NTC takes next step in connecting students with gold collar careers

February 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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