Photo of webcam

Check out the farm cam for live, real-time previews of the agriculture programs
(credit: NTC).

Wisconsin leads the nation in dairy production, so naturally agriculture remains one of the many important areas of study offered around our 16 technical colleges. Advancing technology and global competition make a hands-on, real-world technical college education that much more vital to success in the agriculture industry.

You can go to any of our colleges’ websites to learn about their agriculture programs, and there are some very unique ones among them, but Northcentral Technical College, through their Agriculture Center of Excellence and with the help of several community partners, delivers a particularly interesting way to learn about their programs. NTC’s website offers live camera footage of their farm facilities to demonstrate the kind of hands-on training and education that goes on there. Featuring their programs in Dairy Science (unique to the college), Agri-Business, Agriculture Equipment Technician and Veterinary Science, potential students can view first-hand the technology, the environment, the facilities and more through the live-feed multi-view Farm Cams.

You won’t watch grass grow if you look at the Farm Cams, but you are likely to see the calves being bottle fed, perhaps a robotic milking machine at work, a view of the calf feeder and grazing areas, and much more. Peek into the Farm Cam and you may soon find you’ve piqued a new career interest!

NTC also offers certificates in agriculture-related programs for a path to a career in less time.


“What did the buffalo say to his son when he left for college? Bison.”

The sign for Northcentral Technical College in...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From “Baldwin tours Western, talks jobs, economy” – Sen. Tammy Baldwin toured Western Technical College on Friday to talk jobs and learn about the school’s efforts to bolster the Coulee Region’s workforce.

During her first visit to the La Crosse tech college as a United States senator, Baldwin said she was also reaching out to similar institutions to learn about their partnerships with local businesses, and how those collaborations can spur the economy.

“At this point in our economic recovery, that is just one of the keys,” Baldwin said.

The La Crosse area showed the best yearly job increases in 2012 since the recession, including growth in the health care and leisure industries, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

Nearly 93 percent of Western’s 2010-11 school year graduates were able to find jobs, including 85 percent who found jobs in Wisconsin, according to a survey by the college.

Western officials tailor the school’s offerings to what local employers need, but the college also provides training programs for local businesses.

Shelley Ellingson, training coordinator for Northern Engraving, toured campus with Baldwin.

Her company used state grant funding to bring in Western and train staff. Western’s training programs helped improve the relationship between management and workers, and increased efficiency, Ellingson said.

“I think it’s helped our supervisors apply some soft skills when working with employers on the floor,” Ellingson said.

Baldwin mentioned her work on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and credited tech colleges for being an alternative option for high school graduates who don’t have the time or money for a four-year university degree.

“Some are going to try to fit into a career as soon as possible,” Baldwin said.

Western’s successful $80 million referendum last year will help the college to update and expand school buildings and crank out more students. New spaces also mean improved training for a future workforce, Western President Lee Rasch said.

“It’s just going to be better for students,” Rasch said.

Baldwin toured Western’s facilities, including the current heating and ventilation training center, which will eventually move to the new $32.6 million applied technology center.

Baldwin called Western a school on the “eve of transformation,” after seeing a computer image rendering of the new technology center. Instead of dim, cramped corners of the old HVAC space, the images showed a building filled with windows and natural light.

“Look at how different that is from what we walked through,” Baldwin said, evoking laughs from a small audience of Western officials and representatives from local businesses. “This is really exciting for me.”

Baldwin also lamented Congress’ inability to find timely solution to a looming rate hike in federal student loans. Rates on Stafford loans might double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent unless lawmakers can agree on a fix.

Lawmakers took until the 11th hour crafting a bipartisan solution to the same problem last year, and that could be the case again this year, Baldwin said.

Meanwhile, college students are “struggling with enormous debts,” Baldwin said. “It’s such a critical issue.”


From “Older NTC graduates reflect on economy, need for lifelong education” – More than half of Saturday’s Northcentral Technical College graduates were age 25 or older, telling a compelling story of the impact of a ragged economy and the need for lifelong education.

About 430 students — out of a total of 754 who graduated from NTC this spring — participated in the college’s commencement ceremony in the field house of Wausau West High School. Of the total number of graduates, 55 percent were 25 years old or older. About 43 percent were ages 16 to 24, according to college statistics, with 2 percent unknown to the school. Almost 10 percent of the graduates were 50 and older.

One of those people was Susan Thiel of Elcho, who at age 54 received a medical coding degree from NTC’s Antigo campus. She returned to school after 35 years because she was downsized from a job in the manufacturing industry. It wasn’t easy for Thiel to get back in the academic swing of things; math was particularly difficult, she said, but she was happy Saturday morning.

Future job prospects were bright, she said, and in the long run, losing her job and struggling through school was “positive, very positive,” Thiel said. “I’m confident that I can do it.”

Saturday’s ceremony is not the endpoint for education, NTC President Lori Weyers told the graduates.

“Learning is a lifetime commitment,” she said.

And as technology, the world and “your interests change, you’ll find yourself seeking more education,” Weyers said.

Carolyn Xiong, 30, of Rothschild, wasn’t financially able to attend college after she graduated from high school in 2000. Instead, she went from job to job in fields such as fast food and customer service. It wasn’t until she was laid off from a collections and customer service position, and qualified for financial aid for displaced workers, that she was able to attend college.

She graduated with an associate degree in business management, and she already has made plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business or international business, through either the University of Wisconsin-Stout or Upper Iowa University.

Xiong was wearing a gold cord and yellow sash around her neck, the cord signifying that she earned a 3.5 or higher grade point average. The sash meant she was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for two-year colleges.

“I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that great of a student in high school,” Xiong said. “But here, I tried harder. I was 1,000 percent motivated.”

From “Tours highlight economic value of creative cluster” – With institutions such as Discovery World and the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and arts groups such as Milwaukee Film, Milwaukee’s creative industries cluster has been a rising force in the growth of the region’s economy, according to the cultural leaders of Creative Alliance Milwaukee (CAM).

“A recent trend has been that cities, regions and states have been recognizing that there’s something called the creative cluster – the creative industries cluster – and it’s different in various cities, what comprises it, but what is the same in every area is it is a true economic driver,” said Maggie Jacobus, president and executive director of CAM.

To highlight Milwaukee’s creative industries and their broader economic impact, the nonprofit membership organization has developed what it likes to call “Creative Milwaukee Experience” tours.

The tours, geared toward area industry professionals and corporate executives, were initially designed four years ago as a talent recruitment and retention tool for the city. They aim to demonstrate Milwaukee’s vibrant creative community to both new members of the region’s workforce and business leaders considering planting the headquarters of their company in or near Milwaukee.

“The perceived creative culture of Milwaukee has a tremendous impact on the region’s capacity to attract a high-quality workforce,” said Gail Towers-MacAskill, sector manager at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and a CAM board member. “The best and brightest need to have documented evidence for why Milwaukee is the priority place to ‘set the flag’ of their career aspirations. Locally-based companies need to rely on that message to attract the creative (and) design innovation staff that they seek.”

Within greater Milwaukee, the creative industries cluster represents the fourth largest sector, behind manufacturing, finance and insurance, and construction. It also employs 4.2 percent of the regional workforce through more than 4,000 enterprises, according to CAM.

The nonprofit breaks the creative sector down into five distinct categories. Design accounts for 46 percent of the sector, media and film makes up 29 percent, the performing arts claims 12 percent, visual arts and crafts accounts for 11 percent, and the remaining two percent consists of culture and heritage.

A recent Creative Milwaukee Experience tour illustrated the power behind these numbers. With participants representing organizations like the WEDC and companies like Rockwell Automation Inc. and Xorbix Technologies Inc., the tour made stops at sites deeply invested in the city’s creative economy.

At the Betty Brinn Children’s museum, tour attendees learned how creativity is harvested at a very early age – a concept that CAM refers to as “from cradle to career” – and the importance of creative education to cultivate creative thinking and problem solving.

“You don’t just pop out of the other end of the pipeline suddenly creative,” Jacobus said. “Creative thinking and creating problem solving is something that is learned, that needs to be taught and that can be taught.”

At Milwaukee Area Technical College, attendees got a chance to see how students learn computer-generated animation in the School of Media and Creative Arts.

At Milwaukee Film, participants caught a glimpse of Milwaukee’s growing film community and the opportunities the organization is providing filmmakers to hone their art and film lovers to further appreciate it.

And at Discovery World, tour members took away the need for innovation within all disciplines – from brain science to engineering to water technology – by blending technical skills with an openness to artistry.

The variety of stops on the tour and the variety of demographics each caters to reinforces CAM’s conviction that creativity touches all sectors and is an essential element of success in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace.

“There’s nary a business that doesn’t use some sort of creative talent,” Jacobus said.

While a national standard regarding the parameters of the creative industries is still being laid out, Milwaukee sets its creative industries apart from those of other cities in the role they played in the city’s founding.

“Our creative economy is who we are,” Jacobus said. “It’s from whence we come.”

