers, educators say.

NWTC President Jeff Rafn has said most jobs will require some sort of post-secondary training, noting that he has worked with local businesses and schools to promote partnerships.

A national study shows that by 2018, 63 percent of all U.S. job openings will require some sort of post-secondary education. A 2010 study by the Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workforce estimated that businesses will need nearly 22 million workers with post-secondary degrees in another decade, but colleges will fall short by about 3 million graduates.

Local educators hope working with students while still in high school or even middle and elementary school, will help them think about and prepare for education after high school graduation.

As part of that effort, Green Bay high school students visited NWTC to survey careers they were interested in.

“They showed an interest in health care, as well as the trades, especially the technical and engineering trades,” said Brooke Holbrook, career prep specialist for NWTC. “So we decided to start there.”

The college and district also looked at labor market trends before setting up the Southwest High School program, she said.

“Advanced manufacturing is in high demand in Green Bay and in Wisconsin,” Holbrook said.. “An example we use is welding. Those graduates end up hired right away, sometimes before they graduate. If high school students get started learning that, it puts them that much further ahead.”

The new program aims to help students think about the types and availability of jobs, as well as the training they would need to be qualified, Holbrook said.

“What high school student is thinking about that?” she said. “Many just think, ‘What interests me’ or ‘Who teaches that?’ We want them to really consider how they can prepare for their post-secondary education.”

“We’ve really been thinking about things we can do to bridge the gap.”

The Southwest program replicates the NWTC curriculum and Southwest teachers are certified to teach the technical college courses, Holbrook said.

The Green Bay district installed needed equipment at Southwest. NWTC is not charging the district for anything, and students will earn college credits without paying tuition.

Fall classes include blueprint reading and welding. Spring will provide a second blueprinting class, a metal fabricating class and an introduction to MacIntosh class.

Many other of Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges offer similar programs, she said. NWTC also likely will eventually offer classes that would require high school students to attend class on the college campus. For example, NWTC houses expensive engineering equipment too costly to replicate at a high school, Holbrook said.

But she expects the program to grow, and to be something of interest to students in private schools or other school districts.

“When you are looking at advanced manufacturing, it is different than the past,” Holbrook said. “In the past, manufacturers would hire people and do on site training. Now they expect them to have skills, not just technical skills, but soft skills.”

Soft skills include social traits such as communication or negotiation in the workplace.

“Our work force is aging,” Holbrook said. “We need to replace them. Manufacturers really look at high schools as a pipeline.”

Green Bay also expects programming to expand.

“In my previous life as a school counselor, I realized not everybody is four-year university bound,” said Kim Pahlow,associate superintendent for the Green Bay district. “We need to find a way to meet the needs of all students.”

The new program “gives students an engagement opportunity,” Pahlow said. “It opens up an avenue for if they want to go on to private or public colleges. By earning college credits, students reduce the time from high school into a skilled-labor position.”

The district worked to provide classes students were interested in, as well as ones that lead to in-demand jobs, she said.

The Green Bay School District is divided into four quadrants, each anchored by one of four high schools — East, West, Preble and Southwest. The Southwest quadrant eventually could be designated as the quadrant that focuses on technical education, becoming a draw for students from other schools interested in that programming, Pahlow said.

“This is something that won’t end here,” Holbrook said.

From “Scant new talent is finding IBM i” — IBM i shops are worried. Some would say things are well past the worried stage and the lack of college grads with skills that match IBM midrange requirements has become a huge concern. Coincidentally, there are a lot of college graduates with huge concerns about finding jobs. It shouldn’t be that hard to raise the success rate for both sides. Where is the breakdown occurring?

Let’s start with a positive. At Delta Dental of Wisconsin, the state’s largest dental benefits provider and a company running its core business on IBM i, the IT and HR departments work together on a recruitment strategy that has close ties to colleges where IBM i skills are part of the computer science curriculum. They are on advisory boards that help determine the classroom subjects.

Delta Dental has cooperative relationships with Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin; and Muskegon Community College in Muskegon, Michigan.

“The technical colleges do an excellent job at connecting with businesses and finding out what the job needs are,” says Sue Shulfer, director of human resources at Delta Dental of Wisconsin. “They will develop curriculum to meet needs where possible.”

Working with three colleges provides Delta Dental with a wider scope of skills as individual curricula at each school provides some differentiation. Mid-State, for instance, has a combination of RPG and PHP programs that fits in well with the application planning at Delta Dental.

Brian Pinter, the IT manager of applications at Delta Dental, says multiple language skills are high on the IT hiring priority list. His goal is to eliminate development teams with extremely specific responsibilities. “We want teams that can do Web development whether the data resides on Windows or System i or whatever. We want to get away from teams only dealing with the front end or only dealing with the back end. We want people who can do the job from end to end.”

