From “Survey: Oshkosh good for business” — Oshkosh business executives say Oshkosh has better universities and technical colleges, fewer problems recruiting employees and a better economic outlook than their counterparts throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

In 2011, the Oshkosh Business Retention and Expansion Committee, an Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corp. subcommittee, conducted 38 one-on-one surveys with Oshkosh CEOs and business owners to determine their business outlook and to identify problems such as transportation and parking issues or training problems before they become more significant.

Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Partnership communities in 16 counties have conducted a total of 286 surveys since the program started in 2007.

OAEDC Economic Development Coordinator Evan Wendlandt said results from 2011 surveys indicate none of the 38 Oshkosh businesses expect to close in the next three years and 82 percent of them project sales growth in the next year. In comparison to regional results, Wendlandt said fewer Oshkosh companies reported problems with employee recruitment and retention and more expect the economy will improve in the next five years.

“We want to find out what they’re seeing now, what they fear might happen and for these interviews to be the first red flag so if any issues come up, we can resolve them right away,” Wendlandt said.

Festival Foods Manager Rick Vanderloop said his meeting with the group a few months ago helped ease some of the grocery store’s concerns about the closure of the U.S. Highway 41/State Highway 21 interchange well before construction began last week.

“We discussed how we were going to get customers to come to this side, to make it more of a destination,” Vanderloop said. “They told us about the West Side Association’s sign program and that helped us direct traffic around the road closings.”

Vanderloop called it “a good discussion.”

Melissa Kohn, director of Fox Valley Technical College’s Oshkosh campus conducted some of the interviews. She said the tenor of the interviews was positive even during the recession, when companies faced challenges at every turn.

“I’ve gone through the down time where some of these companies could have talked about doom and gloom, but there’s always been this sense of optimism about things getting better,” Kohn said. “What I often find is employers are, first, appreciative of the interest in their business and, second, reaffirmed. Employers really want to show us what they’re making, what their product is.”

Kohn said she also benefits from the process. She said she gains a better understanding of the local economy and what FVTC can do to remain responsive and helpful to manufacturers in the area.

OAEDC Executive Director Rob Kleman said the surveys also noted many companies reported financing, the state’s tax structure, public transportation and parking remain issues.

“The most important part of the program is we’re reaching out to our local businesses and wanting them to tell us the good things as well as the local issues they face, so we can help address them right away,” Kleman said. “Any issues that do come up, we incorporate into our work plans so we make sure businesses can get what they’d like.”

From “SPECIAL REPORT: Employers are desperate for applicants with technical skills” — The job listings grow a little longer daily, but that doesn’t necessarily make things easier for job seekers.

Or employers.

The work is there, but it’s tough to find if you lack the right skill set.

And in many cases, it’s just as difficult for employers to find good workers, said JoAnn Hall, executive dean of economic and work force development at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac.

In the last five to six months, demand for highly skilled employees has spiked, and it’s still growing, she said. CNC manufacturing and programming skills are in the most demand, but skills across all fields are also needed.

Staffing company QPS, which has a location in Fond du Lac, has seen large demand for CNC machining, CNC welding, diesel mechanics, information technology and other highly technical positions, said Chief Sales Officer Mark Immekus.

‘Crisis situation’

Hall said employers have reached a near-desperate point trying to find skilled applicants. Immekus agreed that employers everywhere are almost in “a crisis situation.”

So how did Fond du Lac, which endured years of a recession and down economy like the rest of the country, wind up in this predicament?

An aging population is part of the problem, Immekus said. The average skilled trade worker is more than 50 years old. There aren’t enough younger qualified workers to fill the gaps left by retirements.

A stigma has blighted manufacturing for years, but misconceptions about the field are disappearing. For decades, youth were discouraged from dirty, strenuous, low-paying manufacturing jobs and pushed into attending four-year colleges and universities. They were told a four-year degree or higher would yield better, higher-paying work, he explained.

That’s all changed. When the economy went sour, many college graduates couldn’t find jobs in their fields, revealing that a degree doesn’t always translate to high-paying, satisfying work.