While outside cities’ creative industries clusters have largely emerged within the last few decades, Milwaukee’s cluster stems back to the city’s roots as brewers, cheese makers, old world craftsmen, architects and manufacturers built up the region and its economy.

“That basis of creative economy has been here for over 100 years, and so I think that’s one of the things that is unique about Milwaukee…We’re just calling it a creative economy now, but it’s always existed,” Jacobus said.

As CAM continues to lead tours of Milwaukee’s creative scene, Jacobus hopes to inspire participants to add their voice to the mix of those advocating the cultural vibrancy and economic vitality of Milwaukee’s creative industries cluster.

“It’s amazing the creative resources and opportunities that are in this region,” Jacobus said “We’re so blessed.”

From “Farmland prices booming across region” –Agricultural land prices are booming in the Coulee Region and across the nation, prompting some experts to worry that farm expansion could be creating an agricultural bubble.

West-central Wisconsin sold more agricultural acreage than any other part of the state in 2012, for an average of $3,246 an acre. Most land was purchased for continued farm use.

Crop prices are driving up land prices, said Dennis Deitelhoff, a farm business production management instructor with Western Technical College.

Some farmers are expanding, trying to make the most of crop prices while the getting is good.

But if crop prices sputter and farmland loan rates rise, farmers could find themselves in the midst of a bust similar to the housing collapse.

“I think that land values will correct,” Deitelhoff said. “That’s just natural economics.”

Nationally, farmer-held debt is expected to reach $277.4 billion this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — more than $60 billion more than 2007.

For farmers looking to cash out, current land prices have them in line for some sweet deals. But the high values carry risk for expanding farmers looking down the road.

Locally, Deitelhoff believes that expansion has been managed well.

“Most of the people making these land purchases are making them because they can,” he said. “The lion’s share are being made by those who have the wherewithal to do it.”

More than 20,000 acres of farmland in the west-central region, which includes La Crosse, Jackson, Trempealeau, and Buffalo counties, were sold for continued agricultural purposes in 2011, according to Department of Agriculture statistics.

That’s almost double the amount sold for the same purpose in 2009.

Purchasing escalated despite rising prices. Since 2007, average prices per acre have jumped $500. In addition to crop prices, sand mining and development demand have continued to buoy land values.

Farmers looking to cash out are in line to reap the profits of high values. However, current prices can make it difficult for aspiring land owners to break into farming.

Perhaps it makes sense that some new landowners have more interest in finances than farming; investors are buying land and then renting it to farmers, using rent to reap profits.

In November, a division of the Swiss bank UBS purchased 9,800 acres in Grant County for $68 million dollars.

While international players haven’t entered the La Crosse area, local investors have begun to take an interest in farmland.

Teresa Gutenberger, a senior appraiser with Badgerland Financial in Sparta, said that such owners, while uncommon, have begun to snap up area farmland.

Prices vary across state, nation

While the west-central region sold the most agricultural acreage in the state, its prices ranked in the middle of the pack. The state average for 2012 was $3,602 per acre.

“Location is an important determinant of value,” the report said.

The east-central region, which includes Fox Cities and Green Bay, had the highest average land prices at $5,228 per acre. The north-central region, stretching north from Clark and Marathon counties, had the lowest average prices, only $2,176 per acre.

The report cited increased competition for land use as the major factor influencing values.

Dairy farmers haven’t benefited from the increase, Dietelhoff said. Their prices haven’t kept pace with crops.

Cropland value jumped 7.1 percent in the state from 2011 to 2012, while pasture land value inched up 1.9 percent, according to USDA statistics.

Wisconsin’s growth lags behind the nation and rest of the Midwest.

Farm real estate value, which projects the value of a farm’s land and buildings, rose 7.4 percent, below the national average of 10.4 percent.

Minnesota saw a 20.9 percent jump; Iowa’s was even steeper, at 22.8 percent.


Western referendum passes

November 7, 2012

From “Western, North Side school referendums ride high on local support” – Voters appeared to back Western Technical College’s plan to add students and update facilities with a strong showing of support Tuesday for the school’s $79.8 million referendum.

By early this morning, 53.4 percent had voted “yes” with 202 of 211 precincts reporting.

The money will fund six building projects, including remodeling of the college’s technology building and the Coleman and Kumm centers. The extra learning space will allow Western to serve an additional 1,000 students by 2020. It will also benefit the region’s economy, Western President Lee Rasch said.

“There is a skilled worker shortage, and it’s in manufacturing and information technology,” Rasch said. “Those are really key areas for us.”

Property taxes will increase by about $39 a year on homes worth $100,000.

The referendum covers:

  • $32.6 million for an addition to the technology building to combine the school’s mechanical and tech programs.
  • $26.5 million remodel of Coleman Center to update the 89-year-old space with more efficient, flexible learning areas.
  • $10.1 million remodel of the Kumm Center, for new health and science facilities.
  • $4.9 million for a parking ramp
  • $4.1 million expansion of Western’s diesel training facilities.
  • $1.6 million for a greenhouse near Seventh and Vine street

Western’s growth will have a $97 million impact on the regional economy by 2034, according to an economic report by NorthStar Consulting Group. Construction alone will have an estimated economic impact of $112 million by 2016.

“It’s going to make a difference,” Rasch said.

West Salem resident Bob Severson, 59, said he supported the referendum because the changes will help people learn valuable workplace skills.

“I went there myself and I think that’s going to be the crux of getting the right training,” Severson said.

Western will borrow the money for the building projects, adding to existing debt of about $58 million.

Wisconsin technical colleges can’t use referendum dollars for operating costs – unlike school districts — so they are less frequent. Western’s last referendum was more than 15 years ago, when 64 percent of voters agreed to pay for a $3 million chunk of the city’s Health Science Center.

A wave of support at the polls Tuesday also appears to have pushed through La Crosse School District’s $15.7 million referendum for a new North Side elementary school.

Voters in the La Crosse School District approved a building referendum. Final numbers show 21,494 yes votes to 10,424 no votes.

A new school will house teachers and students currently split between two aging facilities. Officials plan to build the new facility at 1611 Kane St., where the old Franklin Elementary School building stands.

“It’s going to mean a lot for our community, not just for the North Side,” Superintendent Randy Nelson said.

Taxpayers in the district could pay about $25 more on a home worth $100,000.

The prospect of higher taxes inspired 75-year-old La Crosse resident and retiree Kay Weldy to vote against the referendum.

“The taxes are too high as they are,” she said.

Franklin combined with Roosevelt about three years ago, and both run under the same administration, with grade levels divided between the two buildings.

Roosevelt, built in 1923, is the oldest school building in the district. Builders used clay tiles in the 1955 construction of Franklin, which has led to continual structural problems for the school.

Both buildings were slated for about $6 million of work, including about $2 million already bonded for heating and ventilation upgrades. Officials agreed to opt out of the bonded funds if voters passed today’s referendum.

The new building saves the district about $200,000 in operating costs each year.

Shelby resident David Loeffler, 63, said he voted “yes” on the referendum because he to ensure a quality education for future generations.

“I have a grandson and I want to make sure he gets everything he can,” Loeffler said.

Similar referendums in 2004 and 2008 failed to pass muster with voters, but this is a different time — when the community appears be favoring neighborhood revitalization in the wake of recent economic struggles, Nelson said.

“Things have changed,” he said.

From “She’s seeing a bright future” — By James E. Causey - Frenchie Randolph listens to her portable radio and with precision clamps a hose to a pressure unit that will go on a snowblower for a Briggs & Stratton engine.

She uses her foot to bring down the metal fastener and feels around with her hands for a final inspection before dropping the finished product down a tube that empties into a plastic bin. She repeats this step quickly and efficiently.

It seems like tedious work, until you consider that Randolph is blind.

Randolph told me that blind people can do many of the same types of tasks as sighted people if accommodations are made by the employer. But finding work is challenging for people with disabilities, and the recession has made it all the more discouraging. While the unemployment rate nationally is 7.8%, the unemployment rate for people who are visually impaired is 70%.

When I visited Beyond Vision this week, workers were fulfilling contracts for Harley-Davidson Inc., General Electric, Ladish Co., the Department of Defense and others. Beyond Vision is a nonprofit group that provides sustainable employment to individuals who are visually impaired.

All 100 employees have vision problems, from the people who take your calls at the call center to employees such as Randolph who may have made the device that will get your snowblower started one of these upcoming cold winter mornings.

There are a lot of stereotypes associated with people who are sight impaired.

Randolph, 47, who will be honored Oct. 27 in Baltimore, Md., as the employee of the year for the National Industries for the Blind, said some people still assume that if you can’t see, you can’t hear.

“What hurts the most is when people act like blindness is a disease they can catch,” Randolph said.

Some people assume that blind people are unmotivated to work, that they are lazy or dumb.

James Kerlin, president and CEO, of Beyond Vision, said the work that the nonprofit performs is real work and that every worker has his or her own unique story of how to overcome the odds.