Pinter and Shulfer are pleased with the college graduates they’ve hired during the past two years, but it hasn’t replaced the company’s efforts to also hire experienced IT professionals when the job requirements make that a better choice. And Shulfer also pointed out that it is wrong to assume that hiring college graduates means hiring employees in their early 20s. More often than not, the Delta Dental hires have been people in their late 20s and early 30s who have been retrained as IT workers. “One of our oldest staff members was a recent grad,” Shulfer says. “These are people who re-directed their careers.”

Delta Dental isn’t the only IBM i shop working with the community colleges in the Midwest. The advisory boards at several schools that I found are nurtured by companies willing to hire graduates with the training that suits their needs. Jobs for graduates are a powerful incentive for the schools’ computer science departments in the recruitment of students, even when those students have never heard of IBM i before talking to an i-minded computer science instructor. Collaboration between companies running IBM i and local colleges with computer science departments is the foundation for developing new talent capable of stepping into enterprise computing.

Jody Karnes, CIO at CU*Answers, a credit union service organization, told me the technical team at her company recently contacted Muskegon Community College regarding students of that school’s RPG program.

“The future is based on young talent leading the way after they enter the market with the skills related to our current code, not just the code people are talking about in magazines, through the media, or over the net,” she says. “Millions and millions of lines of code and strong business foundations are built on technologies that simply do not get into the news or are not the flash points that attract people’s attention.”

“Many college programs are struggling to entice students into computer programming courses for core processing and business systems that aren’t as attractive or enticing as some development languages used in writing games and social media sites,” Karnes continues. “Therefore, businesses that still need talent for midrange and mainframe languages need to help fill the academic pipelines and spark interest for students considering future programming careers. These businesses will employee programmers for years to come.”

In the past, CU*Answers was more interested in hiring people with experience, but it has changed its emphasis to helping people build experience and cultivate their skills. Karnes is a proponent of establishing internships as a way of locating and obtaining talent. The company is also launching an employee reimbursement program that will cover up to 100 percent of the cost of tuition and books for IT-related courses at MCC.

Char Parker is the CIS coordinator and a member of the CIS faculty at Muskegon Community College, where computer programming students must complete two of three educational tracks to gain a degree. Those tracks are: .NET with C# and VB, open source with C and Java, and the IBM i track. Without Parker, there would likely be no IBM i-related classes. She, however, remains a strong advocate of the platform despite a slim enrollment in the IBM i curriculum. Last year there were six CIS graduates that completed the IBM i coursework.

Most of the calls she receives, from companies looking for graduates who have completed IBM i classes, originate in Michigan, but she’s also received inquiries from companies in Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Carolina. It’s mostly a word of mouth network that leads out-of-state companies to Parker and MCC.

Parker deserves a lot of credit for her efforts toward keeping IBM i skills in the MCC curriculum, building relationships with IBM i shops willing to work on the skills pipeline, and matching students with jobs. But she’d be the first to say she’s not a one-person army. She relies on others in the IBM i community for some guidance and support.

For instance, she leans on Jim Buck, who runs the IBM i program at the Gateway Technical College’s Kenosha, Wisconsin campus. Buck is also president of the Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association, and has been down these same roads matching students and jobs for quite a few years. He has been successful in aligning colleges with companies looking for a skills pipeline. Larry Bolhuis at Frankeni Technology Consulting and Laura Ubelhor at Consultech Services are both closely connected with Parker and MCC. Bolhuis, an IBM i systems design and implementation expert, provides access to an IBM i for students at MCC. Ubelhor is assistant director of the COMMON Education Foundation, and is president of the Southeast Michigan iSeries User Group. She has been involved with internship programs that connect students with IBM i shops and in promoting career opportunities for students.

There is an informal network among the colleges and IBM, Parker says. Some employers find their way to the IBM Academic Initiative website, where colleges with IBM i curriculum are listed. Unfortunately, this listing is out of date, which leads to user frustrations.

Peter Glass, the program manager for IBM’s Power Systems Academic Initiative, told me there are plans in place that will make difference in promoting IBM i awareness at the collegiate level and facilitating the collaboration between colleges and IBM i shops.

Frankly, this is long overdue and similar promises have been made in the past relative to the IBM i platform. But here is what Glass says is being done for Power Systems, which includes AIX along with i.

It begins with an updated database for schools actively participating in the IBM Academic Initiative. It will include school name, location, faculty contact, and Power Systems-related courses being taught. Glass says there will be far better data one month from now.

