K-12, tech college partnerships promote manufacturing careers

July 15, 2013

From wisconsinrapidstribune.com: “WRPS implements new programs to help promote manufacturing” — A grass-roots group of local business leaders and school officials has worked to help incite change in the Wisconsin Rapids School District — all in the name of helping to improve the job climate in south Wood County.

The Business-Education Partnership Committee, which formed nearly a year ago and consists of representatives from five south Wood County school systems — Wisconsin Rapids, Nekoosa, Port Edwards, Assumption Catholic and Immanuel Lutheran — and is facilitated by Incourage Community Foundation, has met monthly to figure out how to address what local workforce and economic development leaders call a widening skills gap when it comes to manufacturing.

As a result, the Wisconsin Rapids School District has enacted several new programs and initiatives to help address the issue, said Kathi Stebbins-Hintz, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.

“It’s been really a great partnership, and we’ve been able to better understand each other,” Stebbins-Hintz said.

Through a connection at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Engineering Department, the district has been able to facilitate trips for members of the Wisconsin Rapids Area Middle School and East Junior High School engineering clubs to visit the department and learn more about the field, Stebbins-Hintz said. In addition, the district has created more required courses that deal with science, technology, engineering and math topics at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels, and it recently began offering a science credit to high school students who take animal science and principles of engineering courses.

More than 200 Wisconsin Rapids School District students also have earned more than 700 college credits through a partnership with Mid-State Technical College, which also has partnered with local schools and the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce to launch the Heavy Metal Bus Tour, she said. The semi-annual event gives middle school students the opportunity to tour various local manufacturers to learn about their role in the local economy.

n addition, this fall the district plans to send two elementary teachers and one high school science teacher to Engineering is Elementary training through the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Stebbins-Hintz said.

School Board President John Krings praised the district’s involvement in the partnership and its efforts to promote manufacturing to younger students.

“Manufacturing doesn’t seem to be a very sexy job anymore,” said Krings, who works in the paper industry, within which companies are seeking workers but are unable to find individuals who are qualified enough to fill the positions. “It’s sad; these are really good jobs.”

As an increasing number of workers approach retirement, the number of available jobs will only increase, creating a so-called “silver tsunami,” said Jennifer Riggenbach, chief collaboration officer for Incourage.

It is vital for workforce and economic development leaders to continue to work together with school officials to address the issue before it’s too late, Krings said.

“We’re going to be losing a lot of people,” he said. “We need these people ready today. … We don’t have time wait.”

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