Kerlin remembers how diabetes took his father’s sight during the last 20 years of his life. When his mother remarried, his stepfather was blind. He was blinded during World War II when he was hit by a sniper’s bullet.

“My stepfather was more active than me. He would cut the grass using a cane, he used the snowblower, and at night when I was sleeping I heard this scraping outside, I looked out and he was edging the grass,” he said.

Randolph asked me if I ever knew anyone who lost their sight, and I told her that my uncle lost his eyesight after a car accident. Although he regained some of his sight, he’s never quite been the same.

She could relate. Randolph started losing her eyesight at 18. She suffered from glaucoma but her condition was made worse by lead poisoning.

By 22, most of her vision was gone, leaving her only with light and color perception.

“I initially enrolled in college at Alverno, but I withdrew to file for a program that worked for me,” she said.

She attended Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Vision Forward Association for the Blind in order to obtain the skills she needed to succeed.

While in school, she gained custody of her cousins’ three daughters because as she put it her cousin “could not be a mother anymore.”

She didn’t have time for a pity party because she was busy setting an example for them. She became a mother herself, raising her own three children, and earning a certificate in medical transcription in 2004 from the Milwaukee Area Technical College. She could not find a job so she re-enrolled in school and earned her associate’s degree in teaching in last May.

“I really want to work with children with special needs because I can be an inspiration for them. But I want to go back to school next year,” she said.

She is already an inspiration to those around her. She told me she doesn’t really know what she’s going to say when she’s honored later this month.

“I’m still working on that. But it will probably say something to the fact that don’t let anything hold you back because nobody is going to feel sorry for you if you feel sorry for yourself,” she said.

And that’s good advice for anybody.

From “Editorial: Technical colleges are vital” – Wisconsin has a problem that’s only going to get worse. It’s been described in great detail, and will accelerate with the fruition of demographic trends that are neither new nor unexpected.

How quickly and decisively it is addressed will determine whether Wisconsin will be relegated to a rust belt relic or undergo an economic transformation. A lack of skilled workers is holding back the state’s economy today, and will certainly cripple it tomorrow as more Baby Boomers leave the workforce.

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing thousands out of work and job openings unfilled for lack of enough properly trained workers. Worse yet, the crisis will become acute when existing skilled workers retire and replacements cannot be found.

The solution doesn’t require anything more than affirming the values that made Wisconsin an economic powerhouse in the first place: the Wisconsin ideal retooled for the new economy. We’ve already seen the fruits of the cooperation between higher education and industry, such as Northeast Wisconsin Technical College’s partnership with Marinette Marine to train workers to help the company fulfill major government contracts.

Still, Marinette officials sounded a warning during a legislative hearing held last week at Fox Valley Technical College’s Riverside Campus in Oshkosh, and co-chaired by State Sens. Jessica King, D-Oshkosh, and Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. The vice-president of human resources at the company said significant challenges remain.

“My concern is, I have a rapidly aging workforce, and these are highly skilled positions,” Marinette’s Steven Baue told the committee. “I should not have to work this hard to find employees.”

Officials from the Wisconsin Technical College System estimate employers will require 39,000 more workers with technical college training than the system can produce with current resources. Inexplicably, the state cut 30 percent from the state technical college system in the last budget, even as Gov. Scott Walker embarked on his goal of creating 250,000 new jobs.

The state must invest in its technical college, much like the voters that overwhelmingly approved a referendum last spring for Fox Valley Technical College to expand its Appleton campus and make needed improvements across the system. Taxpayers recognized that investing in the technical college to train and retrain workers is critical to our economic health and well-being.

As it crafts its 2013-2015 budget proposal, the Walker administration has an opportunity to connect its aggressive job creation goals with workforce realities. Companies will not create jobs without trained workers to fill them. Wisconsin technical colleges have a great track record of working with businesses to build a stronger economy.

The Final Thought: State must invest in technical college system to remain economically relevant.

From  Filling the skilled worker gap — DOOR COUNTY — Consider this: according to the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturers Alliance, one out of every two northeastern Wisconsin manufacturing companies is going to have trouble finding skilled workers in 2012.

Meanwhile, Door County’s unemployment rate for June 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, remains at 8.1 percent. While that’s a full point lower than the county’s unemployment rate this time last year, it’s still much higher than the 5 percent or less the county was seeing in summers before 2009.

There are workers who need jobs, and there are jobs that need workers. They just don’t seem to be finding each other.

“It starts at the national level, and it’s a repeating theme right down to the local level,” says Jerry Murphy, executive director of New North, Inc. “There are skills and training missing, most of which have to do with secondary degrees.”

New North is a marketing and economic development organization that monitors and links businesses in 18 counties throughout northeastern Wisconsin, including Door County.

Murphy says the businesses New North works with recognize the problem they’re facing and are getting involved to find a solution.

“What I think is unique about northeastern Wisconsin is the very genuine, very sincere partnership…between education and business institutions,” he says. “There’s a ready acceptance on the part of the business community that they have to be involved.”

In Door County, schools and businesses have struck up a couple of initiatives designed to train a new skilled labor workforce.

Building a Better Workforce

About 50 high school students from Door and Kewaunee counties have participated in the Door-Kewaunee Business and Education Partnership’s (DKBEP) annual home construction program, which is currently in its sixth year.

According to Tara LeClair, DKBEP business and education manager, almost 60 percent of those students have gone on to some sort of trade-related program at Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC).

“Our big focus is on high school kids, encouraging them and training them,” says LeClair.

DKBEP also offers a high school Certified Nursing Assistant Program, a Youth Co-op Program where students can ‘try on’ a career for a semester, and schedules tours so students can see what goes on inside area businesses.

“The biggest challenge in shaping students’ perceptions is in, say, manufacturing,” says LeClair. “Lots of students view those jobs as dark, dirty, dingy jobs, but that’s not true. A lot of tours we schedule with schools open kids’ eyes.”

Something relatively new to the area is the Computer Numeric Control (CNC) Mobile Lab that has been travelling from school to school in the region since last September, allowing students to practice running computer-operated equipment and earn NWTC credit from the comfort of their own schools.

The purchase and operation of the lab was made possible through a partnership between DKEBP, NWTC, area high schools, and local businesses like N.E.W Industries, a CNC production company in Sturgeon Bay.

N.E.W President and C.E.O. Chris Moore says he currently has 200 workers on staff, and he’s perennially looking for 10 to 12 more people to fill open positions. He’s hopeful new projects like the mobile lab will help revive interest in manufacturing careers.

“The biggest challenge anybody in this business faces right now is finding enough qualified people for our workforce,” says Moore. “Everybody recognizes the fact that, especially at the high school level, students don’t have an interest.”

Sturgeon Bay Schools Superintendent Joe Stutting, whose students are involved in both the home construction and mobile lab projects, says he’s looking for ways to revive that interest and show students they don’t necessarily need to attend a traditional college to have a great career.

“The notion that to have a successful career you need a four-year degree is something we’ve been battling for awhile,” he says. “The truth is you just need to get something. We’re looking to see how we can align with the technical college and to see what we can do to help kids down that pathway sooner.”

Training Today’s Workers for Tomorrow

But it’s not just the workforce of the future that needs training. According to Murphy, workers already in the job market need to retrain themselves, so they, too, can claim unfilled jobs.

“I don’t think the job market is static. If it was people could wait out the storm,” he says. “The demands on the workforce are very dynamic, and you have to be investing in yourself.”

According to Melissa Emery, associate director at the Door County Job Center, about 300 displaced workers in the county have taken advantage of federal Workforce Investment Act funds, which can be used to provide training for high-demand occupations in fields such as medical care, welding, and CNC operation.

“We work with a case manager and work on getting them into NWTC usually,” says Emery.

Some resources are also available for businesses seeking to make sure their current workforce’s skills don’t become obsolete.

Sheila Curtin, who works in Corporate Training at NWTC, says the Washington Island Ferry Line and Heat Treat Furnaces, Inc. (HTF) have both recently received Workforce Advancement Training grants from the state, which provided funding for on-the-job training.

“For the ferry line, we did training in welding and marine diesel,” says Curtin. “HTF was computer design and modeling. They secured a contract and needed to upscale their business.”

The grants are competitive, and not every business is likely to receive one, but Curtin says businesses and workers must constantly monitor where they may have fallen behind and look for ways to catch up.

“For workers and companies…you need to address skill gaps to remain competitive. Because it is very competitive out there,” she says.

Workers Mean Business

Of course, the big push behind training all of these workers in Door County comes packaged with the hope they, and the businesses they work for, will stay in Door County.

“We need youth to come back here and raise families here, which will help with our business growth,” says LeClair. “We benefit a lot by the fact that businesses understand this, that they have to open their doors to kids.”

Cheryl Tieman, coordinator for NWTC’s Sturgeon Bay campus, says the community is taking a lot of the right steps toward keeping businesses in the area.

