Enrollment in NWTC manufacturing classes on the rise

October 21, 2013

From greenbaypressgazette.com: “Alliance works to change state’s manufacturing image, increase education” — When Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s 44-foot mobile CNC lab made an appearance at Bonduel High School, the pieces fell into place for junior Race McClone.

McClone, 16, is planning a career in manufacturing. If he becomes a mechanical engineer and welder as he proposes, it will be another in an increasing number of successes for NEW Manufacturing Alliance, NWTC and other supporters of manufacturing.

October is Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin, and that’s more than just another in a rotisserie of months with special names. Indiana and Wisconsin regularly trade positions as the top manufacturing states in the nation. Statewide, 16.1 percent of Wisconsin jobs are manufacturing related. In the 14-county NEW North region, one in every four jobs is in manufacturing.

“That is one of the largest concentrations of manufacturing in the country,” said Ann Franz, NEW Manufacturing Alliance coordinator.

The Alliance was founded in 2006 to foster collaboration between manufacturers and educators in the promotion of manufacturing and development of a future workforce.

The Manufacturing Institute, affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers, says that workforce is growing older at a greater rate than the economy as a whole, and the lack of qualified workers is beginning to impact manufacturers’ ability to compete in the global market. It says schools are not equipping students with the appropriate skills and in the necessary disciplines to contribute to the manufacturing economy.

The Institute says U.S. schools are not producing enough engineers, and the manufacturing workforce is growing older and is not as well educated as other sectors.

The Alliance is working to change that in Northeastern Wisconsin. It arranges tours of manufacturing plants — it sponsored 11 visits for students and teachers in October — and sends manufacturing representatives into classrooms. It is developing manufacturing-related math problems for use in middle schools, provided $20,000 in college scholarships last year, publishes a magazine, produces videos and hosts the annual Manufacturing First Expo & Conference, to which 200 students are invited.

Franz’s salary is paid by the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, which also helped pay for creation of NWTC’s Computer Integrated Manufacturing mobile lab. Much of the rest of the work is done by volunteers on five Alliance task forces.

Manufacturing jobs pay well, but an enduring image of workers standing on assembly lines doing the same things over and over again is discouraging to digital-age students, not to mention their parents. It doesn’t help that the image is totally inaccurate.

Nels Lawrence, technology education instructor at Kaukauna High School, said plant tours dispel notions of manufacturing as “dumb, dull and dirty.”

Northeast Wisconsin Chambers Coalition’s 2012-13 Fox Valley Wage & Benefits Study found that intermediate-level electrical engineers in Brown County earned an average $62,766 per year and electrical engineers at Fox Valley companies earned an average annual wage of $71,109. Again, the number of responding companies was not large (six in one case, seven in the other) and the respondents were self-selected. The average wage for senior electrical engineers was $91,028.

“One employer said to me, ‘You want to recruit kids. Take a look at what’s parked out in are parking lot,’” Lawrence said.

Franz and Lawrence said manufacturers are desperate to grow the workforce.

“More and more human resources directors are contacting me directly, looking to contact 16- and 17-year-olds,” Lawrence said. “If I had more students, I could find more openings.”

Franz said the increase in engagement between employers and schools is significant. Schools are calling the alliance — a 180-degree turnaround from seven years ago — and asking how they can partner.

As a sign of progress, Franz said NWTC graduated 19 welders in 2000, 28 welders in 2005 and 119 welders in 2010. It has more than 200 people enrolled in welding classes now, and last year enrollment in its manufacturing classes was up 19 percent.

Welding is just a tiny slice of manufacturing jobs, though in considerable demand in the region. Surveys by NWTC also identified electrical engineers, among others, in high demand.

“The message is resonating,” Franz said. “NWTC graduates more manufacturing degree holders than any other technical college in the state.”

Bonduel High School’s McClone had taken computer-aided-design and civil engineering classes in tech ed, but the arrival of NWTC’s mobile lab took his interest to a new level. The school also has a new welding lab.

“I’m really interested in the CNC program. If Bonduel didn’t have the trailer here, I probably wouldn’t have known about the CNC at all,” he said, talking on his cellphone from the lab.

He said Bonduel’s tech ed teachers themselves are enthusiastic about manufacturing, and promotional efforts are beginning to make an impact.

“People are starting to see this as a great opportunity,” he said. “There are all kinds of jobs. It can be pretty much anything.”

 

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