From “Career exploration: Ag education council considers new website plan” – MADISON — Wisconsin’s Agricultural Education and Workforce Development Council is heading in a new direction with its efforts to recruit potential workers for the state’s agricultural industry.

At a Sept. 17 meeting, WAEWDC members discussed a plan to transition from its “WhyAg” website that links qualified job candidates with companies that have employment needs to an online Career Pathways Initiative being developed by Northcentral Technical College in Wausau.

The career pathways website is designed to help middle and high school students, parents and displaced workers explore potential career end points for their educational efforts. It will be a resource for young people and displaced workers as they determine what type of education they need for jobs in the broad field of agriculture.

The website would include links to agriculture career exploration, higher education opportunities and job placement/wage data.

The WAEWDC was created by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2008 to help provide a qualified workforce to support the state’s agricultural industry. It has been struggling to stay financially afloat since no state money was allocated to fund the effort when the council was created.

Council vice chairman Corey Kuchta said Al Herrman, a past WAEWDC chairman and current council executive director, has been organizing a fundraising campaign to help fund future council efforts. Herrman is working on a volunteer basis.

“In October he’s going to start to do some mailings to ask people who have contributed to the council in the past for future contributions,” Kuchta said. “The money is needed to fund all of the council efforts.”

Lori Weyers, Northcentral Technical College president, said the career pathways website will outline the steps in the career decision-making process.

“Where do I want to go and how do I get there,” she said. “Students will be able to see what jobs are at the end of the path for them and how much those jobs pay.”

Katie Felch, director of marketing and public relations at NTC, described the website as a “one-stop shop to see all the things that are available.”

People visiting the website would be able to review a wide variety of agricultural job opportunities and investigate what type of school might be best for them to get the training they need for the job they want.

Council members discussed the possibility of selling advertising on the website to employers who are in need of agricultural workers.

Although NTC officials developed the website, Weyers said it could be customized to include information from all of the various technical colleges and universities in Wisconsin.

“Even though we developed this template, this is not about NTC,” Weyers said. “We did this on our own time as an in-kind donation to the council. We want to share it — you can use it and you can have it.”

WAEWDC members discussed on what server the website would be housed and who would pay for maintaining and updating it.

Weyers said she would come back to the next council meeting in December with information on how much it would cost to host the website on NTC servers. Council members said employer sponsorships could help pay for the service.

Each technical college and university listed on the website would be responsible for keeping its information current, Weyers said.

Randy Zogbaum, agriculture and natural resources consultant for the Wisconsin Technical College System, said he would take the concept to deans of the technical college system and ask for funds to help support the project.

Council members said the career pathways website could be an extension of what the council has been working on with its WhyAg initiative.

“I think this will be a great transition from WhyAg,” Kuchta said.

Kuchta said the difference with the career pathways website will be that people will be able to do everything from explore career opportunities to find a path to get there and see how much money they can make.

“This is why we exist as a council — to create an opportunity to build that pipeline for jobs and to connect workers and employers,” council member Liz Henry said.

Mike Compton, dean of the UW-Platteville School of Agriculture, said he is looking forward to sending the school’s agricultural ambassadors out to high schools with the career pathways website in their tool belt.

Council members said the new website would not compete with but be a complement to the Wisconsin Job Center website recently developed by the Department of Workforce Development. The website has a page devoted to agriculture.

On a related note, Wisconsin FFA Adviser Jeff Hicken said the National FFA Organization is collecting job and career data on an Ag Career Network. The effort is directed at helping students develop profiles, resumes and portfolios before they leave high school.

Paul Larson, an agriculture instructor in the Freedom School District, has agreed to continue as chairman of the council for the next year, Kuchta said.

From “Tours increase tech college program awareness”  – Registration is open for participation in a statewide collaborative that allows K-12 educators to earn graduate credits for increasing their awareness of Wisconsin Technical College System programs and services during the week of June 17-21.

Teachers, counselors and administrators participating in the week-long tours visit a different technical college each day for hands-on learning about the programs and services available to students and career options available to graduates. Tour participants complete an action plan for disseminating what they’ve learned, and earn three graduate credits from Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wis.

“We are pleased to participate with the Tours of Excellence program,” said WITC President Bob Meyer. “There are some incredible career opportunities available through WITC and across the Wisconsin Technical College System that are also extremely affordable.”

Tours are planned regionally to allow for broad participation in the north, central and southern part of the state. The north section includes visits to WITC-Ashland, Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, Northcentral Technical College in Wausau Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids and Nicolet Area Technical College in Rhinelander. Space is limited to 30 individuals per section.

“This event is a great way to network with K-12 educators from throughout the state,” said Dan Miller.

For information or online registration, go to

From “Educators can tour tech college programs” – Local kindergarten through grade 12 educators will have the opportunity to tour Mid-State Technical College and four other technical colleges during the week of June 17 to 21.

Registration has begun for a statewide collaborative offering graduate credit for increasing awareness of Wisconsin Technical College System, or WTCS, programs and services.

Teachers, counselors and administrators participating in the week-long Tours of Excellence visit a different technical college each day for hands-on learning about the programs and services available to students, as well as the 21st century career options that await WTCS graduates. Tour participants complete an action plan for disseminating what they’ve learned, and will earn 3 graduate credits from Marian University in Fond du Lac.

The tours are planned on a regional basis to allow for broad participation with local partners. Tours are broken into north, central and south sections, and space is limited to 30 individuals per section.

A participant of the 2012 Tour of Excellence said, “I feel much more prepared to share the opportunities for jobs and associate degrees that the technical colleges offer, as well as suggesting programs I feel my students would excel in.”

“Participants complete the tours with 3 graduate credits and an increased understanding of the great career and entrepreneurship opportunities available through MSTC and other WTCS programs,” said new student specialist Lana Mallek.

Additional information and online registration is available at

From “UW-MATC reverse transfer agreement to be signed Monday” – Madison Area Technical College and UW-Madison are entering into a unique partnership that will allow MATC students who transfer to UW-Madison a chance to complete their associate degree with university credits.

Each year, hundreds of students begin their studies at MATC then transfer to UW-Madison. Some earn a bachelor degree. Others complete the 64 credits needed for an MATC associate degree.

But a third group earn at least 64 credits but never receive a degree because they enter a four-year program but drop out before completing it.

Under the “reverse transfer” agreement to be announced Monday, MATC students who earn 30 or more credits and then transfer to UW-Madison, can apply their UW credits back to automatically complete their MATC degree.

“An associate degree is recognized in the marketplace as a degree that may command a higher wage than somebody who just had some college and hadn’t finished anything. So that’s one advantage,” said Terry Webb, provost of MATC, also known as Madison College.

Getting the associate degree also could help motivate transfer students to complete their bachelor’s degree, he said.