“There are a lot of things being done locally that make us a good place to locate,” she says. “The number of people graduating from high school is getting smaller, but there are professionals moving into the area.”

As for the skilled worker gap, Murphy says he’s optimistic it will close given enough time.

“I think our public resources are doing a great job and business involvement is incredible. What we need to do longer term is make sure schools, parents, and communities are on board,” he says. “These are hugely significant occupations and add a huge amount to our GDP. We need to be invested in the next generation, or we’ll lose it.”

From “Leaders tackle ‘workforce paradox’ – Local business leaders and educators are on a quest to get more people into jobs in the manufacturing sector.

The “workforce paradox” they face is that more students are attending four-year universities, but only 30 percent of jobs require a four-year degree. This puts manufacturers in a bind as they are unable to find workers in the wake of the Great Recession.

“This paradox really hit a year ago,” said Jim Morgan, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturer’s Association. “Our members started saying, ‘What’s going on out there? We have 7 percent unemployment, but none of us can find anybody who’s got the skills that we need in order to do the work.’”

Morgan said the workforce paradox problem has gotten so bad, “If we can get people to show up five days in a row, that’s become a big deal for some of these companies.”

Morgan toured the state in December and January, holding 54 listening sessions with more than 300 manufacturers to hear firsthand about the lack of skilled workers and is trying to develop a solution. He returned to Marshfield on Monday to share his findings.

Workers have set the pace for most companies’ growth, Morgan said. Owners have told him, “‘We have the facilities, we have the equipment, we have the space. In some cases we even have the orders, but we don’t have the people, and that’s what’s keeping us from adding another shift, or doing another addition,’” Morgan said.

Students don’t know that a job in manufacturing is viable career choice, Morgan said.

“Right now, the problem isn’t they aren’t choosing to be a welder, or a CNC operator or a machinist, they don’t even know that it exists,” Morgan said.

Brenda Dillenburg, Mid-State Technical College Marshfield campus dean, said she thinks students graduating from high school don’t understand the career pathways available to them, she said.

“Only 10 (percent) to 20 percent of students go to tech colleges out of high school, but 40 (percent) to 50 percent come (to tech schools) three to four years later,” Dillenburg said.

On the flip side, some students who recently have earned bachelor’s degrees now are looking for jobs in plants.

“I’ve got people with four-year degrees applying for entry-level positions,” said John Nikolai of McMillan Electric. “I can’t tell you how important it is for educators to see what these businesses are doing and what goes on.”

Educators say they do try to tell students about the opportunities that are available in the manufacturing sector.

“We advise, we counsel and we give them all the career information, but they take that card home, and their parents tell them what classes they can and cannot take,” Marshfield School District Superintendent Peg Geegan said. “It’s a real struggle for us to get the parents to let the kids make those decisions.”
Marshfield School District offers youth apprenticeship programs, which place students in local businesses for part of their senior year, but only some local manufacturers were aware of the program.

Andy Martin, general manager of Innovative Machine Specialists, said he has been participating in the youth apprenticeship program, but he can’t rely solely on it to grow his workforce.

“I know I can grow two or three a year from the high schools in youth apprenticeship programs. That’s about what we can handle in the shop at a time,” Martin said. “We’re looking at a job that is probably 20 additional workers, and we are concerned about whether we can take the job on or not because (of) whether we can grow that fast.

“The workforce is going to determine how big we get,” Martin said.

From “Economic development study group to provide update Thursday” – Business, labor, community and academic leaders will get a briefing Thursday in Madison about a study in progress that will look at how well prepared Wisconsin is to meet the needs of businesses for skilled employees in coming years.

“The study is concentrating very heavily on the question of supply and demand, looking at major industry clusters, like agriculture and food production, manufacturing, etc., but is also looking very hard at the concept of skill clusters. Not just what kinds of skills are needed, but what capacity do we have to make sure those skill sets are transferable from one sector to another?” said Jim Wood, president of Wood Communications Group, Madison, and strategic counsel to Competitive Wisconsin.

Wood said the study is expected to be presented by about Labor Day. It will be the subject of three summits to be held this fall.

He said the effort stems from the 2010 “Be Bold Wisconsin” study that examined the state’s competitive position and urged a new economic development strategy.

“Workforce development is no longer a spectator sport. Everybody from parents to kids to teachers needs to be paying very close attention to this,” Wood said.

The briefing will be hosted by Madison Area Technical College, UW-Madison, UW Colleges, UW-Extension and Competitive Wisconsin. It will start at 9 a.m. at the Madison College West Campus, 302 S. Gammon Road. It’s one of about a dozen such meetings being held around the state.

The $300,000 study is being funded by grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the Bradley Foundation, and corporate donations.

From “Today’s manufacturing requires skilled workers” — By Bruce Trimble, Employer Services Director at the north Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board - Recent news articles around the state are pointing out some of the issues and causes for the current skills gap or workforce paradox.

There are the obvious reasons — not enough trained or skilled workers to fill the ranks of those retiring, increased orders and applicants with little or no training for the available positions. On recent employer visits, I have had some employers tell me their concerns about filling positions such as machinists or CNC operators and the impact this is having on their business.

Why do we have this situation? If you are a parent, perhaps the answer is to simply look in the mirror. I, too, am guilty as I encouraged my own child to attain a four-year degree without even considering a career in manufacturing. And, why did I do that? Misconceptions about what today’s manufacturing is all about (repetitive work, dirty conditions, etc.) and the theory that a four-year college degree guaranteed a higher wage. Also, I was repeating exactly what my own parents had encouraged me to do.

Today’s manufacturing jobs require computer skills beyond basics, technical skills and all critical thinking. Very few are the old vision of repetitive work and standing in one place for eight hours. The majority are in showroom-clean environments, requiring multiple skill sets and less and less repetition.

The North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board, or NCWWDB, is engaged in preliminary discussions with Grow North Regional Economic Development Corp., Nicolet Area Technical College and Northcentral Technical College to help change these misconceptions.

From getting parents and students at the junior high level into factories to see firsthand what is required and performed on a day-to-day basis, to getting more manufacturing awareness into classroom activities is our primary focus. The Grow North region encompasses 14 school districts, making this a bit of a logistical challenge.

October has been declared Manufacturing Month by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and we will focus efforts in that month but maintain the efforts year-round.

NCWWDB’s short-term training programs are helping to alleviate the immediate needs, but like those employers mentioned in the beginning of this article, we need to look to the future as manufacturing continues to drive Wisconsin’s economy.

From “Moraine Park Technical College, UW-FDL schedule workforce briefing July 12″ – Ensuring that Wisconsin develops and trains an exceptional work force will be the focus of a regional briefing session for area business, labor, civic and academic leaders, 7:30 to 9 a.m. on Thursday, July 12, in the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac LGI Room, 400 University Dr.

Co-hosted by Moraine Park Technical College and UW-Fond du Lac, in collaboration with Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI), this is one of almost a dozen sessions being held across Wisconsin this summer to gain a clear understanding of work force issues.

Steve Jenkins, president of the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation, will provide a local overview followed by a panel discussion. Panelists include: Jim Eden, vice-president of academic affairs at Moraine Park; Joe Reitemeier, president of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce; James Sebert, superintendent of the Fond du Lac School District; and John Short, CEO and dean at UW-Fond du Lac.

This briefing will in-clude presentations from CWI and Manpower Group and an overview of Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) programs. There will be an opportunity to discuss regional initiatives, opportunities and challenges with economic and work force development experts.

Major regional employers, regional economic development directors, local work force investment board members, labor representatives, local chambers of commerce directors, faculty with expertise in work force development and community members with an interest in these issues are invited to attend.
There is no cost for the briefing session.

To secure your spot, contact Sarah Ruben by Tuesday, July 3, at or (608) 259-0757 and indicate that you would like to attend the Fond du Lac briefing.

From  “Fox Valley Technical College Sees More Students in Programs” – Derek Fritsch has never considered himself a “university guy,” although he believes in continuing education. The 19-year-old from Oshkosh always saw traditional four-year colleges “as money pits, really,” where students spend too much time over books and theory. So he settled on taking a one-year home-building program through Fox Valley Technical College that has him working two eight-hour days in the field and two in the classroom each week. After earning his technical diploma, he intends to tackle other programs to expand his skill set.

More and more people, like Fritsch, are following nonlinear and unconventional routes to earning advanced education credentials as the cost of college soars and job prospects constrict. The technical diploma, also called a certificate by community colleges outside of Wisconsin, has particularly swelled in popularity in recent years to become the second most common post-secondary education attainment in the United States, according to a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Technical diplomas and certificates typically take about a year to complete, though some can take less time or several years. They tend to focus solely on training for specific occupations as opposed to a broader general education. More than 1 million certificates were awarded nationwide in 2010. That’s up from 300,000 awarded 16 years earlier in 1994 and puts certificates above associate degrees and master’s degrees in popularity, according to the study published in June.