There will also be a job board, which has been talked about for several years. Glass says he will work with the IBM sales team and client representatives “to establish an honest-to-goodness list of jobs available at client and business partner locations–not a search engine like popular online employment sites, but rather a well-maintained, current, accurate listing of real jobs at real shops and give students at member schools the ability to view them and go after them.”

Glass also promises an increase in Power Systems Academic Initiative marketing. The areas receiving attention include IBM technical events, an enhanced Web presence, engagements at the IBM Customer Briefing Centers, and direct contact with schools and universities.

I looked back to an IT Jungle article from May 2007 to find IBM promising to get 20,000 students trained, into internships and projects, and eventually getting them jobs in the workforce. I’d be surprised if 1 percent of that number was accomplished in the past five years if only the IBM i platform is taken into account.

Whether the gearing up of the Academic Initiative program will come to grips with the reality of the IBM i skills pipeline is about to be seen.

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 “Baranowski appointed to WTCS board” — The Wisconsin Technical College System recently elected officers to their board, including Philip Baranowski, former member of the Moraine Park Technical College District Board.

Baranowski, of Green Lake, retired as superintendent of Green Lake Public Schools in 1993 and served on the Moraine Park District Board for 32 years. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appointed Baranowski to the WTCS board on July 2.

“Moraine Park administrators and District Board members respected Phil’s unparalleled expertise and experience during his service as a member on the board, and now the entire state will benefit from his passion for technical education and expertise in school funding,” said Richard Zimman, Moraine Park District Board chairman.

The WTCS board is the governing body for the Technical College System. The 13-member Board establishes statewide policies and standards for educational programs and services provided by the 16 technical colleges.

The board is also responsible for administering state and federal aids to the colleges. All members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Wisconsin Senate.

From “Wisconsin to join the Complete College America Alliance of States” — MADISON — Today, the Governor’s College and Workforce Readiness Council (CWRC) made the recommendation to join the Complete College America (CCA) Alliance of States.

The CCA is a national non-for-profit, focused on increasing the number of certificate and degree holders in the nation. States joining CCA’s alliance pledge to significantly increase the number of students successfully completing college and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. Currently, almost 30 states have joined CCA’s alliance.

CWRC representatives include leaders of the University of Wisconsin (UW) System, the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU), the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the Department of Workforce Development, and the Department Health Services, as well as private industry representatives and members of the state legislature. Council members unanimously recommended joining the coalition to embark on common data reporting and initiatives that can help improve Wisconsin’s effort to boost the number of postsecondary certificates and degrees.

“It’s important to consider new ways to improve job placement among college graduates,” said Governor Scott Walker. “Wisconsin’s membership in Complete College America will strengthen our workforce by better enabling our colleges and universities to prepare our students for the jobs of the future.”

“We believe that joining CCA can help us achieve the goal of the ‘more Graduates for Wisconsin’ initiative of graduating an additional 80,000 degree-holders beyond our current trajectory by 2025,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly. “In the process, we can demonstrate once again our strong commitment to transparency and accountability, and help our external stakeholders learn more about our successes in this area.”

“Joining Complete College America is a step towards complete and transparent information for Wisconsin,” added CWRC chair Tim Sullivan. “We need to be able to compare ourselves to other states to improve our strengths and address our challenges.”

“Participating in Complete College America provides Wisconsin’s technical colleges another opportunity to assess our student success efforts and communicate those efforts to state and national policymakers,” said Wisconsin Technical College System President Dan Clancy. “Improving retention and credential attainment for all learners is a WTCS priority. We look forward to learning about and implementing innovative best practices from around the country as part of CCA,” added Clancy.

“Although the 23 colleges and universities in WAICU are all private, nonprofit organizations, they all share in the goal of increasing educational attainment in Wisconsin and look forward to working in partnership with the UW and the WTCS as well as CCA to move Wisconsin forward,” Rolf Wegenke said.

From “Horticulture students lay foundation for 9/11 Memorial” — Town of Greenville – About a half dozen students from Fox Valley Technical college helped lay the groundwork for a 9/11 memorial in the Town of Greenville Thursday.

The centerpiece for that memorial will be two steel beams from the World Trade Center.

The students have been working on the community service project since the start of the summer.

“It had a lot of prep work we did actually off-site, and then when we came here it just all went together all very well,” said Steve Brockman, horticulture student.

Those students put brick down for the memorial walk and patio plus dug holes for roses and a crab tree that will reflect the events on September 11, 2001, and honor the lives that were lost.

“We have a five-sided patio with a five-sided center, because the center of the Pentagon is open, so that would be a visual of the Pentagon. And even though that’s a square hole with water in it, that’s symbolic of a hole in the ground in Pennsylvania. And the two towers represent, the two beams represent the twin towers,” said Jim Beard, Fox Valley Tech horticulture instructor.