Nationwide, there are just a few similar agreements, said MATC spokesman Cary Heyer.

“It’s a relatively new concept,” he said. “Certainly it’s going to pick up. It is unusual to the extent that it’s a two-year community college that’s partnering with a four-year comprehensive research institution.”

Webb referred to the “reverse transfer” language as “kind of a term of art,” which may not “be descriptive of what actually happens.”

“What it means is that instead of the traditional route where our students are transferring credits to UW-Madison, now our students are transferring credits from the university back to Madison College,” he said.

Webb said that last year nearly 800 MATC students transferred to the UW-Madison.

Additionally, last year and in previous years, an average of 200 students who completed an associate degree at MATC transferred to a 4-year college. While the majority go to UW-Madison, others go to UW-Whitewater, UW- Milwaukee and other schools, Webb said.

A signing ceremony for the agreement is scheduled for Monday morning at the Truax campus.

From “Paul Freiberg: We need all sorts of workers” – Several years ago, after my car skidded into a ditch during a snowstorm, I called the auto club for roadside assistance. After a short wait, a mechanic drove out in a wrecker. He knew his trade and he pulled my car from the side of the road.

I reminded myself never to take people for granted. I also reminded myself that not everyone needs to go to college. A four-year college degree wouldn’t necessarily provide the skills to that young man who pulled my car from the ditch.

We often read about the importance of a college degree. We read about the skills gap — the relative scarcity of experienced workers despite a relatively high unemployment rate. There’s little doubt that we need employees with the requisite skills and education for the competitive arena.

However, we should think about what are appropriate goals for people. We live in a diverse economy and need workers with the appropriate experience to service their respective clients. Some of those skills are best learned in college; some skills are taught elsewhere.

For instance, we need workers who have the ability to solve problems with their customers, the demanding consumer. For others, a two-year technical degree would be beneficial and indeed preferable to accommodate the requirements of local businesses and trades. For some people, working one’s way up the organization makes sense. We should never forget that everyone who works contributes to the economy.

The trick is to match the skills with the job. We need baristas who can multitask during the morning rush. We need wait staff, probably one of the more demanding jobs, to serve our food in a pleasant manner. These are the valued workers who serve me coffee and food as I travel throughout the Fox Valley.

We need retail workers who understand the merchandise and help us make good decisions. We appreciate those who can tell us what style tie goes with what color shirt. We need advice from the home improvement workers and recommendations from the associates at the book store. In the same manner, we rely on those who provide other advice, such as where the fish are biting and what bait to use. Some of us may need help on what type of wine goes with a Wisconsin brat.

Moreover, we need employees who understand how to repair the computers that operate modern equipment. We need auto mechanics who can troubleshoot and diagnose our automobiles and keep our families safe. We need truck drivers who can handle 40,000-pound loads on our crowded highways.

Again, we need the varied skills necessary for our diverse economy. As such, some workers will build their respective skills working their way up through the organization. Some people will be better off taking routes such as trade schools or two-year technical colleges. Not everyone needs to go to college and, let’s face the facts — we don’t have the capacity to accommodate everyone anyway.

Let’s also agree that the experience gained in these service jobs has provided many people with the foundation for other roles in their lives. The communication and interpersonal skills we learn while serving customers are invaluable as we progress through our respective organizations.

We depend on all of these employees such as restaurant staff, store associates, shuttle drivers and so on. Despite the occasional poor service, I see many of these employees work with urgency and pride.

In short, we’re dealing with paradox. We need employees with college educations, we need skilled workers with technical expertise and we need employees with the wherewithal to provide the necessary services, such as those individuals who serve burgers, wash cars and stock shelves.

These employees are important. Let’s not take anyone for granted.

From “Morna Foy: Program lets students explore careers” – There was a time when a high school diploma was the ticket to many family-sustaining careers, allowing access to more than 70 percent of all jobs in 1973 according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

That is no longer the case, with the Center reporting that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require at least some education or skills training beyond high school.

That dramatic shift makes robust Career and Technical Education (CTE) partnerships all the more critical. These increasingly innovative collaborations allow high school students to explore career opportunities, experience the rigorous education needed to access them after high school and understand career progression potential.

CTE students often earn college credits and gain personal enrichment at the same time. Just as importantly, some students identify career fields in which they find they are not interested, saving significant time and investment after high school.

Throughout February, as part of CTE month, I had the chance to see first-hand impressive collaborations that Wisconsin’s technical colleges have with high schools throughout the state. I’m proud to support these partnerships. They consistently open doors to promising futures in agriculture, business, manufacturing, health care, marketing, information technology and engineering careers.

Wisconsin’s technical colleges provide education — and a graduate placement rate that consistently averages about 90 percent — in these and many other fields, preparing individuals for high-skill, high-wage careers.

Unfortunately, many high school students — and those they rely upon for guidance — often are unfamiliar with these opportunities.

All of us — parents, educators and employers — share responsibility for furthering career awareness and exploration. It can be as simple as helping students identify areas of ability and interest, with the help of online resources such as the Wisconsin Career Pathways website, or the Career Interest Questionnaire on the Wisconsin Technical College System website. You also might consider creating or supporting job shadowing opportunities or career days.

Perhaps most importantly, you can find a way to get involved with delivering, supporting or taking advantage of the many CTE options that exist for students, or that could exist with your vision or assistance.

For more than 20 years, Wisconsin’s technical colleges have been energetically engaged in middle and high school CTE programs, with more than 90,000 students participating. But there is a need to accomplish much more. We can do that, together, by promoting career awareness and college credit options every month of the year.

From “Ten questions everyone should ask when choosing a college” — By Mike Lanser, president Lakeshore Technical College - Choosing a college has always been an important decision and there are more options than ever before. Working adults may be adding a multitude of online learning choices to their consideration list, while high school seniors and their parents might be thinking about campus safety and student life.

These are important considerations, but I’d like to offer you a list of 10 questions to ask when choosing your college. The answers to these questions not only affect where you start college, but where you will end — which for most people is a successful and rewarding career.

1. Is the college accredited?

Accreditation ensures that the institution adheres to rigorous standards of quality, process improvement and excellence which must be evidenced through documentation and on-site visits by the accrediting body. Lakeshore Technical College is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission, which is one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States. To find out if the college you’re considering is accredited, visit

2. Is the education or credential you’re pursuing valued by potential employers? Ask for job placement rates.

You want to be sure your hard work and investment in college pays off. One indication that employers value the education you’re paying for is to find out about graduates’ job placement. LTC conducts a job placement survey of graduates each year. Last year, 4 out of 5 LTC grads were hired in 6 months or less following graduation.

