Nicolet upgrades workforce training to boost economic development

May 6, 2013

From “Nicolet upgrades workforce training to boost economic development” — The economic recession of 2008 and 2009 caused a seismic shift in the American landscape. Perseverance, adaptation and resilience were all key to make it through the economic downturn.

“It was a time of dramatic change that happened relatively quickly,” said Nicolet College President Elizabeth Burmaster. “With everything that was happening in the economy, we knew at Nicolet that we were going to have to change how we approached workforce skills training as well.”

The recession deepened and enrollment at Nicolet surged to record levels as the unemployed sought job training for new careers. Employers realized existing employees needed higher skill sets for companies to be efficient and profitable.

“More was being expected of employees and we had to adapt to that in the type of workforce training we provided,” said Sandy Bishop, director of Workforce Development at Nicolet. “Technical skills have always been important and always will be. But along with solid technical skills, we were seeing more demand for employees with what some call soft skills. Knowing how to effectively work as a team, solving problems independently and quickly, communicating effectively, resolving conflict and adapting to change are all skills that many businesses require in their employees.”

Nicolet adapted by placing greater emphasis on these skills in classroom curricula, not only in credit classes, but also the whole complement of short-term, non-credit workforce development workshops that Bishop oversees.

“Employers have raised the bar on what they expect from their workforce,” Bishop explained. “In many ways, it’s like instilling the mindset that every employee is personally responsible for the success of the business. Everyone has to work together responsibly and effectively to be successful.”

Bishop stressed that teaching the latest technical skills is still at the core of what is taught in classes and workshops, and adding this extra level of soft skills was largely driven by what the college was hearing from area employers.

“Nicolet puts a strong emphasis on working in close partnership with area employers and this change is a great example of the effectiveness of these relationships and how the college can adapt to changing needs,” she said.

The numbers show that employers like the training Nicolet offers. Last year, 105 Northwoods employers contracted with the college to provide workforce development training, sending nearly 3,000 registrants to dozens of different workshops, classes and certification seminars.

Entrepreneurship and business development

Another recession-driven growth area for Nicolet has been in the areas of helping entrepreneurs launch businesses, and assisting existing new and small businesses in growing their operations.

“These two areas are key to lifting the Northwoods out of recession and growing the local economy,” said Michelle Madl-Soehren, Nicolet Business Development coordinator. “Many of the new jobs that are being created are coming from small business.”

To help fuel this growth, Madl-Soehren and others at Nicolet have developed a series of laddered workshops that offer increasing levels of instruction and advice for entrepreneurs looking to start a business and those looking to grow an existing business.

In the past year, Madl-Soehren has held 15 Explore Starting a Business workshops throughout the Northwoods to introduce students to the idea of business ownership.

“Starting and building a successful business is a step-by-step process and all the pieces have to be in place in order for any business to do well,” she explained. “In these workshops, we identify the critical components and then work with individuals to help them bring all the pieces together.”

The workshops–which are offered for free–have been held throughout the Northwoods in many different communities including Tomahawk, Minocqua, Eagle River, Crandon, Lac du Flambeau and Rhinelander. More than 50 people have attended these workshops.

As a follow-up for those wanting more detailed business development information, Nicolet recently launched the new 10-session E-Seed Innovative Entrepreneurship Training Program.

“Instruction covers practical, real-world management and planning tools that include all of the basics of starting a business,” Madl-Soehren said.

Specific topics include determining if business ownership is right for each individual, feasibility testing, business concept development, creating a business plan, bookkeeping and accounting systems, and legal issues facing business owners. Expert guest speakers also share their insights on running a successful business. Today, 10 students are enrolled in the E-Seed series currently offered by Nicolet at the Vilas County Business Incubator in Eagle River.

For more information about workforce and business development training opportunities at Nicolet, contact the college at (715) 365-4493, (800) 544-3039, ext. 4493; TDD (715) 365-4448. More information is also available online at Once there, click on the Continuing Education link in the upper right corner of the page.


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