From “NWTC seals Miller Electric welding training deal” — Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and Miller Electric Manufacturing Co. have finalized an agreement that will see $1.3 million in new welding equipment going to the college and training credits going back to Miller employees.

The three-year agreement brings updated welding and plasma cutting equipment to NWTC campuses in Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay and Wausaukee High School.

Miller and NWTC have worked together for more than a decade, and Monday’s announcement comes at a time when welders are in demand, officials said.

“There is a projection there is going to be a shortage in North America of more than 250,000 welders … within the next couple of years, and that is vital to the manufacturing economy that is a mainstay of the overall gross domestic product,” said Mike Weller, president of Appleton-based Miller Electric. “There are many small employers out there that are the backbone of this economy that are hurting for those kinds of skilled employees.”

A few years ago NWTC was graduating about 75 welding students a year. That number has increased to about 200 a year, and the institution has increased its instruction staff from three or four staff members to 11, said NWTC President Jeffrey Rafn.

“Most of these jobs that are in these industries are highly skilled and need people that come out of our college with at least one or two years of education,” he said. “You used to be able to go into manufacturing with a high school diploma. That’s not really the case anymore; you need to have some high skills.”

Joseph Draves, associate dean of trades and technologies at the college, said they anticipate demand for welding instruction to remain strong.

“We’re running out of lab space, and we expect it to continue to grow,” he said. “We’re looking at a section yet this year in Sturgeon Bay.”

The college is also looking for other places it can add welding courses for high school students, similar to a program in Wausaukee. Green Bay Southwest High School is adding a welding lab, he said.

The college is removing its 3-year-old welding equipment and will start installing the new gear next week.

“Students are getting training on the latest technology available. That’s what they’re going to see when they get into the workforce,” Draves said. “We’re preparing them to go out into the work force and be ready to hit the ground running.”


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 “Manufacturing Partnership aims to close skills gap” — Herker specializes in precision machining, contract welding and mechanical assembly. The company’s sales have grown significantly over the last five years and customers have increasingly outsourced processes to Herker, which has contributed to an $8 million investment in equipment and capacity, according to the company.

“Manufacturing is vital to the economic success of our City and the region, and building a skilled workforce is key to these companies and their ability to compete,” Mayor Barrett said.   “We have growing companies that need skilled workers, and we have people who need jobs.  I am proud of this partnership and our ability to work with local manufacturers like Herker.”

Barrett introduced the Manufacturing Partnership during his State of the City address in February. The program is held in cooperation with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board (MAWIB), Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) and aims to close the skills gap in the manufacturing sector.

“We developed this partnership with the understanding that we have an opportunity to move Milwaukee residents into family-sustaining jobs.  This community has been devastated and as this sector of the economy grows we have a real strategy to get people back to work,” said Don Sykes, President/CEO of the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board WRTP/BIG STEP has assisted the partnership in finding companies who would like to train workers for open positions. This is the third graduation from the program in the last few months, according to the city.

“We have manufacturers throughout Milwaukee and the region struggling to find the skilled workforce they need and our model demonstrates that strong leadership from the private and public sector can solve these challenges,” said Earl Buford, President and CEO of WRTP/BIG STEP.

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 “WITC awarded major workforce grant” — The Wisconsin Covenant Foundation, Inc., recently announced that Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College is one of five Wisconsin technical colleges that will share $3.8 million as recipients of its Wisconsin Workforce Partnership Grants.

These colleges will use the grants to provide the specific training necessary to help fill available jobs at partner businesses with advanced manufacturing needs. Through real-world training, students will earn a meaningful degree, diploma, or certificate, leading to job placement in family-sustaining occupations.

“We feel honored to be recognized by the Wisconsin Covenant Foundation as one of six projects being grant funded to address the skills gap for local employers,” said Charlie Glazman, WITC associate dean of continuing education. “The Associate Degree Program in Composite Technology Technician that WITC is proposing with this grant will be the first in the State of Wisconsin.”

WITC’s $602,400 grant will be used in a partnership with Kestrel Aircraft to create a first-of-its-kind training program in Wisconsin. The associate degree in composite technology program will address the need for qualified aircraft fabrication workers.

Each program represents a partnership between the technical college and one or more Wisconsin businesses for the joint development or expansion of an advanced manufacturing degree or certification program. Funds will be used to support the significant investment in equipment, supplies, and specialized instruction that colleges must make to provide training in this area. These grants allow the colleges to make those investments, informed by partner businesses that will take a hands-on role in the development of program design and curricula. Through these collaborations, students will benefit most — earning an education that they can not only use at a partner business, but take with them into their future.

The Wisconsin Covenant Foundation, a private, non-profit organization, created this pilot grant to address the gap between Wisconsin’s workforce needs and its available workers.

“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 skill set 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.”

The number of program completers and resulting job placements achieved during the three-year grant period will be used to determine the impact of fostering mutually-beneficial relationships between higher education and private industry, to better understand what makes a partnership successful.

Other Wisconsin technical colleges awarded grants includes Gateway Technical College, Moraine Park Technical College, Nicolet Area Technical College and Southwest Wisconsin Technical College.

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 “WTC System honors Charter Films with ‘Futuremakers’ award” — A major manufacturer in Superior is the latest recipient of the “Futuremakers Partner Award” from the Wisconsin Technical College System board.

Charter Films Inc. was recognized with the award at this month’s board meeting at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College- Superior.

The award was presented to Chris Trapp, chief executive officer of Charter Films Inc.

“The Futuremakers Partner Award was created to celebrate the impact of college and employer collaboration in helping hundreds of thousands of students set a direction for their future,” said Dan Clancy, president of the system. “Through these partnerships, we are able to build 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 works with WITC to create and grow their own training program, Charter University. This computer-based education program allows employees to receive instruction, giving them new skills and increased income. WITC also has collaborated with Charter Films to get 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.”

In addition, Charter Films has worked with WITC and the technical college system to promote manufacturing careers to high school students. The company is one of the major manufacturing employers in Superior and Douglas County. Charter Films also ships products using local trucking firms and rail, and purchases 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.”

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