FVTC has tracked a similar trend. The number of technical diplomas awarded by the college jumped 31 percent in the past five years from 5,572 in 2008 to 8,072 in 2012, according to graduation data provided to The Northwestern. The numbers add another layer to the changing ways in which Americans are pursuing a higher education following the economic recession that started in 2008. Technical colleges are seeing more adults over age 25 enrolling in classes as well as more university grads supplementing their degrees with a technical education.

“When individuals are looking at decisions about how and where to invest in their education … they are going to look for two things: One is the quickest path, and second is the most effective path. When you combine the technical diplomas, and what the Georgetown University study calls certificates, they are set up to do just that — provide students a quick but effective access to the education experiences that build workplace skills,” said Chris Matheny, vice president of instructional services at FVTC.

According to the study, concerns over rising tuition and student loan debt has brought significant attention to certificates, which are cheaper and take less time to complete than traditional two- or four-year degrees. The certificates, in essence, became bite-sized awards that allow individuals to piecemeal their post-secondary education. Two out of every three workers who have both a certificate and a college degree earned the certificate first, according to the study.

“What you’re seeing in those (enrollment) numbers is that those skills are valued by both employers in the marketplace and the students, who are making (education) decisions based on a return on investment,” Matheny said. Fritsch, who will complete his residential building construction program in August, said he will likely use his technical diploma as a stepping stone to earning an associate degree in construction management.
Or, he may enroll in other one-year programs to build up a wide array of credentials.

“It makes me a more versatile worker, I’m thinking,” he said. For now, certificates are not counted by many major surveys of college attainment. The Georgetown survey authors estimate the U.S. ranking among countries involved in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development would move from 15th to 10th in postsecondary completions if certificates were counted.

From “Nicolet College seminar shows need for skilled workers” – With the November election paradoxically both approaching quickly and dragging its feet in getting here, candidates from both parties have essentially rutted themselves into the same mundane rhetoric.

Listen to either side, and all you’ll hear is, “jobs, jobs, jobs, boo my opponent, jobs, jobs, possible war, jobs.”

But according to Jim Morgan, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) Foundation, the problem isn’t a lack of jobs, but instead a lack of skilled, qualified workers ready and willing to take the positions available.

That was the main point of Morgan’s message Thursday during a seminar at Nicolet College that involved a highly varied audience – SDR Superintendent Roger Erdahl, NCSS Administrator Teri Phalin, UW-Superior outreach specialist and academic advisor Dan Kuzlik, Nicolet Board of Trustees president and local business leader Ron Zimmerman, along with other local business and educational leaders.

Morgan started out by explaining his views on what he calls the “workforce paradox.”

Morgan pointed out that while there still is 7 percent unemployment, many manufacturing businesses cannot find workers qualified to fill the positions available.

This is a big problem for Wisconsin, according to Morgan, because manufacturing makes up such a large part of the state’s economy, especially in the Northwoods.

His solution? A multi-tiered approach at getting children interested and knowledgeable about the opportunities in the manufacturing field, while then providing them with the opportunities needed to gain the skills required in manufacturing.

Morgan said the biggest problem facing Wisconsin manufacturers today is the misconception that students need to end up getting a four-year degree in order to be successful in the world.

Because of this misconception, many students don’t even fathom going to a technical college to continue their education, and therefore, there is a serious lack of workers educated in the skills needed for many manufacturing jobs.

One of Morgan’s more interesting statistics was that about 70 percent of the jobs available require more than a high school diploma, but don’t necessarily require a four-year degree.

So while students are being indoctrinated by tradition that they need to go to a four-year college to be successful, a vast multitude of jobs are unfilled due to a lack of skilled laborers, Morgan said.

So we know what needs to be done – we need to get students knowledgeable about the manufacturing field and the opportunities presented by the state’s technical colleges – but how do we go about doing it?

According to Morgan, it’s a simple as communication.

Morgan and the WMC Foundation are calling for more open and honest communication with students starting as early as middle school.

If manufacturers can get students knowledgeable and interested in that line of work – by visiting schools, inviting students on tours of factories, and getting accurate information out about what a manufacturing employee truly does and what kind of salary they can expect – more students will consider a career in manufacturing instead of just believing the old stereotype that a factory worker is a poor, dirty, uneducated individual, according to Morgan.

And it’s not just the students that manufacturers need to communicate better with, but teachers as well, Morgan said.

Morgan points out that teachers, through no fault of their own, often encourage children to strive for a four-year degree because that is seen as the norm for being successful and, frankly, that’s what a teacher’s job is — to make local students successful.

Morgan said the problem is that many teachers believe the same stereotypes about factory workers as students and parents tend to believe.

Manufacturers need to work with teachers to show them that the field is growing, technology is advancing at an extremely fast rate, and skilled and knowledgeable individuals need to be able to take up the mantle after an aging workforce retires, according to Morgan.

But in the end, Morgan said, it’s simply about throwing away the old factory worker stereotypes and educating students, teachers, and parents alike about the how the manufacturing industry is growing and advancing and is ready to offer solid, good-paying jobs to those individuals with the skills needed to operate some serious equipment.

From “Some college graduates return to tech school for job training” – Ericka Seastrand graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in consumer science. She beat the pavement for nine months, and the only job she could get was retail sales associate at a mall.

“The market was really competitive,” the 26-year-old from West Milwaukee recalled last week. “My degree was a generic business degree – nothing technical or tangible in the skill set. So I decided to get another degree with a hard skill set.”

Seastrand is one of a surprising number of 20-somethings who graduated from college in recent years, couldn’t find good-paying jobs with their four-year degrees, and enrolled in a technical college to earn a second degree or diploma geared toward specific job opportunities.

In the last three years, 6.4% of the total number of degrees and diplomas awarded at Waukesha County Technical College went to 20-somethings who self-reported they had at least 16 years of education before enrolling at the technical college, according to data analysis requested by the Journal Sentinel. Twenty-somethings represented 79.5% of all WCTC’s grads from 2009 to 2011 who already had bachelor’s degrees.

The percentages of 20-somethings with bachelor’s degrees who graduated during the same time from other technical colleges in the state – Madison (5.5%), Milwaukee (2.9%), Moraine Park (2.3%) and Gateway (2.1%) – were lower, but still noteworthy.

Connecting college degrees with jobs is a high-stakes challenge as graduates compete for fewer jobs while facing the prospect of repaying hefty student loans because financially strapped parents couldn’t help pay for college, and tuition at four-year universities has risen faster than the rate of inflation.

The Legislature, starting next year, will require the University of Wisconsin System to report job placement for its grads as part of new accountability measures.

Those who are strategic from the start of college – networking through campus activities, tapping career counseling services early and gaining practical experience through undergraduate research, volunteer work or internships – have always been the most successful at landing jobs right away, college officials agree.

But those who aren’t as purposeful in their pursuit of a career have an increasingly difficult time in this economy, though college grads overall still fare much better than those without a degree. The government reported the April unemployment rate for college grads was 4%, compared with 7.9% for high school grads.

After finishing an associate degree in graphic design with an emphasis on Web design at Madison Area Technical College last December, Seastrand, of West Milwaukee, quickly landed a job at Pilch & Barnet in Madison.

Hers is a cautionary tale.

She didn’t use UW-Madison’s career counseling services beyond seminars on résumé writing and interview skills during her four years there. She also didn’t realize the value of networking early enough. She did have opportunities to do unpaid internships, but could not afford to take them because she needed a paying job, she said.

A paid internship gained through Madison Area Technical College helped Seastrand land her Web design job at Pilch & Barnet.

Now paying off more than $50,000 in student loan debt, Seastrand’s advice to graduating high school students is to be strategic about college:

“Get connected in the community and really understand what you want to do, then pursue it. I didn’t have a clear idea of what my future job would entail, so I could have the network and make myself more competitive,” she said.

A tech degree has made her more competitive, she said, “though I gained a lot of experience from my four-year degree that I think will pay off in the long run.”

Competitive job market

Companies can be very specific about what skills they want in prospective employees because they’re flooded with applicants in a tight economy, said Alfonso Studesville, a career counselor at Madison Area Technical College for the past 18 years.

“A technical college minimizes the academic and focuses more on hands-on skills and applications for a particular field,” he said. “We have a lot of students who want to get going quickly with a career. It’s an employer’s market; they have so many applicants with specific experience to pick from.”

UW-Madison frames a college education around critical skills and competencies “rather than knowledge of a subject,” said Wren Singer, director of the university’s Center for the First-Year Experience, which helps freshmen get off to a good start in college.

“Students are going to end up doing five to six different jobs in their career,” Wren said. “National research shows employers want problem-solving skills, critical thinking and the ability to get along with people. Majors in any number of areas can teach that.”

UW-Madison is starting earlier to impress upon college students the need to be strategic about networking and gaining experience through internships, volunteering in their field, and undergraduate research opportunities, Singer said.

She’s concerned that more students are choosing professional programs because of their direct links to jobs.

