From “First Person: Northwoods Women in Business organization” — With the recent expansion and addition of companies and manufacturing firms in the Northwoods, the potential for entrepreneurial success continues to rise in the area. Many organizations and groups have been founded to implement strong business skills and effective marketing strategies to help local companies grow. We recently spoke with Nicolet College’s Business Development and Outreach specialist and the founder of Northwoods Women in Business, Michelle Madl-Soehren, about the goals of NWIB.

Star Journal: What is the primary focus of the Northwoods Women in Business organization?

Michelle Madl-Soehren: The organization was founded in July of 2010 primarily to involve women in the Northwoods area who are active businesswomen in the community. It’s not just a group for entrepreneurs, but really an organization for women, by women and includes all women who are in business in some way, shape or form.

SJ: What are some of the topics and issues that the organization focuses on?

MM: Because our organization has members with so many different backgrounds in terms of business and location, we cover a variety of topics that represent the interests of the group. Some of the topics we emphasize are how to balance a home and work life, ways to enhance business through social media and networking, public speaking techniques, methods of taking a business to the next level, building a business on a budget and successful strategies to reduce stress in a working environment. Along with these topics, we host guest speakers and organize local events to highlight the potential that small businesses have in this area.

SJ: What is your outlook for the organization in terms of coming months and years?

MM: We’re looking to expand our group and would love to see more women join the organization. With a hopeful expansion of the organization, we’re hoping to create and support a website for NWIB in the future, but since our group doesn’t require a membership fee, we’re utilizing social media sites more to spread information so we can keep costs down. One of our goals as an organization is to plan a Northwoods Women in Business conference for 2014. I attend the Women in Business conference in Eau Claire each year and would love to see an event similar in the area.

SJ: How can women in the area get involved in Northwoods Women in Business?

MM: We hold a meeting every last Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Northwoods Center of Nicolet Technical College. We just had our first meeting since last fall and we had women from seven surrounding cities attend. One of the topics we covered at our last meeting was the revival of monthly newsletters which showcases individual women in business within the area, so members can look forward to those again. Anyone interested in attending a meeting may email to be included in our mailing list, or visit our Facebook page.

From “CVTC students make the cut at salon competition” — When Chippewa Valley Technical College barber/cosmetology student Angelica Johnson finished her model’s hair, she checked out what other contestants were doing and her confidence level soared.

“After I looked around when I was done, I knew I was going to win,” she said.

Johnson’s confidence was not misplaced. She placed first in the Men’s Cut, Color and Style category and received the Most Creative Fashion Award at the Minnesota State InSalon competition Oct. 14.

Johnson, who is originally from Milwaukee, was one of three CVTC students to earn awards in the prestigious competition for student stylists over a four-state region.

Amanda Gildea of Glenwood City placed third in the Women’s Evening Look category, and Lydia Ulwelling of Durand placed sixth in Men’s Cut, Color and Style.

Seven CVTC students participated in the competition this year.

Competition for the awards is intense, said CVTC instructor and barber/cosmetology department chairwoman Becky Hicks.

The event draws about 80 competitors from private cosmetology schools and technical colleges.

Students must develop an original style for the competition, provide a model and complete the styling within a given time frame. They generally know what they are going to do and have practiced the style. Any hair coloring is done in advance.

“We take about a month and a half for training, to practice and get the style down,” Hicks said.

Johnson’s task was particularly challenging because she created an ethnic style. A shortage of such models prevented her from getting a lot of practice.

“It was my second ethnic haircut,” Johnson said.

In addition, the model’s hair texture was a little more difficult to work with.

She was nervous and “shaking the entire time,” she said. “I didn’t want to look around and see what the others were doing.”

In developing a style, Johnson used tips her brother provided. He also attended CVTC and is a professional stylist.

Gildea used pictures of other styles as inspiration for her evening style. “In the end, what it looked like was totally different than imagined,” Gildea said.

Her model has long hair, and she had trouble completing the style in the time allowed.

Gildea was surprised at her award. “There were a lot of pretty updos. I was intimidated,” she said.