The two steel beams that were once part of the World Trade Center each weigh 2,700 pounds.  The Town of Greenville’s Fire and Rescue will add them to its memorial in two weeks.

“There are a lot of people that stop by and want to come down and take a look at the beams. Every time I walk through the door, you get chills just looking at the beams,” said Josh Lambie, Town of Greenville firefighter.

The community is hosting a volunteer effort to help build the memorial this Saturday at the Greenville fire station.  It starts at 7:30 a.m. and will last about three hours.

Later this month, the Greenville Fire and Rescue will host a dedication ceremony for the memorial.

From “Wisconsin technical colleges join multi-state career pathway study” — The Wisconsin Technical College System is teaming with nine states to create a framework of benchmarks and success measures for career pathway initiatives, a model of education that’s viewed as a method of filling the skills gap in the state.

The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways will also partner with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Law and Social Policy and the Joyce and James Irvine Foundations, according to a WTCS press release.

“The WTCS has developed a number of new educational models that are nimble in responding to the changing education and training needs of both businesses and students,” WTCS president Dan Clancy said in a written statement. “Our recent success with career pathways for both high school students and returning adults will only benefit from being part of the alliance.”

Career pathways are a coordinated sequence of education and training services that simplify for students advancement in education and employment in an industry or job sector. WTCS career pathway plans target lower-skilled adults and high school students to help them earn the postsecondary credentials needed to compete for higher-skilled jobs.

The model has been gaining traction, but until this alliance there has been little research of what results in a successful program and how best to measure that success, according to WTCS.

The other participants are Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia and Washington.

“Wisconsin should be proud of its involvement in this effort to increase the number of Americans with postsecondary credentials,” Gov. Scott Walker said in the release. “I look forward to the results of this multi-state collaboration and am hopeful it will yield yet another route for Wisconsin students to learn the knowledge needed to help solve our state’s skills gap.”

From “Good jobs are out there, but manufacturers seeking skilled workers” — Last year, 47 hourly workers at Strohwig Industries took home more than $100,000 each.

With an average wage of $25 per hour, employees of this Richfield tooling and machining manufacturer raked in six figures partly because of monthly profit-sharing bonuses, but mostly because a shortage of skilled workers is forcing many of them to work overtime.

“We’re constantly looking for qualified employees,” says Mike Retzer, the controller for Strohwig, located about 25 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

Strohwig is not alone. In March, 250 employers, instructors and community members representing Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry met in Madison for a conference hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state business lobby.

The goal of the conference, titled “The Workforce Paradox,” was to address the skills gap that is preventing manufacturers from filling vacant positions and is stalling job creation in Wisconsin.

Vicki Markussen, executive director of the 7 Rivers Alliance, said the strong metal manufacturing sector in the Coulee Region has led to a strong demand for welders and machinists.

Now that the economy is beginning to recover, those companies are hiring again, but many of the workers have moved on to other jobs, and there aren’t enough new trainees to fill the need.

“These people aren’t there,” she said. “The workforce just isn’t there.”

But the jobs are, says  Jim Morgan, vice president of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and president of the WMC Foundation.

“People don’t understand we are still employing (more than) 430,000 people in manufacturing in this state,” he said.“I don’t think Wisconsin survives without (manufacturing). This state was built on it.”

The number of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin had fallen in recent years, from nearly 600,000 in 1998 to just over 450,000 today, though manufacturing still accounts for about 16 percent of all state jobs. And in the past year, it has begun to rebound.

In fact, the industry has room to grow even larger, but there aren’t enough workers for the available jobs. A recent WMC survey found that 43 percent of employers said they were having trouble hiring new employees, with more than half of those citing a lack of qualified employees as the reason.

To help close this skills gap, companies across the state are adopting strategies to get high school students interested in manufacturing-related jobs.

Take Sentry Equipment Corp., an Oconomowoc manufacturing firm that makes more than 50 products geared toward saving energy and increasing sustainability. The company has provided on-the-job training for local resident Lee Heinecke and even paid for some of his classes at a nearby technical college.

Rick Steinke, the company’s vice president of manufacturing, says Sentry is willing to spend a little extra time, money and effort to recruit younger workers. This is one way manufacturing companies can adapt to the current shortage in skilled workers: If you can’t find them, grow your own.

The Department of Workforce Development is also is working to close the gap, with a series of programs, some of which work with manufacturers to train potential employees.

“Manufacturing today is a high tech process involving highly sophisticated, computer-driven production equipment,” DWD spokesman John Dipko says, adding that just one-third of Wisconsin’s working adults have training that includes a two-year technical college degree or more.

