Madison College welds relationship with industries

May 14, 2013

From “Madison College-Fort welds relationship with industries” — Job seekers in Jefferson County are finding more opportunities to be trained in programs that allow them to enter the workforce quickly, thanks to the expanded Madison Area Technical College campus in Fort Atkinson.

In September, a ribbon-cutting saluted completion of a $1.9 million campus renovation and expansion that was part of the 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 technical college district.

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. The centerpiece of the expansion was the 3,000-square-foot metal fabrication/manufacturing lab.

Lynn Forseth, executive director for economic and workforce development in Madison College’s Eastern Region, said that starting with the spring semester, the Fort Atkinson campus has been able to provide degree-credit classes for the welding and industrial maintenance mechanic programs, customized contract training for area businesses and a middle college program for high school-aged students.

“It has really taken off,” Forseth said. “I do believe that what we constructed through the referendum was a good opportunity for this campus. It is serving our local industries.”

For many years, Madison College’s Fort Atkinson campus had been fortunate enough to be able to use nearby Fort Atkinson High School’s technical education lab for welding and manufacturing classes. Since 2001, evening classes were offered at the high school.

Prior to that, when the Fort Atkinson campus first was built, there was a welding lab. Over the years, the equipment and ventilation system grew old, prompting administrators to clean out that space and work with the School District of Fort Atkinson when the high school was built nearby.

However, at the high school, the Madison College courses had no room to expand and were limited to flexibility in scheduling. Another concern related to equipment maintenance.

With the addition of the 3,000-square-foot metal fabrication/manufacturing lab at Madison College’s campus, training opportunities have increased dramatically.

“All of the effort that went into providing the training needed by our industrial members is paying off,” said Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dianne Hrobsky. “The facility and the quality of the training that we are getting out of the Fort Atkinson campus is removing some of the obstacles that have impeded growth for so many businesses.”

She noted that the industrial sector is strong in this area and is vital to the community’s overall economic base.

Classes are offered at the Fort Atkinson campus in computerized numerical control, welding, oxy-fuel/plasma cutting, manual machining, programmable logic controllers and metal fabrication.

Planning sessions recently were held with various industries along the State Highway 26 corridor to determine their needs. Forseth said the top skills sought are welders, machinists, CNC operators and industrial maintenance mechanics.

“We’re serving all of those needs with this lab and we would like to continue to provide that level of instruction,” Forseth said.

Through only one semester of instruction, students who have taken classes in the new lab already have been hired by area companies. One Janesville-area company hired three of the Fort Atkinson campus’ students.

Forseth said Madison College already is looking ahead to the potential next step, which is development of a new program offering in overall metal fabrication.

Currently, the welding program is a one-year diploma program, and some students, many of whom also have a job, struggle to have the time to take all the required classes while maintaining employment.

She said schedules are designed to accommodate those working adult students as much as possible.

Generally, the jobs that are available are in more customized manufacturing.

“You need people to be able to read blueprints and make those modifications and make adjustments to meet the customers needs,” Forseth said. “We know most of the manufacturing and production is going to be customized work that requires a higher level of skill.”


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