Ulwelling’s big challenge was devising a new plan days before the competition, when her model’s hair turned out to be too short for her original idea.

She came up with a “bald fade,” which is a tapered cut that is longest in front and fades to a shorter cut at the back.

Prizes included trophies, medals, plus $250, $150 and $75 scholarships for first through third places.

All three students recently finished the program at CVTC.

From “Partnership lets high school students try hand at tech careers” — As most local students head back to the classroom today, some are gearing up to earn community college credits without leaving their high school.

The Green Bay School District partnered with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College this year to offer several technical-college level courses at Southwest High School. The students will earn dual high school and college credit, with hopes that they will continue studies at NWTC and move into a technical career.

Students can learn welding, blueprint reading and graphic-design computer programs as a way to explore careers in fields with a shortage of qualified workers, educators say.

NWTC President Jeff Rafn has said most jobs will require some sort of post-secondary training, noting that he has worked with local businesses and schools to promote partnerships.

A national study shows that by 2018, 63 percent of all U.S. job openings will require some sort of post-secondary education. A 2010 study by the Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workforce estimated that businesses will need nearly 22 million workers with post-secondary degrees in another decade, but colleges will fall short by about 3 million graduates.

Local educators hope working with students while still in high school or even middle and elementary school, will help them think about and prepare for education after high school graduation.

As part of that effort, Green Bay high school students visited NWTC to survey careers they were interested in.

“They showed an interest in health care, as well as the trades, especially the technical and engineering trades,” said Brooke Holbrook, career prep specialist for NWTC. “So we decided to start there.”

The college and district also looked at labor market trends before setting up the Southwest High School program, she said.

“Advanced manufacturing is in high demand in Green Bay and in Wisconsin,” Holbrook said.. “An example we use is welding. Those graduates end up hired right away, sometimes before they graduate. If high school students get started learning that, it puts them that much further ahead.”

The new program aims to help students think about the types and availability of jobs, as well as the training they would need to be qualified, Holbrook said.

“What high school student is thinking about that?” she said. “Many just think, ‘What interests me’ or ‘Who teaches that?’ We want them to really consider how they can prepare for their post-secondary education.”

“We’ve really been thinking about things we can do to bridge the gap.”

The Southwest program replicates the NWTC curriculum and Southwest teachers are certified to teach the technical college courses, Holbrook said.

The Green Bay district installed needed equipment at Southwest. NWTC is not charging the district for anything, and students will earn college credits without paying tuition.

Fall classes include blueprint reading and welding. Spring will provide a second blueprinting class, a metal fabricating class and an introduction to MacIntosh class.

Many other of Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges offer similar programs, she said. NWTC also likely will eventually offer classes that would require high school students to attend class on the college campus. For example, NWTC houses expensive engineering equipment too costly to replicate at a high school, Holbrook said.

But she expects the program to grow, and to be something of interest to students in private schools or other school districts.

“When you are looking at advanced manufacturing, it is different than the past,” Holbrook said. “In the past, manufacturers would hire people and do on site training. Now they expect them to have skills, not just technical skills, but soft skills.”

Soft skills include social traits such as communication or negotiation in the workplace.

“Our work force is aging,” Holbrook said. “We need to replace them. Manufacturers really look at high schools as a pipeline.”

Green Bay also expects programming to expand.

“In my previous life as a school counselor, I realized not everybody is four-year university bound,” said Kim Pahlow,associate superintendent for the Green Bay district. “We need to find a way to meet the needs of all students.”

The new program “gives students an engagement opportunity,” Pahlow said. “It opens up an avenue for if they want to go on to private or public colleges. By earning college credits, students reduce the time from high school into a skilled-labor position.”

The district worked to provide classes students were interested in, as well as ones that lead to in-demand jobs, she said.

The Green Bay School District is divided into four quadrants, each anchored by one of four high schools — East, West, Preble and Southwest. The Southwest quadrant eventually could be designated as the quadrant that focuses on technical education, becoming a draw for students from other schools interested in that programming, Pahlow said.

“This is something that won’t end here,” Holbrook said.