Pilot program launched

Among the state programs is Wisconsin Workers Win or “W3,” which allows recently unemployed individuals to participate in six-week “boot camps” at manufacturers’ worksites to sharpen their skills and interact with potential employers. In addition to unemployment benefits, the 500 expected participants get a $75 a week stipend from the program, which is being tested in 10 southern Wisconsin counties, including Milwaukee, Rock, Racine and Kenosha.

“These programs add a little bit of urgency to solving the problem of getting people back to work,” Morgan says. “Once you get people back to work, you can start the on-the-job training.“

Morgan also stresses the importance of more collaboration between manufacturers, high schools and technical colleges.

“Manufacturers need to do a better job of getting people into their facilities, but schools need to advertise better, too,” Morgan says. “It’s a matter of manufacturing survival to get these programs in place.“

Combating misconceptions

With the Baby Boomer generation on the brink of retirement, manufacturers such as Sentry are about to lose many employees with decades of experience. Unless these workers can be replaced with the same number of competent younger employees, the manufacturing industry will not be able to keep up with demand.

But many people, says Morgan of WMC, still think of manufacturing jobs as “dumb, dirty and dangerous.” He sees this as a threat to the state’s economic future: “Students’ perception of manufacturing jobs is outdated. Those are the jobs that are in demand.

“Unless we start to change people’s perceptions of manufacturing, we’re going to be in trouble for the long term.“

Tony Ptacek, chief financial officer of D&S Manufacturing in Black River Falls said his problem is finding young people interested in learning skills like welding because of the stigma attached to manufacturing jobs.

“We could grow faster if we thought there was a stronger availability of new talent,” Ptacek said.

When the company is hiring, Ptacek said they often host open houses to show prospective candidates what to expect at the plant, which makes steel parts for heavy equipment.

“We take pride in the quality of our facility, the cleanliness,” he said. “It’s not the stereotypical manufacturing facility that’s dirty … It’s a nice, clean safe place to work. That does a lot in convincing them.”

Jim Kitchen, the lead instructor for the Machine Tool Technology Program at Fox Valley Technical College, thinks there’s been a societal shift in what it means to be successful. He says students who might have been happy going to a two-year technical school have been persuaded to attend four-year institutions due to pressure from educators and parents.

“Everybody wants their kids to be the next president,” Kitchen says.

Steinke has also noticed this change in attitude toward manufacturing. He has worked at various Wisconsin manufacturing companies since 1982 and says that when he took a job in the industry after earning his degree at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, it was judged a good career move.

“There was pride in the workmanship,” Steinke recalls. “It wasn’t considered a bad thing to be in manufacturing.”

According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly salary for a manufacturing worker in Wisconsin was $1,035 in 2011, or about $54,000 a year.

And manufacturing promises to be a growth industry, assuming businesses can find enough qualified workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 14.3 percent national growth in the number of manufacturing jobs between 2010 and 2020.

Program launched career

Among the most innovative programs for getting young people interested in manufacturing careers is Bots IQ Wisconsin, a competition in which high school students design and build robots with the help of manufacturers. Retzer, head of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, said companies, including Strohwig, sponsor teams, make parts for their robots and mentor students along the way.

Retzer gives the teams he sponsors a tour of Strohwig so they can see what manufacturing is actually about. He says they’re often surprised.

“They’re not dirty smoke-stack industries that everybody thinks is manufacturing,” Retzer says. “And they’re not the mundane, routine jobs. They’re mentally challenging and they’re very fulfilling from the mental and from the career and earnings part.”

Alex Leonhardt, a former Bots IQ competitor and current employee at Mahuta Tool in Germantown, says the competition got him interested in manufacturing, which has turned out to be lucrative.

“I actually had my mother call me a ‘factory rat’ when I first started working in the trade,” says Leonhardt, 23. “Then, over the last few years when my pay started to increase — she always did my taxes — she finally started to realize that I was making $10,000 more a year than she was, and I am not even at my final wage yet.”

Leonhardt works as a computer numerical control programmer, which means he reads the blueprints for a specific machine part and writes computer programs to ensure that they get cut properly from a solid block of steel.

Leonhardt is in the final stages of completing a five-year apprenticeship with Mahuta, which will earn him his journeyman’s card and the title of tool-and-die maker, meaning he is qualified to work in any tool-and-die shop in the nation. As part of the apprenticeship, Mahuta paid for him to get his two-year associate’s degree from Moraine Park Technical College.

When Lee Heinecke graduated from Oconomowoc High School in 2007, he, like many 18 year olds, had no idea what kind of a career he wanted to go into. So when his cousin told him about an opening at Sentry, Heinecke thought, “Why not?”