And manufacturing isn’t what it used to be, Immekus said. Technological advances have made the work cleaner, more efficient and less physically strenuous. There’s good income potential, too — employees have the opportunity to earn $60,000 to $80,000 annually.

Computer skills

With automation and advancement comes a new challenge — everyone needs computer skills.

Learning new technical skills may require going back to school, but applicants don’t need to enroll anywhere to hone their computer capabilities.

Hall said there are many free and low-cost programs available. She recommended using job centers, like the Fond du Lac Area Job and Career Center, 349 N. Peters Ave.

The Fond du Lac Public Library, 32 Sheboygan St., has the Opportunity Center to help visitors with free computer-related job hunting.

“We consider it a supplement to the Job Center,” said Annette Clark, librarian and head of the Opportunity Center.

Clark said the number of users has increased since February, possibly because more job seekers are aware of the center. It might also be because employers are starting to advertise seasonal positions.

Hall said job seekers need to at least know how to fill out applications online because so many employers are going that route. At QPS alone, 80 percent of the applications are completed online, Immekus said.

“If someone can’t fill out an application online, they’ll have a very tough time getting a job,” Hall said.

From “Webinar to highlight Gateway’s international partnership efforts” — Gateway Technical College President Bryan Albrecht will be a featured member of a webinar by the Association for Career and Technical Education from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. March 28 highlighting the college’s involvement in an international partnership to train automotive instructors in Morocco through a Higher Education for Development grant effort.

“This project includes multiple stakeholders with diverse perspectives demonstrating how, in the future, we need to leverage our partnerships to grow our college,” said Albrecht. “In the future of community colleges, growth strategies must align with national and international efforts relating to education and economic issues.”

Albrecht will be joined in the webinar by Roger Tadajewski, executive director of the National Coalition of Certification Centers, known as NC3; and Soumia Boutkhil of Universite’ Mohammed I Oujda / Ecole Superieure de Technologie.The purpose of the grant is to assist the Universite’ in the development of its automotive program. The training delivered by Gateway instructors was the second phase of the grant, with the initial phase being delivered as a Fall 2010 assessment of faculty and facility at the Moroccan college. Since then, the Universite’ has built an automotive training lab and is working to replicate Gateway’s Horizon Center for Transportation Technology facility model to educate its own students. The training of their faculty prepares them for delivery of their new auto program which has 25 students enrolled, including three young women.

From “New MATC program could help war veterans balance school and health” — All told, Savage Margraf spent about five-and-a-half hours Wednesday afternoon going to a series of appointments at the Veterans Hospital.

That meant the 25-year-old Iraq War veteran missed two classes at Madison Area Technical College in order to get treatment for her traumatic brain injury and other health issues.

But a new program at MATC may make it easier for student veterans to balance school and their health. The Madison Veterans Hospital won a grant to create a mini-V.A. at the college.

The new program, set to start in May, will embed a full-time social worker at the college. Specialists, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, addiction specialist, and a benefits expert, will drop in once a week. Wellness programs, such as yoga and tai chi, will be offered.

“It’s stressful to try to cram doctors appointments in between classes, where you have to leave the school, go all the way to the V.A., and come back,” said Margraf, who served in the Marine Corps for four years. “It makes it a lot more stressful to try to do that than it would be to just walk downstairs.”

The number of student veterans at MATC — also known as Madison College — is the highest in the state among the Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges, according to data from the Wisconsin Technical College System. There were 588 students receiving a tuition waiver under the state and federal G.I. Bills at MATC in the 2010-11 academic year, the most recent year for which state data is available. Milwaukee Area Technical College had 504 student veterans, according to the data.

MATC officials say that number doesn’t reflect the full number of veterans because there are some who don’t qualify for tuition benefits. They say there are 786 full-and-part-time students in 2011-12.

“I think it’s important to realize the reintegration process, coming back especially if they were deployed to a war zone, is a monumental task,” said Heidi Sigmund, a psychologist at the Veterans Hospital and director of a program on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Many veterans say the journey of going from civilian or soldier or Marine is easy when you compare it to trying to come back from Marine or soldier to civilian.”