3. What are the pass rates for students taking certification exams?

Many career-targeted programs promise that they will prepare you for licensure exams. Be sure to ask for pass rates from students who have taken the program previously. It can be good indicator of the program’s quality of instruction. At LTC, our students exceed the national average pass rates for certification exams by 15%.

4. What are the qualifications of the faculty, or better yet, can you meet them?

The quality of your learning experience is in your instructors’ hands. Do they have real-world experience in the area that they’re teaching. Are they certified instructors? Meeting your instructors is also a great way to enhance your understanding about the degree program you’re pursuing as well as your ultimate career goal. LTC instructors have worked in the fields they’re teaching and they welcome the opportunity to talk with students considering our college.

5. Is the program you’re considering offering college credit?

Many colleges offer both credit and non-credit offerings. Be sure to note whether you will earn college credit or not and whether your completion or credential earned will be recognized by potential employers.

6. What is the cost per credit?

Credits are a great way to compare apples to apples. If you’re paying $50 more for every credit, your college expense can really add up. Worse, if you’re not earning credit for the education you’re receiving you’ll want to consider how that could affect your future employment or education plans.

7. What kind of support will the college offer to help you succeed in meeting your educational and career goals?

You might have had areas in high school which challenged you, or maybe you’ve been out of school for a long time. Neither should be reasons for not pursuing your college degree, particularly if your college has services to help you be successful. LTC offers a wide range of free student success services ranging from peer tutors and support groups to academic counseling and career placement services.

8. Will you have the ability to build on your education to help you advance in your career?

Learning is life-long and many employers recognize this through employee tuition reimbursement programs. Keep this possibility in mind when you select a college because you may decide to continue your education after being on-the-job for a number of years. LTC has agreements with over 30 colleges and universities, including Silver Lake, Lakeland, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Green Bay so our graduates can continue to grow in their careers.

9. Is the college providing good value for your investment?

In addition to cost per credit comparisons, take a look at other expenses related to your education. Room & board if you’ll live on-campus, how many years it will take to complete your program, and the availability of financial aid and scholarships.

10. How long has the college been in operation?

You want your college degree, diploma or certificate to lead to job. While not a guarantee for your personal success, you can be assured a college has the commitment and resources to help you succeed when they have a proven history of doing so. LTC is proud to be celebrating a century of educating students for high-demand, local careers.

By answering these ten questions you’ll be armed with good information about the colleges you’re considering and ultimately which one will be the best fit for you to achieve your education and career goals.

From “Northcentral Technical College highlights student work” — When you were a kid, your parents probably put your best school work up on the fridge for everyone to see.

Adult students don’t get many chances to show off their best work – especially when that work is welding, mechanical design, or air conditioning service.

But Tuesday night, Northcentral Technical college hosted a student showcase so their technical and trades students could show the community what they do.

Associate dean Greg Cisewski said the showcase brings in prospective students and employers. “Right now, our industry in our greater Wausau area and the whole state is really pacing the nation in manufacturing,” he said. “All our industry partners are telling us they need more [employees], so we’re trying to work and educate new employees to go out and help meet the demands that they have.”

Two welding students were hired on the spot at last year’s showcase.

Ken Gillespie is a machine tools techniques student graduating in May.

He said this event and the school’s reputation will help in the job search.

“It’s a good way to get employers in to see what kind of work you’re capable of and see how you work and how you interact with other people,” Gillespie said. “There are jobs all over the country and all over the world as well. So I’m not worried about getting a job at all.”

NTC reports that last year, 92 percent of machine tools students had a job within six months of graduating.

From “Editorial: Tech schools fill big need” – It’s a crown jewel in Wisconsin’s educational system, but doesn’t always get the attention, or the appreciation, it deserves.

The state’s 16 vocational-technical colleges collectively serve tens of thousands of residents, from teenagers to the elderly. Students come to learn scores of skills that help them obtain good jobs, from carpentry to high-tech positions.

One of the smaller — but more sophisticated of those 16 schools that serve Wisconsin is Blackhawk Technical College. Its main campus is on Prairie Road between Beloit and Janesville. Branch campuses are in Monroe and in the Eclipse Center in Beloit. There’s a smaller training center at Janesville, and an aviation unit at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.

WE DRAW READERS’ attention to Blackhawk Tech because the college is observing its centennial next week. There’s a campus open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and a celebratory dinner and scholarship fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 13. And there’s much to celebrate.

BTC currently has some 5,700 students. Enrollment tends to fluctuate from perhaps half that number to over 6,000. Since the General Motors plant in Janesville shut down in 2008, former GM employees have joined younger and older students to retrain for new careers.

Blackhawk Tech’s president, Thomas Eckert, proudly asserts that the school has dedicated itself to meeting current shortages of skilled workers, be it in construction, manufacturing, the medical profession or other fields. Meanwhile, there are assorted courses for those who simply want to find fulfillment in art, literature and so forth.

STUDENTS’ AGES VARY from the mid-teens to 90 and sometimes beyond. If there’s enough demand for classes in basket-weaving or parachute jumping, the technical colleges probably can provide the teaching required.

Blackhawk Tech’s student body currently consists of about 3,000 at the central campus, whose facilities constantly are being improved; to the Beloit campus’s enrollment of about 1,400 and a similar number at Monroe.

Eckert is proud to point to BTC’s record of having most who graduate with technical, associate or other forms of certification, find the right employment soon after they complete their one- or two-year stints at the college. Eighty-seven percent of grads find jobs within six months.

ALL OF WHICH suggests that the technical college system helps Wisconsin keep its manufacturing, construction, medical and service industries supplied with the workers needed. It’s been doing that since the state directed public school systems back in the Fall of 1912 to create “vocational schools” for young people wanting to find paying jobs instead of finishing high school, or older folks who were either under-employed or had no job-training.

Older Beloiters will remember the Vocational-Adult school on Fourth Street, which served until the 1960s. Other cities, including Janesville, had similar schools. The popularity — and productivity — of the local schools prompted the state to create 16 districts, each to be served by a central campus and branches as needed. The Blackhawk Tech district, serving primarily Rock and Green counties, is the fifth smallest of the state’s 16 tech colleges.

It turns out that the colleges have been a good investment. Blackhawk Tech’s current budget is about $50 million. That may seem like a lot, but consider that in a year’s time, as many as 4,000 get the training they need to enter the workforce. That’s a good investment. Tuition, often supplemented by financial aid, accounts for about half of the budget. Local property taxes and state aid make up the difference.

AGAIN, THOSE FIGURES may seem hefty, but Eckert says that the community, in one way or another, realizes benefits of $140 for every $100 spent.

Wisconsin’s public school system is, of course, vital as well as costly. And the University of Wisconsin system, with its two- and four-year campuses (including UW-Rock County) ranks with some of the best among the state. So do our private colleges, including Beloit College. We’re fortunate, indeed, that the Badger State’s technical college system bridges what would otherwise be a wide gap between the public schools and the colleges that not everyone wants, or can afford, to attend.