While Heinecke, 23, had toured a factory before — his uncle was a machinist — he started work at the company not knowing what to expect. He enjoyed the work and began taking classes at Waukesha County Technical College. Sentry paid for the first two semesters.

“I feel like there’s a lot of room for growth for me here,” he says. “I’m excited for it.”

From “Local film grad directs movie on Silver Spring” — For as long as he can remember, Nate Schardin has wanted to be a filmmaker.

After taking a film production class at Nicolet High School, he went to Milwaukee Area Technical College, where he recently received his degree in television and video production.

Shoppers on Silver Spring Drive received a sneak peek of him filming his latest effort, “The Vampire Formerly Known as Dracula,” Friday morning in front of the former El Guapo’s building near Berkeley Boulevard.

Schardin directed the film, which was written byMilwaukee High School for the Arts freshman Ian Walls. Schardin decided to shoot some of the scenes outside the former El Guapo’s space because he works next door at Fox Bay Cinema Grill, which is one of three historic theaters in the Milwaukee area hosting this year’s film festival.

Schardin got involved with the film because of his long involvement in the Milwaukee Film Festival’s Collaborative Cinema program, where he has interned since his days at Nicolet. Schardin has done everything from staffing the craft services table to shooting a promotional documentary for the program.

“For as long as I can remember my life has been devoted to the love of and production of movies,” Schardin said. “I am so honored, excited, and humbled to have been chosen to direct this year’s Collaborative Cinema film. To stand amongst the talented and visionary directors of years past is incredibly validating.”

The film is a comedy about a traditional Dracula ending up in contemporary America only to find himself displaced by a new breed of fashionable vampires. The short film will be shot over the course of three days and will premiere in “The Milwaukee Show” at the 2012 Milwaukee Film Festival, which runs from Sept. 27 through Oct. 11.

This year, over 50 high school students, college students, and local writers enrolled Milwaukee Film’s Collaborative Cinema screenwriting workshops. Writers developed a short script idea from a one-page treatment into a 10-page script, and worked with screenwriters, educators and filmmakers over the course of several months.

The top five scripts were then pitched by five emerging local directors to a deciding panel of industry professionals, which included Carlo Besasie (Tempest Pictures), Mark Foote (Flexible Films, LLC), Jeff Kurz (Milwaukee Film Production Coordinator), and Kara Mulrooney (Gal Friday Films).

“Ian’s script immediately won over the Collaborative Cinema screenwriting mentors with its wit,” said Milwaukee Film Education Director Susan Kerns. “In Nathaniel’s pitch, he followed the script’s lead and sold us on an amusing, historically based tale of past meeting present and cultures colliding. Ian and Nathaniel will be a terrific fit for each other’s work. I couldn’t be more excited to be working on this production for the next few months with these talented young filmmakers.”

From “Leaders tackle ‘workforce paradox’ — Local business leaders and educators are on a quest to get more people into jobs in the manufacturing sector.

The “workforce paradox” they face is that more students are attending four-year universities, but only 30 percent of jobs require a four-year degree. This puts manufacturers in a bind as they are unable to find workers in the wake of the Great Recession.

“This paradox really hit a year ago,” said Jim Morgan, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturer’s Association. “Our members started saying, ‘What’s going on out there? We have 7 percent unemployment, but none of us can find anybody who’s got the skills that we need in order to do the work.'”

Morgan said the workforce paradox problem has gotten so bad, “If we can get people to show up five days in a row, that’s become a big deal for some of these companies.”

Morgan toured the state in December and January, holding 54 listening sessions with more than 300 manufacturers to hear firsthand about the lack of skilled workers and is trying to develop a solution. He returned to Marshfield on Monday to share his findings.

Workers have set the pace for most companies’ growth, Morgan said. Owners have told him, “‘We have the facilities, we have the equipment, we have the space. In some cases we even have the orders, but we don’t have the people, and that’s what’s keeping us from adding another shift, or doing another addition,'” Morgan said.

Students don’t know that a job in manufacturing is viable career choice, Morgan said.

“Right now, the problem isn’t they aren’t choosing to be a welder, or a CNC operator or a machinist, they don’t even know that it exists,” Morgan said.

Brenda Dillenburg, Mid-State Technical College Marshfield campus dean, said she thinks students graduating from high school don’t understand the career pathways available to them, she said.

“Only 10 (percent) to 20 percent of students go to tech colleges out of high school, but 40 (percent) to 50 percent come (to tech schools) three to four years later,” Dillenburg said.

On the flip side, some students who recently have earned bachelor’s degrees now are looking for jobs in plants.