“I don’t know if they’re making the right choice, because they may not be happy if they haven’t really explored,” Singer said. “We want them to expand their thinking that you’re not preparing for the first job, but for the long run. . . . An education is intended to prepare them for the second job, the third job, being a citizen in the world and being part of a democracy.”

Today’s students aren’t that much different from generations before them, said Mark Nook, senior vice president for academic affairs for the University of Wisconsin System.

“They know there’s a value to their education,” Nook said. “But a bigger portion wants a job at the end and isn’t looking for an education, where – when I was a student – we knew if we got an education, we’d find jobs. There are more students coming for very specific reasons and really wanting that job waiting for them.”

Degree but no job

Jake Staral, 23, graduated in December 2010 from UW-Madison with a degree in biology, spent about six months applying for jobs, and enrolled in Moraine Park Technical College’s water quality technology program on the advice of a family friend.

A first-generation college student, Staral said he had to figure out a lot for himself.

“I thought it would be easy to get a job that paid $30,000 to $40,000 a year, so I was a little bewildered after I graduated,” he said. “But I know the four-year degree will help me, along with the hands-on experience I’m gaining at Moraine Park.”

Staral plans to graduate from Moraine Park next year. He wishes he had taken advantage of advising services at UW-Madison.

That’s a step in the right direction, according to Katee Longmore, 26, who graduated from UW-Milwaukee in December 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in architectural studies.

Last weekend, Longmore graduated from Milwaukee Area Technical College with a second degree – an associate degree in landscape horticulture. She has a job at Kelly’s Greenscapes in Sussex.

She has no regrets about first earning a bachelor’s degree.

“These two degrees together are getting me where I need to be,” Longmore said. She wishes she had gotten involved with student organizations, and gained experience through internships before finishing a degree she wasn’t sure she wanted, she added.

Megan Gardner, 27, graduated from UW-Whitewater in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and a minor in marketing.

She worked for four years as a marketing assistant at a local lighting manufacturer before it went out of business in May 2011.

“I knew it would be hard to find another job because of the economy, and I was scared I could lose my job again if I found one, so I decided I needed a career with more stability,” Gardner said.

Her parents own a dental lab in Waukesha, and suggested she think about becoming a dental technician.

Gardner graduated from MATC’s dental technician technical diploma program a week ago, and works at the family dental lab.

“I’m still interested in marketing and graphic design, but I really like being a dental technician,” she said.

“I have no regrets about my four-year degree, because I have a well-rounded education.”

From “Fox Valley manufacturers face uphill battle to find workers” – GRAND CHUTE — If 10 highly skilled machinists were to walk into Pinnacle Machine today, co-owner Don Miller would hire them all on the spot.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of work out there,” said Miller, who also manages the plant that produces components used in power generation and water purification.

The plant, which employs 32 people, needs more workers to grow, but Miller — along with other manufacturers — says the Fox Valley lacks workers with the right skills to perform the job.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business advocacy organization, and manufacturers like Miller say the problem must be addressed now to meet today’s needs and keep the state competitive in the future.

Luring a younger generation of workers into manufacturing will take some convincing that good careers are available, said Jim Morgan, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation, who was the keynote speaker Monday at Fox Valley Technical College. He discussed findings from about 50 listening sessions on current and future workforce needs with more than 300 manufacturers around the state.

Morgan said the consensus among manufacturers is orders are picking up, but expansion is hindered by a lack of available workers with the skills to operate computer-assisted equipment. The existing workforce also is aging and fewer people are pursuing manufacturing careers.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce estimates that 70 percent of all the available jobs in Wisconsin do not require a four-year degree. Younger generations, however, are taught not to pursue skilled-trade careers and are encouraged to attend college.

Plant closures and layoffs in the Fox Cities in recent years, including those by consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark Corp. and papermaker NewPage Corp., also hurt manufacturing’s perception in the community.

“Today’s young generation may have been touched by someone in their family being laid off,” Miller said. “The respect and trust in manufacturing may not be there today like it was when I got into it.”

But manufacturers acknowledge outreach initiatives targeted at youths to spark their interest in manufacturing at an early age have been lacking.

“We aren’t telling our story,” Morgan said. “We need to change the perception of what manufacturing is like today.”

In October, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce will roll out a public awareness campaign to highlight manufacturing’s importance to the state.

“We recognize that we have to open people’s minds to our profession,” Morgan said.

Miller said though the starting salary for an entry-level machinist at his company ranges between $12 and $14 per hour, a highly skilled Class A machinist could earn “in the neighborhood of $70,000.”

But he said many workers perceive a job at a plant as less glamorous than an office or executive-level job.

“I’ve offered jobs to people who work in a fast-food restaurant and they stayed in that job because they didn’t want to work in a shop,” Miller said.

Susan May, president of Fox Valley Technical College, said the college offers numerous programs, including Girl Tech and a high-mileage vehicle competition, to introduce youth to the skilled trades.

“We’ve been working on this issue for the past 10 years,” she said. “And we recognize that more needs to be done.”

From “Rising, UWMC, NTC enrollment reflects trends” – The University of Wisconsin Marathon County and Northcentral Technical College are part of a national trend that has seen college enrollment shoot up as the economy has struggled.

But the two public colleges differ from many four-year and private universities across the country because they have generally kept the same admission standards for years and rarely turn students away.

For the last five years or so, particularly during the recession, colleges across the country have been inundated with applications and from 2008 to 2009, enrollment in college grew by more than 7 percent to just under 21 million, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. New figures show that rates of enrollment still are increasing, though at a slower rate. In 2010, the number of students in postsecondary institutions was 21.6 million, up 2.8 percent from 2009.

At the same time, many colleges and other institutions have made their admission process more competitive, a trend described in a January 2008 Newsweek article titled “Getting in Gets Harder.”

Laurie Borowicz, vice president of student services at Northcentral Technical College, has just completed a doctoral dissertation on enrollment trends. The economy has played a significant role in the increased interest in college, Borowicz said, because students realize they need more than a high school diploma to get a job. And colleges are facing budget cutbacks at the same time, so many have tightened admission standards.

NTC has not changed its admissions standards significantly, Borowicz said, except for students who want to enter health programs. Those were so popular there were waiting lists, Borowicz said, some stretching several years.

“That wasn’t serving us or the students well,” she said. Now students take an admission test and are accepted to health programs based on the results.

In other programs, no one ever is turned away, Borowicz said. Students with poor high school grades are allowed to enter remedial courses to qualify for NTC.

From”Black hawk Tech sees role in expanding economy” – The local economy will rebound, expand and prosper.

To make that happen, it will need a place where workers can improve their skills for 21st century needs.

That’s the feeling at the top echelons of Blackhawk Technical College, which has a new master plan that calls for greatly expanding the school.

“We have faith in the economic growth of this region,” BTC President Tom Eckert said in a recent interview.

Blackhawk Technical College’s last expansion ended seven years ago with the completion of $17.5 million in referendum projects at the main campus in central Rock County and in Monroe.

Since then, BTC has added its Beloit Center at the Eclipse Center, recently increasing its classroom space there.

But needs have grown and are expected to continue to do so, Eckert said.

“We envision getting bigger and serving more people,” he said.

The referendum project left room for about 3,000 full- and part-time students, Eckert said. But that was before General Motors and related employers closed their doors and the national economy took a nosedive.

Enrollment increased 54 percent as workers tried to reinvent themselves, Eckert said, and even though the economy seems to be strengthening, enrollments have dropped only slightly.

Computers, health sciences, even the culinary department are crowded, Eckert said. The Monroe campus is at capacity. Prospective students are being told there’s no more room.

“When you have no place to put anybody, you have to address it,” Eckert said.

BTC officials and Strang Inc. of Madison have been working on the master plan for about two years.

Strang’s research included an assessment of buildings and grounds, collection of data on how and when rooms are used, interviews with staff and students and alignment of the plan to the college’s strategic goals, said Renea Ranguette, BTC’s vice president for finance and operations.

Strang, which was paid was paid $123,410 for the work, also wrote a five-year maintenance plan that covers projects such as replacement of roofs, parking lots, windows and various parts of the heating/cooling system.

One of the recurring themes Strang heard from staff in all divisions was a lack of general-purpose classrooms, Ranguette said.

Classroom space is at a premium, even though classes are scheduled in the evenings and on weekends.

Other areas for expansion the study identified by talking to staff and students:

– More large, tiered lecture halls, especially for general-education classes.

– More spaces for staff and students to collaborate. The ability to work in teams is said to be a key skill employers want.

– More conference/meeting rooms for the college’s frequent guests.

– More dual-purpose rooms—for example, a room with traditional seating along with computer stations.

– More lab space for health services classes with an increasing emphasis on simulating what goes on in hospitals and clinics. Health professions continue to be one of the highest-demand areas at BTC.

– More interactive training spaces for police and firefighter training.

– The library is small but used intensively. More wireless Internet access and small rooms for study groups are needed, Ranguette said.