ANNIVERSARY CONGRATULATIONS go out to the technical college that serves our area so well, and to the foresighted leaders of earlier years, who saw the need, and filled it.

From “Campaign introduces high school students to manufacturing” – Wisconsin has joined a national campaign called Dream It. Do It. that aims to get high school students interested in manufacturing.

Waukesha County Business Alliance is providing the initial project executive oversight for the program, which was made possible by a grant awarded to Waukesha County Technical College by the Wisconsin Technical College System.

Dream It. Do It. includes partnership development with local manufacturers, who are encouraged to share more information about their companies through an interactive website, The website provides information to job seekers who want to learn more about manufacturing career paths.

“As important as manufacturing is to our economy, we need a collaborative effort–including manufacturers, educational institutions and civic groups–to help students and their parents see the great career opportunities available and ensure we have the talent to support a thriving sector,” said Suzanne Kelley, president of WCBA.

Manufacturing ambassador companies like Weldall Manufacturing, Waukesha Metal Products and Dueco Inc. will offer plant tours, job shadowing, internships and externships to interested students, Kelley said.

“It’s happening obviously because of the critical shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing and the projections that this shortage is only going to get worse unless we do something,” she said.“The ultimate goal is to connect manufacturers to employees in the workplace.”

Wisconsin is the 20th state to join Dream It. Do It. The Wisconsin website launches today.

From “Technical college, UW-Fox make case for two-year degrees” – Because of the current bleak job market for four-year graduates, school officials at Fox Valley Technical College and University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley are hoping more Wisconsinites see the power of two-year or technical college degrees.

Employees at both schools think that by increasing their visibility at the high school level and changing attitudes about post-secondary education will increase the number of students who explore their programming — something that could gain them well-paying jobs more quickly, said Patti Jorgensen, vice president of students and community development at FVTC.

Fox Valley Technical College will open its doors to Fox Cities residents Tuesday for its annual open house — an event the school relies on to draw in potential students, said FVTC spokesman Chris Jossart.

The school could see as many as 2,000 people during the open house, Jossart said.

A recent Georgetown University study discovered that 29 million U.S. jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree — most required a two-year associate’s degree or post-secondary certificate.

Forty percent of those jobs paid more than $50,000 a year, according to the report by the university’s Center on Education and the Workforce and Civic Enterprises departments.

Parents and teachers often point students in the direction of four-year college and forget other options simply because that was their only post-secondary experience, Jorgenson said.

“I think kids hear about college, and associate it with the four-year schools,” said Joe Lamers, counselor at Appleton East High School. “As they get older, we try to give them all options … I know that I tell kids all the time that it’s their decision. No one should be telling them what to do — technical or two-year colleges can be a great option. They’re cheaper, quicker, have high placement rates — we always mention the positives.”

FVTC hosts large meetings with teachers from local districts to show off the school’s educational pathways, and often sends representatives to public schools so students can hear about what job options become available after studying at the technical college.

Gina Fisher of Waupaca is a parent who’s tried both four-year and technical colleges.

After attending the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for two years and working to support herself, Fisher said she felt incredibly “burnt-out.” She decided to get an associate’s degree in accounting instead and graduated from FVTC.

That’s how she knew that, after discussing career interests with her sons, FVTC would be the best option. Both of her sons are homeschooled, and Fisher said taking a class or two at FVTC was an easy way to transition into college.

“My older son wanted to go into physical therapy, and the tech is a lot more hands-on,” Fisher said. “I really like the tech school for that reason … It’s a cheaper option, and he can go on to (University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) later to finish up his bachelor’s degree.”

Fisher said she thought more parents and students would choose the technical college option if they knew the financial benefits.

“I just don’t think people are well informed about their options for college,” she said. “I know I wasn’t, and I really don’t remember getting much advice when I was in high school.”

George Wojcik’s daughter Valarie enrolled in FVTC after working on a motorcycle in a Hortonville High School class. She graduated from the school’s welding program, and later enrolled in the welding engineering program at Ferris University in Michigan and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. After some convincing, the school accepted all of her credits from FVTC, Wojcik said.

“She was far ahead of the game,” Wojcik said. “She had a lot of hands-on experience, and her teachers were very impressed.”

Both Wojcik and Fisher are part of a parent panel that will speak Tuesday night during FVTC’s open house.

UW-Fox tries to work with students and parents to understand the application and enrollment process, which often can be muddled and confusing, said Martin Rudd, dean of UW-Fox. The school holds parent nights and open houses throughout the academic year.

UW-Fox also reaches out to teachers in local districts to discuss what skills students need when applying to the school or other colleges in the state.

“Not only do we have a lot of programs with high schools, but we’re constantly developing new relationships with schools,” Rudd said.

Unlike many technical colleges, UW-Fox often thinks of itself as a “step toward a baccalaureate degree,” Rudd said. The school’s associate’s degrees transfer easily to other colleges in the state, and the school has set up programs like “Madison Connections” UW-Madison and their Guaranteed Transfer program that can ease the transition and get more general classes out of the way, Rudd said.

Like FVTC, UW-Fox offers some dual enrollment programming for high school students, and the UW system plans to greatly expand the program in the future, Rudd said. The school also is trying to connect with students in local charter schools, who may not have as much familiarity with UW-Fox.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all method for recruiting students,” Rudd said.

UW-Fox will hold its next open house at 6 p.m. Oct. 23.

Jorgenson said she hopes the increased attention from public schools will help students discover interesting career paths earlier.

“We’re talking with our K-12 partners, saying ‘Hey, we need our students to have more information about technical colleges,’” Jorgenson said. “A large percentage of students may say they’re headed to four-year colleges, but in our experience they aren’t. There’s still a large percentage of students who aren’t doing much after high school.”

In the Fox Cities region, 23 percent of FVTC students begin classes directly after high school. Forty-six percent arrive roughly two years after graduating, Jorgenson said.

“They’re doing something for two years that’s probably not particularly productive, and then they’re circling back to us,” Jorgenson said.


From “New manufacturing lab at Wausau’s NTC” —  The new Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Center of Excellence is in business at the North Central Technical College. School, community and business leaders joined together on campus for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Developers say it is designed to be a collaborative effort between the school and area businesses. Mark Borowicz, NTC Dean of Business & Industry Solutions says, “This is really an opportunity for our students to learn the latest technology and for workers at area businesses to get the training they need, too.”

Wisconsin manufacturers have repeatedly voiced concerns that there aren’t enough highly skilled workers to fill the job openings they have in their businesses.