“I’ve got people with four-year degrees applying for entry-level positions,” said John Nikolai of McMillan Electric. “I can’t tell you how important it is for educators to see what these businesses are doing and what goes on.”

Educators say they do try to tell students about the opportunities that are available in the manufacturing sector.

“We advise, we counsel and we give them all the career information, but they take that card home, and their parents tell them what classes they can and cannot take,” Marshfield School District Superintendent Peg Geegan said. “It’s a real struggle for us to get the parents to let the kids make those decisions.”
Marshfield School District offers youth apprenticeship programs, which place students in local businesses for part of their senior year, but only some local manufacturers were aware of the program.

Andy Martin, general manager of Innovative Machine Specialists, said he has been participating in the youth apprenticeship program, but he can’t rely solely on it to grow his workforce.

“I know I can grow two or three a year from the high schools in youth apprenticeship programs. That’s about what we can handle in the shop at a time,” Martin said. “We’re looking at a job that is probably 20 additional workers, and we are concerned about whether we can take the job on or not because (of) whether we can grow that fast.

“The workforce is going to determine how big we get,” Martin said.

From “WTCS honors Charter Films with “Futuremakers Partner Award” — A major manufacturer in the Superior area is the latest recipient of the “Futuremakers Partner Award” from the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) Board. Charter Films, Inc. accepted the award at this week’s WTCS Board Meeting at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) Superior campus.

Dan Clancy, president of the WTCS, presented the award to Chris Trapp, CEO of Charter Films, Inc. “The Futuremakers Partner award celebrates the impact of college and employer collaboration in helping hundreds of thousands of students set a direction for their future,” Clancy explained. “Through these partnerships, we are building a highly-skilled workforce and strong communities.”

Charter Films, Inc. is the leader in engineering, extruding and manufacturing plastic films for a wide variety of industries. The company has partnered with WITC to create and grow their own training program, Charter University. This computer-based education program allows employees to gain new skills and boost income potential. WITC and Charter Films also worked together to secure Workforce Advancement Training grants for the program.

“This award recognizes our partnership with WITC and exemplifies our commitment to training and education of our employees. It also recognizes the importance of cooperation between business and educational institutions,” said Trapp. “We have worked together for many years to help align our job skill needs with the education curriculum at the technical college,” Trapp added.

Charter Films is one of the major manufacturing employers in Superior and Douglas County. They ship products using local trucking firms and rail, and purchase supplies from local companies in the region. “This company has a significant impact on the local economy and is an asset to the community and the state of Wisconsin,” Clancy said. “The Board is very pleased to recognize Charter Films as a WTCS Futuremaker partner and a key economic development driver in northwest Wisconsin.” In addition, Charter Films has partnered with WITC and WTCS to promote manufacturing careers to high school students.

From “Dual enrollment provides Moraine Park students with learning advantage” — When Jasmyn Clough graduated from Beaver Dam High School in 2008, she had completed enough transcripted credit courses to count as two classes in Moraine Park Technical College’s Business Management program. While an accident kept Clough from enrolling at Moraine Park directly out of high school, in 2010, she was able to hit the ground running with two college classes under her belt.

Clough, who graduates this December, isn’t stopping with her Business Management associate of applied science degree. Instead, she is taking advantage of the transfer agreements set in place by Moraine Park and will be entering Cardinal Stritch University at junior status as a Business Management student in the spring of 2013. She’s on a track that will allow her to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in two years.

Clough is a perfect example of how transcripted credits, or dual enrollment, creates an economically savvy, time-saving path to success. “I’m a first-generation college student and am making my family proud by obtaining a Moraine Park associated of applied science degree then continuing my education,” Clough said. “I’m always looking one step ahead and the transfer agreement with Cardinal Stritch is helping me continue this pattern.”

Transcripted credit/dual enrollment has been offered at Moraine Park for almost 20 years. Transcripted credit courses are Moraine Park courses taught in the high school using technical college curriculum, grading policies and textbooks. In addition to Moraine Park, these credits are transferable to all colleges within the Wisconsin Technical College System.

The numbers line up and high school students are saving money through this seamless dual enrollment transition. In 2010-11, high school students in Moraine Park’s district earned over $1.2 million worth of college credits – 4,183 took transcripted credits with a total of 9,871 credits completed. There are 216 transcripted credit agreements with public schools in Moraine Park’s district.

“I encourage high school students to inquire about dual enrolled options with their counselors,” said Moraine Park president Sheila Ruhland. “If you are seeking avenues for cost savings and time shortened programs as you enter college, enrolling in these classes as a high school student is an excellent first choice!”