– More space for the information technology division.

– Students are more active at BTC than at a typical commuter, two-year campus, so more student-activities space is desired.

– Student services wants a tutoring/testing center.

The five-phase plan is a big-picture look at future needs. It does not include details such as floor plans or costs, Eckert said. Rather, it sets a tone and direction.

Here’s breakdown of the plan:


Description: Build an advanced manufacturing center by remodeling 130,000 square feet in the Beloit Ironworks building, now owned by Hendricks Commercial Properties, in downtown Beloit. Move classes there from the main campus, freeing up 30,000 square feet to remodel at the central-campus building. Demolish two pole buildings—18,000 square feet—attached to the rear of the central-campus building.

Timeframe: Advanced manufacturing center work could begin before the end of this year or sometime in 2013, officials said. Students would begin taking classes there in late 2013 or sometime in 2014.



Description: Build a 56,000-square-foot health sciences building facing what is now the main entrance on the central campus. The multi-story building also would house a library. The building would simulate a hospital to make learning as realistic as possible. Once the building is complete, classes would move in, freeing up 36,000 square feet in the main building for remodeling.

Timeframe: About five years from now, although projections are uncertain this far into the future. This phase likely would require borrowing through a referendum-authorized bond issue.



Description: A 32,000-square-foot addition on the west side of the central-campus main building and a 4,000-square-foot addition to the administrative center. At about the same time, the Monroe campus would be expanded, with the oldest part of the building to be demolished, leaving 15,000 square feet built in 2005, and 54,000 square feet would be added.

Monroe would have new space for health sciences and advanced manufacturing.

Timeframe: About 10 years out.



Description: Two 70,000-square-foot buildings, built to the west and downhill from the current main campus, with no purpose specified at this time. An outdoor amphitheater between the two buildings would be dedicated to student activities. These and the buildings in Phase 5 would ensure capacity for expansion. Parking would be added along with the buildings.

Timeframe: About 20 years.



Description: Two 70,000-square-foot buildings built farther to the west.

Timeline: 50 to 70 years.

The plan assumes no more expansions at BTC’s Center for Transportation Studies on Janesville’s north side, the BTC Center at Beloit’s Eclipse Center, which recently was doubled in size, or at the aviation center at the airport.

The aviation mechanics program recently was suspended as a cost-saving measure.

The plan also assumes that a new advanced manufacturing center would be built in Beloit and that the noncredit training and customized courses that BTC sets up for local businesses would move from the central campus to a building close to some of its customers, perhaps in an industrial park.

Manufacturing center would be based in Beloit

Blackhawk Technical College plans to build one of the country’s best training facilities for manufacturing workers.

The advanced manufacturing center, as it is being called, would be in the old Beloit Corp. building now known as the Ironworks along the Rock River in downtown Beloit. Construction could start as early as later this year.

The plan is based on the belief that manufacturing will continue to be a big part of this area’s economy but that workers will need to be more highly skilled.

The ability to deliver a skilled workforce to local companies will be crucial, BTC President Tom Eckert said.

Renovations to make the 130,000-square-foot Beloit facility a reality could cost upwards of $10 million, Eckert guessed, but don’t expect Blackhawk to ask taxpayers to finance the work through a referendum.

Eckert has been discussing a public-private partnership to get the job done, which means large, private donations and grants.

Eckert said he is working with the Ironworks owner, Hendricks Development, to get an affordable lease.

Eckert said he planned to meet with Hendricks officials at the end of this month to work on fundraising.

The advanced manufacturing center would be state of the art and feature large windows into the hands-on classrooms to combat the perception that manufacturing is a mindless, dirty job, Eckert said.

The center would allow BTC to double the capacity of its welding program, Eckert said. Welders are expected to be in high demand for some time. Fabrication welding courses would be added to the curriculum.

The center also would house programs in precision machining; heating, air conditioning and ventilation; electro-mechanical/robotics; and industrial maintenance.

The facility would be built like a wheel, with various skill areas being taught in the spokes. The hub would contain a laboratory where students from the various disciplines would join to build manufacturing processes from the ground up.

The lab also could be used to develop small-scale manufacturing prototypes for local companies looking to produce new products.

From “Job prospects improve for college graduates” – College graduates face better job prospects this year than in any since the recession.

That doesn’t mean finding a job is easier than it’s been, but there are more of them.

“In general, we’re seeing certain occupations or sectors that are getting better,” said Jennifer Pigeon, manager of career services and K-14 relations at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.

That view is seconded by Amanda Nycz, director of career services at St. Norbert College in De Pere, and Linda Peacock-Landrum, who holds the same position at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“This past year we’ve definitely seen an increase in hiring. There have been more job postings and an increased presence (of employers) at job fairs,” Peacock-Landrum said.

St. Norbert senior Emily Collins, 21, who graduates today, said classmates who’ve gotten jobs give her hope.

“I think the jobs are out there as long as you are doing your part and looking for them,” Collins said. “It’s really helpful to at least have a little plan.”

Technical college graduates find jobs quicker than graduates of four-year schools, mostly because they often are training for specific jobs. And more of their students are older and have some work experience.

Mark Hickman will graduate Monday from NWTC. Hickman, 54, was a warehouse foreman at Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay when he was laid off in September 2010.

“I always preached to my workers to keep your skills fresh,” he said.

Taking his own advice, he entered NWTC’s two-year supply chain management program, which he completed in a year and a half.

He was hired by The Manitowoc Co., where he is a warehouse supervisor.

“The manager said he hired me because I had 30 years’ work experience and I upgraded my skills. He said that was the key ingredient,” he said.

Networking remains one of the best tools for finding jobs, Nycz said.

“This is my sixth professional job. Every single one, I knew someone at the place I ended up working,” she said.

Up to 70 percent of jobs are gotten through knowing someone, Nycz said.

Social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, internships and job fairs all are ways to network.

Peacock-Landrum said some companies will post openings on LinkedIn or through other networks, but not their websites.

Collins interned at one company where she interviewed and has another coming up where at least one employee is a St. Norbert College grad.

“It makes it much more comfortable to know someone is there to help you,” she said.

Job availability is across the board; manufacturing, engineering, information technology and health care are among the leaders.

“We have a high need from employers for computer science grads,” Nycz said. “They are looking at people with high technical skills, who have that critical thinking.”

One of the few subjects to cross the divide in this supercharged political climate is the need for more qualified manufacturing employees. The administrations of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, are quick to tout the advantages of manufacturing careers.

“It’s about educating the general work force that manufacturing is a viable career and it’s right here in our backyard,” Pigeon said.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday released an analysis of wages and benefits of manufacturing workers that found that total hourly compensation for manufacturing workers is 17 percent higher than for nonmanufacturing workers.

“I don’t think students understand what’s available for them in manufacturing, and the support roles are fewer. I think that’s why our students don’t think immediately about manufacturing,” Peacock-Landrum said.

Nycz said middle management jobs are increasing, as are sales and marketing opportunities.

Other areas of growth include environmental and energy jobs, logistics and supply chain management, heavy equipment operation and diesel repair.

“Construction does seem to be coming back as well. I had two employers this week contact me about construction students,” Pigeon said.

From “Goals for regional economic growth outlined” – About 300 elected officials, company heads and community leaders from south central Wisconsin were told Wednesday it’s time to stop resting on their laurels, get past any rural-urban conflicts of the past and work as a team if they want to spark the area’s economy in the coming years.

Advance Now, the eight-month project to create a plan to spur economic growth for the eight-county Madison region, presented its recommendations and promised a series of goals that include:

• Increasing the number of businesses by 5.2 percent in the next five years.

• Compiling a list of “shovel-ready” sites for development.

• Matching local company needs with training and education programs.

• Increasing access to capital and developing a regional system to bring innovations to market.

• Closing racial and geographic achievement gaps.

• Increasing the number of minorities in leadership positions.

• Creating a regional brand identity and a national public relations campaign.

In a presentation at the Sheraton Madison Hotel, Mac Holladay, chief executive of Market Street Services, exhorted local leaders to set aside any bickering of the past.

“This is not a partisan politics game,” Holladay said sharply, drawing applause. “It is time for you all to stop yelling at each other and start talking to each other … (or) this place is going to fail.

“The silos need to come down. The boundaries don’t matter.”

Holladay’s Atlanta consultant firm has been working on Advance Now with Thrive, the economic development partnership for Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green, Iowa, Jefferson, Rock and Sauk counties.

Holladay reiterated statistics compiled for Advance Now showing while poverty in the region is low, it is growing faster than in peer regions of Austin, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; and Lincoln, Neb. In addition, per capita income is below the national average.

“You cannot take your past success for granted, because it is slipping away from you already,” he said.

A 119-page report details hundreds of specifics, which also include piloting a network of life sciences entrepreneurs and considering establishing an arts incubator.