For more information on the project or any of the programs at NTC you can check out there online information at

View video


From “WMMB supports outstanding award winners at WAAE Conference” —  For the second straight year, the dairy farm families of Wisconsin helped underscore the important contributions that agricultural educators make to secondary and post-secondary education throughout the state. At the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators (WAAE) 2012 Annual Professional Development Conference held in Green Bay earlier this summer, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Wisconsin dairy farmers’ promotion and education organization, sponsored four recognition awards.

“Agriculture and dairy are not only an important part of our past here in Wisconsin, the industry contributes more than $51 billion each year to our state’s economy and offers our next generation more than 300 different career paths,” said Laura Wilford of WMMB and who heads up the Wisconsin Dairy Council. “As we enter another school year, it’s not only important to share information with our children about the healthful advantages of dairy products and daily exercise, it’s also critical that we recognize and support the ag education efforts of our dedicated teachers and instructors.”

The four WAAE award recipients included:

Outstanding Agricultural Educator – Adam Wehling, Mondovi High School. Wehling started teaching at Mondovi High School in 2007 and has continued to challenge his students to gain valuable career skills. Besides teaching agriculture, he also serves as the high school coordinator for the district’s work release program and has taught numerous adult education classes. He has partnered with 35 area businesses to start a career fair with four schools that brings together over 300 students.

Outstanding Young Member – Candice Olson, Badger High School, Lake Geneva. Olson teaches agricultural education at Badger High School in Lake Geneva. In addition to serving as an advisor for the FFA and environmental club, she also developed a chapter exchange program with an FFA advisor in Oklahoma. She has been an active member and presenter at the WAAE and National Association of Agricultural Educators conventions and has served as a National Agri-Science Teacher Ambassador.

Outstanding Post-Secondary/Adult Ag Education Program – Blackhawk Technical College, Monroe Campus. The Agribusiness Specialist program at Blackhawk Technical College started in 2008 with Dustin Williams as the instructor. The rigorous program is a unique one-year technical diploma program designed to coordinate with area high schools and feed into a two- or four- year program either at Southwest Technical College or UW-Platteville. The program boasts a 30-member advisory committee that works with the instructor to ensure curriculum is relevant to industry. There is a high student success rate in attaining internships and full-time employment upon their graduation from the program.

Ideas Unlimited Program – Jim Melby, Winneconne High School. Melby was recognized for his contribution to the Ideas Unlimited contest, a national competition which is designed to give members an opportunity to exchange classroom, supervised agriculture experience (SAE), leadership, and other teaching ideas.

From “‘Transcripted credit’ gives students jump start” – With the start of another school year, students are back to class and hitting the books, but some of those books are actually doing double duty.

Did you know that high school juniors and seniors can earn both high school and college credit without ever leaving their high school classroom? Northcentral Technical College, along with Wisconsin’s other 15 technical colleges, has offered dual enrollment opportunities, free of charge, for high school students for more than 30 years. Upon successful completion of the college coursework, students earn technical college credit and receive an NTC transcript.

One dual enrollment opportunity, transcripted credit, is a method through which technical colleges and high schools partner to deliver seamless instruction to high school students, providing them with the opportunity to enroll in and complete associate degree and technical diploma course work while fulfilling high school graduation requirements. These courses are taught at local high schools by certified high school instructors who follow NTC’s curriculum and competencies in their classroom, and have no tuition cost for the student or the school district.

Through NTC’s transcripted credit program, more than 8,000 students have enrolled in a technical college course since 2006, saving students and their families more than $650,000 in tuition costs. Students are able to apply the credit they earned to one of NTC’s 150-plus program options, or transfer their credit to another college or university where NTC has an existing articulation agreement.

Many of the high schools in NTC’s district participate in the transcripted credit program, including D.C. Everest and Wausau school districts. Nick Polak and Theran Peterson, technology and engineering instructors for the Wausau School District, teach several transcripted credit courses at Wausau East and West high schools, and both see the value of transcripted credit for their students.

“Students are saving time and money by eliminating the need to take the course at the post-secondary level. The student is receiving high-quality instruction from industry-approved and aligned curriculum,” said Peterson. “Ultimately, the role of education is preparing students to succeed in their chosen career. Providing them with curriculum that has been approved by industry will ensure the transition from student to employee is as seamless and successful as possible.”

Northcentral Technical College faculty collaborate yearly with certified high school teachers to ensure that the transcripted credit curriculum being taught is relevant, rigorous and up to industry standards.

Transcripted credit is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to experience college level coursework at their high school. These courses offer a cost-effective way for students to get a jump-start on earning a college credential, and provide them with skills and knowledge that will lead to employment.

NTC continues to look for opportunities to expand and partner with area school districts to ensure that local students have the ability to excel no matter what their future may hold.

For more information about transcripted credit opportunities, contact your local high school counselor or Leslie Fischer, Career Prep Coordinator at NTC, at

Leslie Fischer is the career prep coordinator and a career coach at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau.

From “CVTC at 100: Still working to train skilled workers” – Jobs mostly demanded a strong back and a fifth-grade education or less before the Industrial Revolution.

As electricity spread across cities and machines began powering the economy in the early 20th century, employers required brains and brawn.

Locally, the lumber boom had run its course in the Chippewa Valley by then, leaving local workers to change with the times and search for the next big industry.

To break into careers in burgeoning industries or new businesses, they needed more training than traditional schooling could offer.

This need prompted the state government in 1911 to create what eventually became the Wisconsin Technical College System, including Chippewa Valley Technical College.

Turning 100 years old next month, CVTC is Eau Claire’s oldest institution of higher education — predating UW-Eau Claire by four years.

The basics

Funded through local property taxes and state aid, what were known as continuation schools sprouted up in Wisconsin with populations of 5,000 or more.

In October 1912, Eau Claire opened its school with seven classes, including shop arithmetic, carpentry, sheet metal, cooking and citizenship. Chippewa Falls opened with a few classes in the same year, and Menomonie followed in 1913.

Some of the original subjects have remained through the years, but in a much more sophisticated and technologically advanced form.

“The basics are still there,” said Bruce Barker, CVTC’s current president.

Machinists still need to study math, but it’s now used to program computers that tell machines what to do.

Carpentry skills are still taught at CVTC, but they’re used to build energy-efficient homes out of green materials.

The college’s offerings also have grown into 61 programs, most of which will have demonstrations or displays at Saturday’s centennial celebration.

To go with the school’s milestone, it has produced “CVTC: A Century of Proven Education,” a 100-page book detailing its history.

Dealing with downturns

Along with jobs created by post-World War II prosperity and other economic good times, CVTC has helped local workers through rough patches too.

In addition to helping local workers during the massive unemployment in the Great Depression of the 1930s and more recently the job losses of the Great Recession, CVTC retrained workers when a major Eau Claire employer closed.