From  “TECH-KNOWLEDGE-Y: Moraine Park program puts middle school students on career fast track” — FOND DU LAC — The winning combination of fun and learning was in full gear as 250 area middle school students experienced Tech KnowledgeCollege on Moraine Park’s Fond du Lac campus.

Participants got a glimpse last week into college life and potential careers as they made movies, manufactured yo-yos, built robots, prepared gourmet dishes and perfected hair techniques.

Students from throughout Moraine Park’s district participated in hands-on learning through 20 different course offerings. There was something for everyone and the kids took away new skills in a variety of areas, from health care to culinary arts.

Moraine Park has hosted Tech Knowledge College for more than 20 years. Although sessions have changed to complement new and evolving technology, the purpose of the event has remained the same — to give students a chance to get a hands-on look at the skills and careers needed today and in the future.

“It’s very rewarding to see these students receiving the exposure to career and technical education and their excitement about it,” said Katie VandeSlunt, recruitment specialist at Moraine Park. “Even more fulfilling is to see how many students come back for the three years and then send younger siblings.”

VandeSlunt is involved with Moraine Park’s new student orientation events and saw many familiar names from Tech Knowledge College.

“What they’re learning at Moraine Park is resonating when they come back for their post-secondary education,” she said.

From “Good jobs are out there, but manufacturers seeking skilled workers” — Last year, 47 hourly workers at Strohwig Industries took home more than $100,000 each.

With an average wage of $25 per hour, employees of this Richfield tooling and machining manufacturer raked in six figures partly because of monthly profit-sharing bonuses, but mostly because a shortage of skilled workers is forcing many of them to work overtime.

“We’re constantly looking for qualified employees,” says Mike Retzer, the controller for Strohwig, located about 25 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

Strohwig is not alone. In March, 250 employers, instructors and community members representing Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry met in Madison for a conference hosted by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state business lobby.

The goal of the conference, titled “The Workforce Paradox,” was to address the skills gap that is preventing manufacturers from filling vacant positions and is stalling job creation in Wisconsin.

Vicki Markussen, executive director of the 7 Rivers Alliance, said the strong metal manufacturing sector in the Coulee Region has led to a strong demand for welders and machinists.

Now that the economy is beginning to recover, those companies are hiring again, but many of the workers have moved on to other jobs, and there aren’t enough new trainees to fill the need.

“These people aren’t there,” she said. “The workforce just isn’t there.”

But the jobs are, says  Jim Morgan, vice president of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and president of the WMC Foundation.

“People don’t understand we are still employing (more than) 430,000 people in manufacturing in this state,” he said.“I don’t think Wisconsin survives without (manufacturing). This state was built on it.”

The number of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin had fallen in recent years, from nearly 600,000 in 1998 to just over 450,000 today, though manufacturing still accounts for about 16 percent of all state jobs. And in the past year, it has begun to rebound.

In fact, the industry has room to grow even larger, but there aren’t enough workers for the available jobs. A recent WMC survey found that 43 percent of employers said they were having trouble hiring new employees, with more than half of those citing a lack of qualified employees as the reason.

To help close this skills gap, companies across the state are adopting strategies to get high school students interested in manufacturing-related jobs.

Take Sentry Equipment Corp., an Oconomowoc manufacturing firm that makes more than 50 products geared toward saving energy and increasing sustainability. The company has provided on-the-job training for local resident Lee Heinecke and even paid for some of his classes at a nearby technical college.

Rick Steinke, the company’s vice president of manufacturing, says Sentry is willing to spend a little extra time, money and effort to recruit younger workers. This is one way manufacturing companies can adapt to the current shortage in skilled workers: If you can’t find them, grow your own.

The Department of Workforce Development is also is working to close the gap, with a series of programs, some of which work with manufacturers to train potential employees.

“Manufacturing today is a high tech process involving highly sophisticated, computer-driven production equipment,” DWD spokesman John Dipko says, adding that just one-third of Wisconsin’s working adults have training that includes a two-year technical college degree or more.

