Skilled worker shortage drives partnerships between business, education

March 12, 2014

From fdlreporter.com: “Skilled worker shortage drives partnerships between business, education” — By Laurie Ritger – A local business leader is stressing the need for communication and collaboration between industry and educators — especially as a shortage of skilled workers looms.

“This is a heavy manufacturing area. We may be one of the heaviest in the state and maybe the nation. Let’s support that,” said Jim Wessing, president and co-founder of Kondex Corp. in Lomira. “There are great jobs and a great future in manufacturing.”

Wessing warned, however, of a looming shortage of skilled employees during an appearance Tuesday at Business, Industry and Education Day 2014 at Marian University’s Stayer Center. Approximately 150 educators and business people turned out for the event, a program of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce.

Projections show that there will be 17,000 to 19,000 unfilled jobs in the greater Fond du Lac area by 2025, according to Joe Reitemeier, president and CEO of the Association of Commerce.

Perception vs. reality

Wessing was part of a panel that included Lomira School District technology education teacher Jon Marx and Lomira High School Principal Deb Janke. They discussed a business and education partnership success story that began several years ago with a Project Grill competition that pairs businesses with a school.

Marx explained how the tech-ed program has grown in the past several years and how Kondex has helped with equipment and financial support. Marx, who once taught part-time and had 55 students, now is full-time and instructs more than 100 students at the middle and high school levels.

Some of his former students are working toward degrees at technical colleges and engineering schools.

Wessing said manufacturing has a reputation as a “dark and dirty and dangerous” profession. The reality, he said, is that it is very clean and high-tech with the advent of robotics, high-speed cameras and computers.

Wages can be very high. Wessing said educators and business leaders need to connect with parents of students who are considering their career paths to explain options and show them realities of the work world.

Options

Reitemeier said nearly all parents of incoming high school sophomores expect their children to attend college, but a year later only half of the students will take a college entrance exam. That leaves half of a graduating class to make plans for technical college or immediate entry into the workforce.

Janke said a Career Fair was held at Kondex that exposed students to careers in many fields, including manufacturing, human resources and sales. She said the school also is trying to work with other key employers in the community, including Michels Corp. and Quad/Graphics. Staff are visiting employers so educators and counselors are aware of available businesses and career opportunities.

“We’re interested, at the school level, how can we (prepare) better employees for you?” Janke said about the partnership between business and schools. She said students need to be exposed to careers and the tools and equipment they may be using. Girls that have an interest in math and science need to enter engineering and manufacturing fields.

Wessing said 85 percent of his employees are from within a 35-mile radius of Fond du Lac. Kondex is a product design and manufacturing partner for agriculture, lawn and turf, and other areas, producing custom-designed metal components.

National speakers for BIE Day included Kimberly Green of Rockville, Md., who has worked the past 18 years on federal policy impacting career and technical education; and Patrick McGaughey, an international speaker from Idaho with a background in broadcasting and business association management who led a two-part workshop: “Business + Education = Education, Development: How Education Closes the Deal.”

The connections established between business representatives and educators during BIE Day are intended to help the partners develop solutions to economic and community issues — including the expected skilled labor shortage facing Fond du Lac.

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