Chippewa Valley Technical College was on the front line to retrain workers and offer career assistance when the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. plant, which employed more than 1,300, closed in June 1992.

“We sort of moved into Uniroyal,” said Norbert Wurtzel, CVTC’s president from 1974 to 1994. “We were down there in the building with those people.”

As the plant was closing and after the doors were shuttered, CVTC employees were on-site to train workers for other industrial jobs or new career paths entirely.

Some chose paths in health care or more advanced manufacturing — two economic sectors that saw growth during Wurtzel’s tenure.

“The exciting part was that technology all the way from automotive to health care and (other sectors) was changing so rapidly, and we were able to bring on new faculty and help current faculty upgrade,” he said. “It was just an exciting time with ideas, innovations and creativity on their part.”

To meet employment needs created by large additions to Sacred Heart Hospital, Luther Hospital and Midelfort Clinic in the late 1960s and ’70s, CVTC expanded its health care programs and added a building for them in 1973 on West Clairemont Avenue.

Advances in computer technology in the 1980s also made manufacturing more sophisticated. CVTC students could design metal parts on a computer and fabricate them with precision on electronically controlled machines — a cutting-edge concept at the time, Wurtzel recalled.

Wurtzel gives credit to instructors during his tenure that suggested new programs CVTC could teach that would help students get jobs.

“We succeeded in a lot of those areas because of faculty who were willing to roll up their sleeves,” he said.

Auto shop legacy

CVTC initially taught students how to fix Model T Fords, the automobile that revolutionized transportation and gave birth to assembly-line manufacturing. Now the college teaches repairs for hybrid and electric engines.

Tom Day attended the school during the era when automakers were adding more steel to vehicles to increase safety.

Graduated from Gilman High School in 1976, Day didn’t want to spend four years in college. An interest in cars led him to the automotive collision repair program taught at CVTC.

When he attended the college, it was called District One Technical Institute, a name adopted when the state created 16 technical school districts in 1968, resulting in an 11-county area that paid taxes to support the Eau Claire-based school.

In those days, auto body technicians had to do all steps of the repair process from taking off the damaged steel, welding repairs, smoothing out dents and matching paint. Now each of those tasks is done by different people, he said, due to more sophisticated automobile materials and demand for quicker repairs.

Hired a couple of weeks before graduation, Day has been working at the body shop of Eau Claire car dealer Ken Vance for 35 years. He now is the shop’s manager.

“That was a better career choice for me, and it’s proven to be a good choice,” he said.

Day was recognized in 2008 as a distinguished CVTC alumni for his accomplishments and the career day he’s hosted for several years at the dealership, allowing high school students to see where CVTC’s automotive repair classes can take them.

Changing student needs

Starting as continuation schools that mostly taught teenagers, technical colleges now have adult students from every stage of their lives.

“You’ll literally be seeing students of all ages,” Barker said, recalling commencement a couple years ago when the school graduated two 60-year-old nursing students.

The school still gets many recent high school graduates — a quarter of the Chippewa Valley’s high school seniors go to technical colleges for their education.

But the average age of a CVTC student is 27 because of all the older adults seeking training in a new career, Barker said.

“We’ve always been the home for the working adult, the underemployed or unemployed adult,” Barker said.

As students collectively trended older, the school changed to meet their needs.

During the ’70s and ’80s, the college had club and varsity sports teams. The Tech Tigers competed against other technical schools in basketball, hockey, golf, volleyball and bowling.

Those sports were popular at the time, Wurtzel, the former college president, said, but they were discontinued at the behest of students as their priorities changed.

“There was a shift in student interest,” he said.

Instead of spending their fees on sports, student leaders reallocated much of them toward establishing a child care center for CVTC students’ children, which was created with help from the Hobbs Foundation.

That represented a change in the college’s demographics, as students with families just didn’t have the time for competitive sports, Wurtzel observed, instead wanting to spend time with their spouses and children.

Campuswide activities including winter carnivals and talent shows also fell by the wayside through the years.

“As the college grows, it’s really tough to find those common hours,” said Alisa Hoepner Schley, student life specialist. “Today our student population is quite diverse, they have many competing priorities from working to balancing family.”

The current slate of entertainment activities includes occasional guest speakers, lunchtime comedians and noon concerts. Clubs also create community service opportunities and the chance to attend conferences to help with professional development, Hoepner Schley said.

Mission still same

As much as the Industrial Revolution gave birth to technical colleges, improvements in technology have kept them changing.

“You can point to some strong similarities between 1912 and 2012,” Barker said.

Energy, the driving force behind industry, continues to evolve.

“Back then, we moved from wood to coal to oil,” he said. “Now you’re looking at something similar from that oil and coal to the next stage — what’s going to power our economy in the future.”

To teach students about new, renewable energy technology, the college has plans to build a $7.8 million Energy Education Center in Eau Claire next summer.

One of the area’s latest growth industries, sand mining, is driving increasing enrollment in the college’s trucking, engine repair and manufacturing programs, Barker said.

To keep up with needs of area employers, college offerings are continuously changed so that students can get a job quickly after graduation.

Of the students who graduated earlier this year, 92 percent found a job within six months, 89 percent of them in their field of study, Barker said.

Technology and hot industries may change, but CVTC’s mission has remained essentially the same through the past century.

“There may have been subtle changes, but the strong directive has always been to make a highly trained workforce,” Barker said.

From “Laura gets a preview of the CNC Boot Camp” – Laura Langemo is live from Moraine Park Technical College with details on a hands-on program that will send its students down a new career path.

View video

NWTC celebrates 100 years

September 4, 2012

From “NWTC Centennial interview with NWTC President” – NWTC President Dr. Rafn appeared live on WBAY’s News at Noon to discuss the Centennial Celebration of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, set for September 29th, 2012 on the Green Bay campus.

View video

From “Some good news for Labor Day” – The economy is still challenging this Labor Day. Yet there are positive signs for workers:

• Wisconsin ranks sixth among the 50 states for income equality, according to the latest Wisconsin Sustainable Business Report.

• Despite job losses, the Badger State still leads the nation in manufacturing. Wisconsin has the most manufacturing jobs per capita, and we’ve lost a lower percentage of these jobs than other Midwestern states, according to the same report, sponsored by the UW-Madison School of Business, the state DNR and Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.

• Wisconsin is home to 60,000 new technology jobs, according to the report, including a lot of manufacturing jobs related to energy efficiency.

• Wisconsin has the highest high school graduation rate in the country.

• Madison ranks as the best metro area in the nation for matching its education levels with the education requirements for current job openings, according to a Brookings report last week titled “Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America.”

• About 42 percent of job openings in the Madison region require a bachelor’s degree or higher, and about 43 percent of all adult workers have attained such degrees.