She said some veterans feel like they don’t fit in with other students. Others with PTSD may have anxiety disorders that get triggered by crowded classrooms. Many veterans are trying to juggle going to school with a family, work, and therapy, Sigmund said.

“One of the goals is to kind of just relocate a clinic [at MATC] a couple days a week where they can really get everything they would receive here, there,” Sigmund said. “Our effort is to decrease any barriers to care. To just make us as accessible as possible.”

Officials say they hope the close proximity will draw in new patients. In a survey that the hospital conducted, students said the hospital’s location is inconvenient, they don’t know what services are offered, and it’s too complicated to access benefits.

Margraf openly talks about her health issues in the hopes of helping other veterans. She said there’s still a negative stigma toward mental health treatment in the military.

The Lodi resident suffers from PTSD, a back injury, and a traumatic brain injury from her time as a turret gunner in Iraq. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last March.

Margraf — who said her father named her after the Savage Arms rifle company — is in the liberal arts transfer program and hopes to transfer to UW-Madison in the fall.

She won’t be able to get treatment for all her ailments at MATC, but she may be able to schedule appointments to treat some things, such as PTSD.

“I’m supposed to be doing a newer PTSD treatment therapy,” she said. “But I haven’t been able to schedule it because of school.”



From “WITC programs provide crucial skills for manufacturing hopefuls” — Air pumps puff while two sets of hands unscrew and connect tubes on a pneumatic unit.

Two students on the opposite side of the shop are screwing together something that looks like a motor with tubes running into a reservoir. Other students sit at computers and chat while a disk sander screams and a radio plays disco music and 1980s rock.

This is Steve Miller’s hydraulics and pneumatics class on a recent day at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior.

Business is looking up in Superior, with hundreds of manufacturing jobs expected to become available during the next few years. And the Superior campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College offers hands-on training in the fields where most of the positions will be added.

The school’s industrial programs include welding and industrial maintenance, machine tooling and technical studies, industrial automation and information technology.

Miller’s students are building a hydraulic unit from the ground up. He says this shows them how to put together and disassemble a machine to learn how it functions.

In addition to learning how things work manually, Miller instructs his students in using computer-to-machine techniques. The students complete online work with hydraulics and pneumatics theory while learning skills in a lab.

The starting salary for maintenance technicians, according to Miller, is about $40,000. As careers advance, salaries can go as high as $90,000 annually. Though there is a waiting list to get in, Miller only accepts five students each year into the program.

Another class offered by WITC is the two-year Industrial Maintenance program, which teaches the skills needed for fixing machines in a factory setting. Among these skills are basic electrical work, motor control, mechanical driving, rigging and pumping. With proper certification, students can find positions in paper mills, refineries, wood manufacturing firms and mining operations.

In Ken Jones’ machine tool class, students make tool parts not only for industrial use, but for health care and defense industries.

The machine tool technician program teaches students how machine parts work and how to use the tools needed to produce a product or perform a service. First-year students learn manual machining, using lathes to shape and cut metal parts. Most of this first year consists of making cutting tools and building gear pullers and small motors. Students also learn how parts work for lifting and pinching in the construction industry. At the end of the first year, students will build the end attachment for an excavator.

For the second year, students work with Jon Willoughby on computer numerical controls (CNCs) and a CNC lathe, for which a technician enters a program into a controller to make the right command to make a certain part. It may involve different actions that determine the shape and texture of the part.

Willoughby plays an active role in advising and retraining students: “Seeing them change over a two-year period, having them come back and visit, and say, ‘This is what I’m doing now’ is what is rewarding,” he said. “I usually tell them, ‘Bring me some parts you made’.”

A second-year student, Ross Stariha, was motivated to enroll in the machine tool technician program because of the availability of jobs in manufacturing and the course’s high placement rating, a sentiment echoed by many of his fellow students. The second-year student comes from a construction background.

“I have measured and built things,” Stariha said, “but I didn’t know much about machines until I came here.”

Cody Christianson from Miller’s class said that several things about the industrial programs appealed to him, including a family heritage. “My dad works in the same field,” Christianson said.

He likes hands-on work and teamwork — and the fact that there will be jobs waiting for graduates doesn’t hurt either. He’s already looking into BNSF Railway and openings at the Duluth airport.