Pilot program launched

Among the state programs is Wisconsin Workers Win or “W3,” which allows recently unemployed individuals to participate in six-week “boot camps” at manufacturers’ worksites to sharpen their skills and interact with potential employers. In addition to unemployment benefits, the 500 expected participants get a $75 a week stipend from the program, which is being tested in 10 southern Wisconsin counties, including Milwaukee, Rock, Racine and Kenosha.

“These programs add a little bit of urgency to solving the problem of getting people back to work,” Morgan says. “Once you get people back to work, you can start the on-the-job training.“

Morgan also stresses the importance of more collaboration between manufacturers, high schools and technical colleges.

“Manufacturers need to do a better job of getting people into their facilities, but schools need to advertise better, too,” Morgan says. “It’s a matter of manufacturing survival to get these programs in place.“

Combating misconceptions

With the Baby Boomer generation on the brink of retirement, manufacturers such as Sentry are about to lose many employees with decades of experience. Unless these workers can be replaced with the same number of competent younger employees, the manufacturing industry will not be able to keep up with demand.

But many people, says Morgan of WMC, still think of manufacturing jobs as “dumb, dirty and dangerous.” He sees this as a threat to the state’s economic future: “Students’ perception of manufacturing jobs is outdated. Those are the jobs that are in demand.

“Unless we start to change people’s perceptions of manufacturing, we’re going to be in trouble for the long term.“

Tony Ptacek, chief financial officer of D&S Manufacturing in Black River Falls said his problem is finding young people interested in learning skills like welding because of the stigma attached to manufacturing jobs.

“We could grow faster if we thought there was a stronger availability of new talent,” Ptacek said.

When the company is hiring, Ptacek said they often host open houses to show prospective candidates what to expect at the plant, which makes steel parts for heavy equipment.

“We take pride in the quality of our facility, the cleanliness,” he said. “It’s not the stereotypical manufacturing facility that’s dirty … It’s a nice, clean safe place to work. That does a lot in convincing them.”

Jim Kitchen, the lead instructor for the Machine Tool Technology Program at Fox Valley Technical College, thinks there’s been a societal shift in what it means to be successful. He says students who might have been happy going to a two-year technical school have been persuaded to attend four-year institutions due to pressure from educators and parents.

“Everybody wants their kids to be the next president,” Kitchen says.

Steinke has also noticed this change in attitude toward manufacturing. He has worked at various Wisconsin manufacturing companies since 1982 and says that when he took a job in the industry after earning his degree at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, it was judged a good career move.

“There was pride in the workmanship,” Steinke recalls. “It wasn’t considered a bad thing to be in manufacturing.”

According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly salary for a manufacturing worker in Wisconsin was $1,035 in 2011, or about $54,000 a year.

And manufacturing promises to be a growth industry, assuming businesses can find enough qualified workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 14.3 percent national growth in the number of manufacturing jobs between 2010 and 2020.

Program launched career

Among the most innovative programs for getting young people interested in manufacturing careers is Bots IQ Wisconsin, a competition in which high school students design and build robots with the help of manufacturers. Retzer, head of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, said companies, including Strohwig, sponsor teams, make parts for their robots and mentor students along the way.

Retzer gives the teams he sponsors a tour of Strohwig so they can see what manufacturing is actually about. He says they’re often surprised.

“They’re not dirty smoke-stack industries that everybody thinks is manufacturing,” Retzer says. “And they’re not the mundane, routine jobs. They’re mentally challenging and they’re very fulfilling from the mental and from the career and earnings part.”

Alex Leonhardt, a former Bots IQ competitor and current employee at Mahuta Tool in Germantown, says the competition got him interested in manufacturing, which has turned out to be lucrative.

“I actually had my mother call me a ‘factory rat’ when I first started working in the trade,” says Leonhardt, 23. “Then, over the last few years when my pay started to increase — she always did my taxes — she finally started to realize that I was making $10,000 more a year than she was, and I am not even at my final wage yet.”

Leonhardt works as a computer numerical control programmer, which means he reads the blueprints for a specific machine part and writes computer programs to ensure that they get cut properly from a solid block of steel.

Leonhardt is in the final stages of completing a five-year apprenticeship with Mahuta, which will earn him his journeyman’s card and the title of tool-and-die maker, meaning he is qualified to work in any tool-and-die shop in the nation. As part of the apprenticeship, Mahuta paid for him to get his two-year associate’s degree from Moraine Park Technical College.

When Lee Heinecke graduated from Oconomowoc High School in 2007, he, like many 18 year olds, had no idea what kind of a career he wanted to go into. So when his cousin told him about an opening at Sentry, Heinecke thought, “Why not?”

While Heinecke, 23, had toured a factory before — his uncle was a machinist — he started work at the company not knowing what to expect. He enjoyed the work and began taking classes at Waukesha County Technical College. Sentry paid for the first two semesters.

“I feel like there’s a lot of room for growth for me here,” he says. “I’m excited for it.”

From “WTC System honors Charter Films with ‘Futuremakers’ award” — A major manufacturer in Superior is the latest recipient of the “Futuremakers Partner Award” from the Wisconsin Technical College System board.

Charter Films Inc. was recognized with the award at this month’s board meeting at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College- Superior.

The award was presented to Chris Trapp, chief executive officer of Charter Films Inc.

“The Futuremakers Partner Award was created to celebrate the impact of college and employer collaboration in helping hundreds of thousands of students set a direction for their future,” said Dan Clancy, president of the system. “Through these partnerships, we are able to build a highly-skilled workforce and strong communities.”

Charter Films Inc. is the leader in engineering, extruding and manufacturing plastic films for a wide variety of industries. The company works with WITC to create and grow their own training program, Charter University. This computer-based education program allows employees to receive instruction, giving them new skills and increased income. WITC also has collaborated with Charter Films to get Workforce Advancement Training grants for the program.

“This award recognizes our partnership with WITC and exemplifies our commitment to training and education of our employees. It also recognizes the importance of cooperation between business and educational institutions,” said Trapp. “We have worked together for many years to help align our job skill needs with the education curriculum at the technical college.”

In addition, Charter Films has worked with WITC and the technical college system to promote manufacturing careers to high school students. The company is one of the major manufacturing employers in Superior and Douglas County. Charter Films also ships products using local trucking firms and rail, and purchases supplies from local companies in the region.

“This company has a significant impact on the local economy and is an asset to the community and the state of Wisconsin,” Clancy said. “The board is very pleased to recognize Charter Films as a WTCS Futuremaker partner and a key economic development driver in northwest Wisconsin.”

From “WTCS honors Charter Films with “Futuremakers Partner Award” — A major manufacturer in the Superior area is the latest recipient of the “Futuremakers Partner Award” from the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) Board. Charter Films, Inc. accepted the award at this week’s WTCS Board Meeting at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) Superior campus.

Dan Clancy, president of the WTCS, presented the award to Chris Trapp, CEO of Charter Films, Inc. “The Futuremakers Partner award celebrates the impact of college and employer collaboration in helping hundreds of thousands of students set a direction for their future,” Clancy explained. “Through these partnerships, we are building a highly-skilled workforce and strong communities.”

Charter Films, Inc. is the leader in engineering, extruding and manufacturing plastic films for a wide variety of industries. The company has partnered with WITC to create and grow their own training program, Charter University. This computer-based education program allows employees to gain new skills and boost income potential. WITC and Charter Films also worked together to secure Workforce Advancement Training grants for the program.

“This award recognizes our partnership with WITC and exemplifies our commitment to training and education of our employees. It also recognizes the importance of cooperation between business and educational institutions,” said Trapp. “We have worked together for many years to help align our job skill needs with the education curriculum at the technical college,” Trapp added.

Charter Films is one of the major manufacturing employers in Superior and Douglas County. They ship products using local trucking firms and rail, and purchase supplies from local companies in the region. “This company has a significant impact on the local economy and is an asset to the community and the state of Wisconsin,” Clancy said. “The Board is very pleased to recognize Charter Films as a WTCS Futuremaker partner and a key economic development driver in northwest Wisconsin.” In addition, Charter Films has partnered with WITC and WTCS to promote manufacturing careers to high school students.

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