Holladay said it’s “going to take a lot of money” to have adequate staff and resources to handle this type of effort. At a reception after the presentation, Holladay estimated costs of $1.5 million to $2 million per year for the next five years.

A strategy of this size generally involves 10 to 20 staff members, said Thrive communications manager Betsy Lundgren. Thrive currently has six full-time employees and two part-time interns.

Kaleem Caire, president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, said the effort may involve hiring someone to boost opportunities for minorities to create “a true region, not one based on fiction but one based in reality.”

The next phase of Advance Now will be to put the recommendations into effect, starting in 2013.

“We’ll proceed with implementing it and tracking it as we go,” Lundgren said.

From “Experts offer advice for job seekers, displaced workers” – New numbers show Wisconsin lost more jobs in the past year than any other state in the country. The state lost 23,900 jobs from March 2011 to March 2012 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

But it’s not all bad news. During the past two months, the unemployment rate fell in every county in our viewing area but two: Vilas and Forest.

Employment experts told Newsline 9 jobs are out there, you just might need some extra training to land one.

That’s why Terry Olds is hitting the books to land a new job. “Last time I was in high school was 1975 so now coming back to school and doing math, some of that I’ve never had,” he said.

Olds started working at the NewPage mill in Whiting after graduating high school, but he lost that job last year when the mill shut down. “You know, I’ve worked there for 34 years, high school education, you know, ‘what do I do now?,’” he said.

His answer? Go back to school–a choice employment experts say is becoming more common.

“You know you have jobs and you know you have people who need jobs but we need to get people’s skills upgraded,” Tom Younger, manager of the Marathon County Job Center said. “We have so many really good workers who were displaced because of the economy.”

To some of those workers, he recommends getting some specialized training. Olds did. He’s enrolled in a welding program at Northcentral Technical College. School leaders say such specialized training gives graduates an edge.

“We help them gain the skills and knowledge they need to really get a good job now,” Vice President of Student Services for NTC Laurie Borowicz told Newsline 9.

Over at UW-Marathon County, officials say laid-off workers can benefit from getting a degree.

Jim Rosenberg, adult student initiative coordinator for the school said, “If you look at the statistics about unemployment, and also pay ranges coming out of that it really matters to have academic credentials.”

But going back to school can be expensive. School leaders said there are federal programs to help pay for it. Olds qualifies for one of those programs and says this new adventure has given him a second chance.

“Everyone that’s lost their jobs, just keep your head up,” he said.

From “Survey: Oshkosh good for business” – Oshkosh business executives say Oshkosh has better universities and technical colleges, fewer problems recruiting employees and a better economic outlook than their counterparts throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

In 2011, the Oshkosh Business Retention and Expansion Committee, an Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corp. subcommittee, conducted 38 one-on-one surveys with Oshkosh CEOs and business owners to determine their business outlook and to identify problems such as transportation and parking issues or training problems before they become more significant.

Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Partnership communities in 16 counties have conducted a total of 286 surveys since the program started in 2007.

OAEDC Economic Development Coordinator Evan Wendlandt said results from 2011 surveys indicate none of the 38 Oshkosh businesses expect to close in the next three years and 82 percent of them project sales growth in the next year. In comparison to regional results, Wendlandt said fewer Oshkosh companies reported problems with employee recruitment and retention and more expect the economy will improve in the next five years.

“We want to find out what they’re seeing now, what they fear might happen and for these interviews to be the first red flag so if any issues come up, we can resolve them right away,” Wendlandt said.

Festival Foods Manager Rick Vanderloop said his meeting with the group a few months ago helped ease some of the grocery store’s concerns about the closure of the U.S. Highway 41/State Highway 21 interchange well before construction began last week.

“We discussed how we were going to get customers to come to this side, to make it more of a destination,” Vanderloop said. “They told us about the West Side Association’s sign program and that helped us direct traffic around the road closings.”

Vanderloop called it “a good discussion.”

Melissa Kohn, director of Fox Valley Technical College’s Oshkosh campus conducted some of the interviews. She said the tenor of the interviews was positive even during the recession, when companies faced challenges at every turn.

“I’ve gone through the down time where some of these companies could have talked about doom and gloom, but there’s always been this sense of optimism about things getting better,” Kohn said. “What I often find is employers are, first, appreciative of the interest in their business and, second, reaffirmed. Employers really want to show us what they’re making, what their product is.”

Kohn said she also benefits from the process. She said she gains a better understanding of the local economy and what FVTC can do to remain responsive and helpful to manufacturers in the area.

OAEDC Executive Director Rob Kleman said the surveys also noted many companies reported financing, the state’s tax structure, public transportation and parking remain issues.

“The most important part of the program is we’re reaching out to our local businesses and wanting them to tell us the good things as well as the local issues they face, so we can help address them right away,” Kleman said. “Any issues that do come up, we incorporate into our work plans so we make sure businesses can get what they’d like.”

From “Educators band in support of economic development” – Eight institutions in Northwestern Wisconsin are joining together to form a regional consortium of educational partners called Northwest Wisconsin Educators for Regional Development, or NorthWERD.

The group has been developed to respond to the needs of regional developers and students, as well as identify regional economic trends and opportunities for graduates as they choose a career path. NorthWERD partners will celebrate the group’s formation in a signing event at the Lac Courte Oreilles Community College in Hayward on Wed., March 28, at 9 a.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“I’m really excited about the partnership in that all the partners have a tremendous attitude in working together,” says Bob Meyer, NorthWERD chairman and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College president. “I think the combined effort and enthusiasm of everyone involved will make NorthWERD a great success as educators listen to and support the needs of economic developers in the region.”

NorthWERD comprises representatives from public, private and tribal higher learning institutions and agencies, including Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College campuses, University of Wisconsin system schools, UW-Extension, Lac Courte Oreilles Community College, Northcentral Technical College, C.E.S.A. 12 and Northland College. Meyer says the group will facilitate collaboration among partners while leveraging collective resources to meet current and emerging educational needs for students, communities, governments and businesses in the region.

“Economic development goes beyond economic growth,” says Michael A. Miller, NorthWERD vice-chairman and Northland College president. “We need to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place and enhance access to programs for students and regional developers in order to grow a vibrant business community.”

NorthWERD has outlined four focus areas that will help participating institutions be more responsive to economic development needs in order to promote healthier, sustainable communities. The consortium of educators will focus on responding to regional educational and economic development needs, assess existing research and gather additional data to pinpoint economic opportunities, provide career pathways to success and offer academic advising and assessment for parents and students.

From “Manufacturers need a smart workforce” —  With 20 percent of our state’s employees working in manufacturing, Wisconsin boasts the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the country. We also have the most to win or lose if we don’t collectively address the ongoing need for a robust, skilled workforce.

That’s why I was pleased to participate in a recent meeting of Wisconsin manufacturing and educational leaders hosted by the Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Commerce, Dr. Rebecca Blank. The Deputy Secretary was here to discuss ways public policy can support and promote the type of education that’s needed to close a growing “skills gap.”

But the meeting was a reminder to me that perhaps the biggest gap we have to close isn’t just in our skills, but also in our collective thinking.

Represented at the meeting were some of Wisconsin’s leading biotechnology and biosciences businesses – industry sectors for which the importance of a well-educated, innovative workforce is widely understood. However, what many people may not realize is that, even for the more traditional manufacturers that are the backbone of our state’s economy, highly skilled workers are crucial.

In virtually all sectors of manufacturing, our country’s ability to compete effectively with low-labor-cost countries like China and India requires advanced technologies and materials, sophisticated software systems and controls, and some of the world’s most knowledgeable and experienced engineers. These are among the reasons manufacturing is leading our economic recovery today.

That’s where we’re winning…for now. But when you look ahead, the news isn’t all good.

The United States is grossly behind the rest of the world in driving students into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) higher education programs. Only 12 percent of our students graduate in STEM-related fields, compared to 25 percent in China and 27 percent in Korea. Perhaps even more alarming, 37 percent of our STEM graduates leave the U.S. to return to their native countries, armed with knowledge from our world-renowned educational systems. And these are the same increasingly scarce skills all U.S. manufacturers need to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Wisconsin has long been looked to as an industry leader. So how are we taking action to confront this pressing problem? Here’s just one example. As chairman of the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s Manufacturing Steering Committee, I’m excited to report that we’re partnering with the Wisconsin Technical College System to bring the National Association of Manufacturers’ “Dream It. Do It.” program to our state.

The goal of “Dream It. Do It.” is twofold: to increase awareness among our young people that they can fulfill their dreams of engaging and rewarding careers by entering the manufacturing industry; and to align manufacturers, educational institutions, young people and their parents in making these dreams a reality.

It could be the beginning of an important shift in our collective thinking – one that bridges the gaps in both our workers’ skills and our collective mindset related to manufacturing. In Wisconsin and across the country, when we recognize that all manufacturing produces rewarding, family-sustaining careers, and that all sectors today require a highly skilled and innovative workforce, we will place the right emphasis on education required to ensure a vibrant economic future.


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