• About 32 percent of job openings in the Madison region require an associate degree or some college classes, and about 28 percent of adult workers can match those requirements.

• About 26 percent of jobs demand a high school diploma or less, and 29 percent of our pool of potential workers falls into that category.

• The more educated and skilled a region’s work force is, the better the market is for all levels of job seekers, Brookings determined.

• As of February, the Madison region had more than 4,000 job openings in computer occupations, more than 1,200 openings related to health diagnosing and treatment, and more than 800 openings — each — for drivers, engineers and managers.

Yes, the gap between job seekers’ skills and open positions is wider in other parts of the state. Yes, job creation has been slow in Wisconsin.

It’s also true our state needs to get better at luring private investment to entrepreneurs with innovative ideas for start-up companies. That’s where the real potential is for new jobs.

Yet Wisconsin has a lot to celebrate and build on. Happy Labor Day!

From “Willett governor’s choice for state Technical College System Board” – Phillips-based Attorney Stephen Willett was named Governor Scott Walker’s choice for appointee to the Wisconsin Technical College System Board (WTCSB) this May.

“I’m delighted at the challenge and I hope I can make a meaningful contribution,” Willett said.

The governor’s appointment is still awaiting confirmation, which Willett anticipates should happen when the State Senate convenes in January 2013.

Willett attended the most recent board meeting as an appointee. That meeting was held July 10 and 11 at the Superior campus of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC), giving the board a chance to share in the celebration of WITC’s 100th anniversary. Northcentral Technical College, a hub of skills training and continuing education in local communities, is also marking its 100th year in 2012.

This isn’t Willett’s first time serving the public at the state-level. He’s taken on various appointments over the last three decades.

One previous post he feels like he was able to make an especially meaningful difference through was with the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board. A part of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board from 1991 – 2007, Willett served as chair of the Environmental Quality/Enforcement Committee for a time as well as chair of Air, Waste & Water/Enforcement Committee.

“It seemed to me that the state of Wisconsin’s largest challenge was the intersection of the environment and conservation and the economy,” Willett said.

As some major accomplishments in those 16 years, the board helped get 1 million acres of land placed under Stewardship Program protection and oversaw the reintroduction of such species as elk, fishers and wolves in parts of the state. In Willett’s time with the board, Wisconsin’s natural resources leaders also had a role in getting other states in compliance with water and air pollution standards and improving those same standards in a set of rules eventually adopted by every major country in the world, according to Willett.

The most recent challenge faced by the state is the growth of a new kind of economy, centered on constantly evolving, computer-based technology, even while preserving Wisconsin’s traditional agricultural base, Willett said.

“To compete in today’s economy requires continued education,” he said.

In Willett’s mind, the Wisconsin Technical College System, with highly specialized training tailored to the staffing needs of the surrounding communities, is the best tool for pulling the state successfully through the changes.

A big key to this will be further stepping up the partnership between high schools and the technical colleges, Willett said.

He added that he’d also like to see changes to make it easier to transfer between UW-System and tech schools.

The Wisconsin Technical College System Board seat, previously held by Terrance C. Erickson, carries a five-year term.

From “Wisconsin to join the Complete College America Alliance of States” – MADISON — Today, the Governor’s College and Workforce Readiness Council (CWRC) made the recommendation to join the Complete College America (CCA) Alliance of States.

The CCA is a national non-for-profit, focused on increasing the number of certificate and degree holders in the nation. States joining CCA’s alliance pledge to significantly increase the number of students successfully completing college and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. Currently, almost 30 states have joined CCA’s alliance.

CWRC representatives include leaders of the University of Wisconsin (UW) System, the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU), the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the Department of Workforce Development, and the Department Health Services, as well as private industry representatives and members of the state legislature. Council members unanimously recommended joining the coalition to embark on common data reporting and initiatives that can help improve Wisconsin’s effort to boost the number of postsecondary certificates and degrees.

“It’s important to consider new ways to improve job placement among college graduates,” said Governor Scott Walker. “Wisconsin’s membership in Complete College America will strengthen our workforce by better enabling our colleges and universities to prepare our students for the jobs of the future.”

“We believe that joining CCA can help us achieve the goal of the ‘more Graduates for Wisconsin’ initiative of graduating an additional 80,000 degree-holders beyond our current trajectory by 2025,” said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly. “In the process, we can demonstrate once again our strong commitment to transparency and accountability, and help our external stakeholders learn more about our successes in this area.”

“Joining Complete College America is a step towards complete and transparent information for Wisconsin,” added CWRC chair Tim Sullivan. “We need to be able to compare ourselves to other states to improve our strengths and address our challenges.”

“Participating in Complete College America provides Wisconsin’s technical colleges another opportunity to assess our student success efforts and communicate those efforts to state and national policymakers,” said Wisconsin Technical College System President Dan Clancy. “Improving retention and credential attainment for all learners is a WTCS priority. We look forward to learning about and implementing innovative best practices from around the country as part of CCA,” added Clancy.

“Although the 23 colleges and universities in WAICU are all private, nonprofit organizations, they all share in the goal of increasing educational attainment in Wisconsin and look forward to working in partnership with the UW and the WTCS as well as CCA to move Wisconsin forward,” Rolf Wegenke said.

From “Wisconsin technical colleges join multi-state career pathway study” – The Wisconsin Technical College System is teaming with nine states to create a framework of benchmarks and success measures for career pathway initiatives, a model of education that’s viewed as a method of filling the skills gap in the state.

The Alliance for Quality Career Pathways will also partner with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Law and Social Policy and the Joyce and James Irvine Foundations, according to a WTCS press release.

“The WTCS has developed a number of new educational models that are nimble in responding to the changing education and training needs of both businesses and students,” WTCS president Dan Clancy said in a written statement. “Our recent success with career pathways for both high school students and returning adults will only benefit from being part of the alliance.”

Career pathways are a coordinated sequence of education and training services that simplify for students advancement in education and employment in an industry or job sector. WTCS career pathway plans target lower-skilled adults and high school students to help them earn the postsecondary credentials needed to compete for higher-skilled jobs.

The model has been gaining traction, but until this alliance there has been little research of what results in a successful program and how best to measure that success, according to WTCS.

The other participants are Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia and Washington.

“Wisconsin should be proud of its involvement in this effort to increase the number of Americans with postsecondary credentials,” Gov. Scott Walker said in the release. “I look forward to the results of this multi-state collaboration and am hopeful it will yield yet another route for Wisconsin students to learn the knowledge needed to help solve our state’s skills gap.”

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 “Chick Geeks: Moraine Park program helps tear down stereotypes” – Chic Geeks ruled this week at Moraine Park Technical College.

Tech-minded high school girls who aren’t afraid of breaking things showed up on Wednesday to tear down computers and put them back together again.