And with positions flooding in from several manufacturing opportunities in the area, students have a right to be optimistic about their prospects.

From “Educators band together to support economic development” — By emphasizing workforce readiness and career placement, eight educational institutions in northwest Wisconsin are joining force to form a regional consortium, Northwest Wisconsin Educators for Regional Development or NorthWERD.

The group has been developed to respond to the needs of regional developers and students, as well as identify regional economic trends and opportunities for graduates as they choose a career path.

NorthWERD is comprised of representatives from public, private and tribal higher learning institutions and agencies, including Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College campuses, UW system schools, UW-Extension, Lac Courte Oreilles Community College, Northcentral Technical College, CESA 12 and Northland College.

NorthWERD has outlined four focus areas that will help participating institutions be more responsive to economic development needs in order to promote healthier, sustainable communities.

The consortium of educators will focus on responding to regional educational and economic development needs, assess existing research and gather additional data to pinpoint economic opportunities provide career pathways to success and offer academic advising and assessment for parents and students.

NorthWERD partners will celebrate the group’s formation in a signing event 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday at the Lac Courte Oreilles Community College, 13466 W. Trepania Road, Hayward.

It will include a presentation from Linda Bartelt about the Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance (NEW ERA), a similar consortium that is positively impacting the northeast region of Wisconsin.

Leaders of each of the institutions will participate in the signing ceremony.

From “Kestrel creates soaring optimism in local job market” — Amid worries over the local and national economic downturn and difficult employment prospects for college graduates, Kestrel Aircraft Company’s decision to touch down in Superior has students in the manufacturing programs at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College feeling confident about their employment prospects.

“You know I would never want to sit behind a desk,” said Karla Phillips, a welding student at WITC. “The job market is open to everybody. If you can weld, build, drill a hole in metal, you will make money.”

Three years ago, Alan Klapmeier, chief executive officer of Kestrel, started the engines by talking about his developing aircraft company. Those talks eventually took flight and now Kestrel’s public relations representative, Kate Dougherty, says they are hoping to break ground in Superior this spring on the first of two buildings.

A 35,000-square-foot facility is planned for Winter Street Industrial Park and will be used to manufacture airplane parts. A 50,000-square-foot building will be located near the Richard I. Bong Memorial Airport and will be used to assemble flight-ready airplanes and house the company’s headquarters.

Dougherty estimates the creation of 600 jobs, which is approximately two percent of Superior’s entire population. Job creation will take place over the course of the next five years, but more than 15 positions for engineers and a handful of manufacturing positions are already available, according to the company’s website.

Dougherty says Kestrel is currently considering utilizing the Superior campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College for training the employees they may need in the future.

This wouldn’t be the first time WITC helped produce employees for the aircraft manufacturing industry’s workforce. The college had adjusted its curriculum for Cirrus Design ten years ago, and some of the equipment that would be needed to train the numerous new Kestrel employees will already be there.

That’s a good thing when talking about producing the number of employees necessary to staff a production of this size, said Charlie Glazman, associate dean at WITC.

“They’re hiring a variety of different jobs,” said Glazman, “welders, machine tool operators and industrial maintenance technicians.”

Though training for most of these positions is already offered through some of WITC’s programs, the welding equipment and training needed for Kestrel employees may need a specialized program in the future because of the composite material used to build the aircraft.

According to Glazman, there are many reasons why Kestrel has advantages in the state of Wisconsin, including one that would get the company’s mechanical falcons off the ground more quickly. It only takes 90 days to get a building permit in Wisconsin; Minnesota’s process could take up to two years.

In Wisconsin, companies can receive grants to cover about 75 percent of the cost of training new employees. Douglas County also has a development team, comprised of people from the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District, Development Association and other organizations, which meets on a regular basis to discuss the various needs of local businesses.

For Kestrel, there is still a stretch of runway before it can take off, but according to Dougherty, the skies are clear, there is plenty of fuel and the engines are running smoothly.

“It is going to happen,” said Dougherty. “It won’t be tomorrow, not this week, not this year, but gradually we will get there.”

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