Taking it to the next step of transferring from a two-year to four-year degree, Moraine Park has a full-time Academic Support and Transfer Specialist who works to secure agreements and support students as they transition from Moraine Park to a bachelor’s degree path. In 2011-12, more than 150 Moraine Park students were guided through the transfer process.

“The college currently has agreements with 36 four-year institutions, said Karla Donahue, Moraine Park academic support and transfer specialist” From those 36 colleges and universities, students can choose from 111 different specific program pathways.

At Cardinal Stritch, for example, 15 different degree options exist for Moraine Park students to choose from when they decide on the transferring option.  Every spring, Moraine Park holds a Transfer Fair when representatives from the 36 colleges with transfer agreements in place come to offer information and chat with Moraine Park students interested in transferring. Attending the Transfer Fair is how Clough became interested in attending Cardinal Stritch.

Diane Sexton had the idea of lifelong learning in mind when she enrolled in the accounting program at Moraine Park.  A solid associate of applied science foundation at Moraine Park, combined with an easy transition to Ottawa University, based out of Milwaukee, allowed Sexton to continue learning. She eventually obtained a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business administration, and a master’s degree in business administration, also from Ottawa.

Students who complete their associate of applied science degree through Moraine Park can apply up to 80 credits toward an Ottawa University bachelor’s degree. Online and face-to-face programs are available to students in areas including business administration, health care management and accounting.

“The transition from Moraine Park to Ottawa University was extremely easy,” said Sexton. “My instructors at Moraine Park provided me with a very strong education in accounting which set me up for success at Ottawa.  Moraine Park got me back into the swing of going to school, and Ottawa allowed me to continue learning by accepting all of my credits from Moraine Park, allowing me to achieve my bachelor’s degree quickly.”

Dual Enrollment/transcripted credits, and transfer agreements continue to play a role in Moraine Park’s offering of flexible and convenient degree options. For more information on dual enrollment at Moraine Park, visit

From “Nicolet gets $750,000 to develop manufacturing maintenance program” — Manufacturing skills training will get a huge boost in the Northwoods thanks to a $750,000 grant awarded to Nicolet College. The grant will allow the college to further develop the specific training necessary to help fill available jobs at partner businesses with advanced manufacturing needs.

“A healthy manufacturing sector is key to a strong Northwoods economy,” said Nicolet College President Elizabeth Burmaster. “Nicolet will use these funds to develop training programs that will give residents the skills necessary to secure manufacturing maintenance jobs. In doing so, manufacturers will get the trained workforce they need to be successful and area residents will have the skills they need for family-sustaining employment.”

Nicolet has already developed classes for a short-term training Industrial Maintenance Fundamentals certificate. The grant funds will allow the college to build on this certificate and develop more advanced training that will result in a one-year technical diploma and ultimately a two-year manufacturing maintenance associate degree.

Burmaster encouraged anyone interested in starting down this academic track to begin taking the certificate-level classes this fall. “The sequence will be structured so that certificate classes ladder right into the diploma program and the diploma-level classes then laddering directly into the two-year associate degree program,” she explained.

Nicolet applied for these grant funds and did so in partnership with five large area manufacturers. They are Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc., HyPro, Inc., Packaging Corporation of America-Tomahawk Mill, Printpack, Inc., and the Wausau Paper Corporation-Rhinelander Mill.

“Every one of these manufacturers worked with the college on this because they need skilled employees,” Burmaster added. “The jobs are out there.”

Under the partnership, the manufacturers will work closely with Nicolet to ensure the skills taught in the college’s labs and classrooms are an exact match to what are needed in the workplace.

A recent wage survey by the Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation found that manufacturing maintenance jobs in the Northwoods today pay an average of about $35,000 a year.

Nicolet was one of the five technical colleges in the state to share in the $3.8 million awarded by the Wisconsin Covenant Foundation, a private, non-profit organization. The foundation created this pilot grant to address the gap between Wisconsin’s workforce needs and its available workers. Currently, “middle-skill” occupations, or those positions that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree, represent 50 percent of Wisconsin’s workforce needs, with advanced manufacturing occupations among the fastest growing. Meanwhile, only 39 percent of Wisconsin residents between the ages of 25 and 64 meet these education criteria.

“The Wisconsin Covenant Foundation is committed to ensuring that postsecondary education prepares students for immediate employment, while creating a stronger connection between that education and employers,” said Foundation Chair Richard D. George. “When capacity to provide the right skillset to workers is increased at the technical college level, the result is more well-trained workers prepared for on-the-job success. It’s a win-win for Wisconsin—our families and our workforce.”

For more information about Nicolet’s Industrial Maintenance Fundamentals certificate, call the Nicolet Welcome Center at (715) 365-4493 or (800) 544-3039, ext. 4493, or visit


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