Guided by women with IT skills, the teens attacked motherboards, circuitry, wires and disc drives as they systematically disassembled both a desktop and a laptop computer.

“Who wouldn’t want to learn how a computer works,” asked Sarah Bodden, 15, of Beaver Dam. “I mean, it’s something you use everyday.”

It usually doesn’t occur to girls to find work in technology fields, the teen said. The college is pushing the exploration of non-traditional careers — those that currently employ 25 percent or less of one gender.

“Maybe girls think there is less of a chance of getting jobs in fields that are dominated by men,” said 15-year old Victoria Sager, also of Beaver Dam. “I was going to be a chemical engineer, but after this I might want to do something in computers.”

MPTC student Stacey Babler, who served as one of the workshop instructors, said girls sometimes seem to be intimidated by machines and need to realize they can master technology if they are given hands-on opportunities.

“It’s the same old story,” Babler said, who is pursuing a degree in Information Technology Support Specialist and Technology Network Specialist programs. “We were brought up to nurture and weren’t encouraged to explore how things work.”

The girls worked together in groups to reassemble computers and load operating systems. They also got a sneak peak at the new touch screen Windows 8 operating systems on Beta and played with Google Chromebooks.

Instructor Johanna Voelker, a recent graduate of Moraine Park’s IT-Tech Support program, decided to make some life changes when she was laid off from a factory job three years ago.

“I like hands-on work and that’s what I’m showing these girls, not to be afraid to explore how things work,” she said.

While some girls may want purses, Alexis Neese, 16, of Kohler craves more electronics. She said a computer club at her school got her interested in engineering.

“I was in auto-CAD a lot, designing 3-D objects, even designing buildings, so I’m not intimidated. Most of the time I can figure things out,” she said.

MPTC IT-Tech Support Instructor Lisa Pollard said that it’s important the teens are learning with their peers and are being taught by females in the industry.

“So often in these types of classes boys tend to always take over,” she said. “This workshop is meant to build knowledge, confidence and skills in girls.”

Kyleigh Huebner, 14, of Fond du Lac said she will use the new knowledge to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Her friend, Anna Dudzinski, 14, was pleasantly surprised that the day turned out to be “not boring.”

“I can’t really handle science, but this is technology, which is generally a good thing,” she said.

Along with IT careers, other non-traditional opportunities for women include criminal justice and civil engineering.

More information is available by contacting Moraine Park NTO Specialist Renee Fischer at

From “Community leaders meet to discusswork force development initiatives” – Can the Fond du Lac region successfully meet the challenges of future workforce development?

More than 50 community, business and education leaders examined this question at a special workforce development breakfast briefing held at the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac on July 12.

The briefing was co-hosted by Moraine Park Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac in collaboration with Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI). Participants learned about a statewide research study that is underway and heard from community leaders about preparing the Fond du Lac region, according to an event press release. Similar briefing sessions will be held around the state.

Programs already in motion to address future workforce needs include initiatives like the Fond du Lac School District’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) charter school, Moraine Park’s School to Work program and UW-Fond du Lac’s collaboration with UW-Oshkosh, UW-Green Bay and Moraine Park, which will deliver a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology.

Steve Jenkins, president of Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corp., said that communities and regions that develop a globally competitive workforce, especially as manufacturing rebounds and re-establishes its presence, will be the economic winners.

“Talented people of all ages with globally competitive skills will be the cornerstone of prosperity moving forward,” he said.

He added that manufacturing in Fond du Lac County and in the region is critical to the economic base.

Several presenters concurred and said the definition of manufacturing needs to change and the awareness of opportunities needs to increase. A manufacturing workforce can include a wide range of career choices including positions requiring specialized training or technical skills, positions requiring an engineering degree or positions requiring a Ph.D. in fields like metallurgy, chemistry or mathematics.

The old methods of developing the workforce in both the public and the private sector must evolve quickly including the breaking down of silos, said Jenkins.

“It’s important to understand that it is everyone’s responsibility,” he said.

The good news for the Fond du Lac area in terms of the future is that educators, business leaders and government leaders “get it,” said Joe Reitemeier, president of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce. “They understand the environment we are in and are more than willing to roll up their sleeves and start to develop new initiatives, new ideas and collaborative efforts that will get us to a very strong, meaningful economy once again.”

The Lumina Foundation said that between now and 2018 Wisconsin will have about 925,000 vacancies due to retirements, job creation and other factors. Of these, 558,000 will require post-secondary education. In Fond du Lac, educators on the panel said they meet regularly to talk about issues where they can work together to improve the ability of students to make choices.

“As partners in post-secondary education, we must be sure that students have choices, that they understand what different paths they can take and that they understand there is no one way to the future,” said John Short, UW-Fond du Lac dean and chief executive officer. “In the future as I see it, we will have students taking classes here, going over to Moraine Park Technical College, taking a course at Marian University and they will be involved in the community through service learning.”

Short added that students will change jobs many times in their lifetime.

“They need skills, they need a future orientation, they need a sense of problem solving, they need a sense of communication,” he said.

At the K-12 level, Jim Sebert, superintendent of the Fond du Lac School District, pointed to ongoing work with the Association of Commerce in the School to Work program and creation of a manufacturing task force as part of its efforts to produce the types of students needed for careers and jobs in the community.

“We are the keepers of the workforce of the future,” said Sebert. “We take that very seriously and we’re continuously trying to evolve and improve ourselves.”

Presenters said short-term, long-term and continuous education and training will be needed to keep pace with work place demands.

In addition to long-term goals for workforce development, Jim Eden, vice president of academic affairs at Moraine Park, said he hears from businesses with short-term needs.

“The businesses have orders to fill and need employees to run the machines to fill those orders to either stay in business or grow their business,” Eden said.

Moraine Park works with employers to advance skills or provide basic skill training to a current workforce, or to provide a different skill set needed by a current employee.

According to Jim Wood, president of Wood Communications Group and strategic counsel for Competitive Wisconsin, educators need to stop thinking about students in terms of two or four years at the higher education level.

“We’re talking now about a 30 to 40 to 50 year ‘customer’ who is going to come in and out of that system, primarily from their work place, because the skill set demands are changing. How we supply and meet these needs is going to be a very, very different process,” Wood said.

At the state level, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson said officials are looking at short term and tactical initiatives with a sense of urgency.

“This is probably the number one challenge, the number one issue that we are going to be confronting as a state, as well as nationally,” said Newson. “How do we get our work force trained and developed?”

To address current and future needs, an online job center through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development was created where job seekers can post resumes and employers can post openings. Newson says there are approximately 40,000 openings listed on the site.

As a follow up to these briefing sessions, economic summits on job and workforce development will be planned for various locations around the state beginning in September.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156 other followers

%d bloggers like this: