From “Northeast Wisconsin Technical College plays key role for Marinette Marine” — MARINETTE – Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is playing a key role in preparing workers for the Marinette Marine shipyard.

The school operates the North Coast Marine Manufacturing Training Center, where workers are taught a variety of skills including welding and electrical work, as well as leadership, communications and conflict resolution skills. In the last two years, more than 1,800 students have gone through the training center.

The facility is within walking distance of the shipyard and includes computer labs, classrooms and shops, one filled with welding booths, another with electrical components like those used on the littoral combat ship (LCS). There are also programs for pipe fitters and metal fabricators.

“We were written right into the LCS contract because they needed to show that they had the ability to train thousands of people,” said Brian Lancour, coordinator of the training center. “We’ve become experts on the shipyard.”

Aaron Short, 26, a native of Escanaba, Mich., had been working as a welder at Miller Tractor Supply in Green Bay and in June applied to work at the shipyard. He started in October and began welding training at NWTC. He makes $16.50 an hour compared to the $11.50 he was making at Miller. But he’s also in a more physically demanding job, performing welding tasks while on his knees, crouched down or in some cases using mirrors to weld in tight spots.

“It’s nothing like I’ve ever done before,” said Short, who will soon be married. “It’s definitely testing my skills and getting me better at a lot of things.”

Wade Smoot, 41, of Madison, is a Lancaster High School graduate who most recently was an iron worker for a Stoughton company that did work on Camp Randall and at Epic Systems in Verona. He was attracted to the shipyard by the pay, benefits and community.

“I just wanted something different and this is really neat to build ships,” said Smoot, who was learning how to weld aluminum.



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 “Summit addresses skills gap, new ways to prepare students” — Representatives from business and education discussed how to better prepare students for the workforce through improved curriculum and partnerships at the second annual Business Education Summit held Friday at Blackhawk Technical College (BTC).

The event featured updates on the latest efforts to close the skills gap.

BTC Vice President of Learning Sharon Kennedy kicked off the morning with an overview of what’s been accomplished in the past year in terms of better preparing students for employment. She said employers surveyed on what they wanted last year had reported a long list of soft skills from new employees that were sorely missing. The skills ranged from interview skills to being on time.

After getting the employer input, Kennedy wrote a letter to the different college units to determine if such soft skills were being taught and learned that about 50 percent of classes were not teaching the skills.

The soft skills reported in demand from employers have been streamlined to include the ability to communicate professionally, use appropriate technology, work effectively in teams, demonstrate professional work behavior, show respect for diversity, solve problems efficiently and lead by example. Those core abilities are being incorporated into all departments including highly technical fields.

The soft skills now have been incorporated into all classes at BTC. For example, welding classes have adopted a strict attendance policy to re-enforce the importance of showing up to work on time. There also have been math instructors embedded in welding curriculum to help students apply math and use it in blueprints.

Kennedy said BTC also has adopted a new assessment to test students on their written and oral communication skills, and Kennedy noted plans are under way for a Career and Professional Development Center. BTC continues to partner with area business people with more than 300 partners who meet regularly with BTC advisory committees.

During the Summit, Stateline Career and Technical Education Academy (SCTEA) Director Heidi Carvin, a retired Evansville Superintendent, gave an update on the progress of the partnership.

SCTEA, a not-for-profit collaborative partnership, was formed to give students real life skills to improve prospects for future employment. The idea is that the students would learn technical skills taught by industry professionals. Organizers had hoped that students would be entered into career pathways as dictated by regional business requirements.

In the Stateline Area those areas included manufacturing, business and finance, construction, healthcare, hospitality, pre-engineering and automotive and transportation. The following school districts are affiliated with the regional program: Beloit, Beloit Turner, Clinton, Evansville, Janesville and Parkview.

There have been four active Centers of Excellence through the consortium — the automotive program in Beloit, construction program in Janesville, along with health and welding classes offered at BTC.

On Friday, Carvin said transportation had been a challenge for students who preferred to stay at their own schools as opposed to going to the Centers of Excellence.

SCTEA’s new focus is to work on aligning curriculum to the career pipeline. SCTEA is focusing on getting more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes at area schools. Carvin said SCTEA meets regularly with the participating schools to work on incorporating more STEM courses, as well as extra math courses.

Another new focus is on getting more career guidance and relevant courses to middle schoolers. There are efforts underway to give eighth graders more information on different career opportunities and the necessary courses to take in high school to reach their career goals.

From “Training, dozens of positions available, but applicants are few” —  Marinette – Career opportunities in the skilled trades are strong, but one of northern Wisconsin’s largest employers hasn’t been able to recruit more than a handful of recent high school graduates for some of the best-paying jobs in the region.

Marinette Marine Corp. said it is holding open 40 positions in its training program for welders and other shipyard jobs, hoping to attract recent high school graduates from the Marinette and Menominee, Mich., area.

The company has reached out to nine schools to find job candidates, but so far only seven recent graduates have applied for the training, which begins in July.

That’s an area where about half of the graduates go on to college, although it’s about 60% in Menominee – which is across the Menominee River from Marinette.

A typical employee at the shipyard can earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year. With overtime pay, some earn more than $60,000, according to Marinette Marine.

Yet, like many companies, it is struggling to persuade young people to enter the skilled trades, including welding, pipe fitting and electrical work.

To fill jobs, companies recruit each other’s employees, said Mark Kaiser, president of Lindquist Machine Corp. in Green Bay.

“If we don’t find enough talent, the fact is we are not going to be able to grow our businesses,” Kaiser said.

With 1,400 employees, Marinette Marine is immersed in U.S. Navy shipbuilding work that should last for years. That has resulted in the addition of thousands of jobs at the shipyard and 700 suppliers in 43 states, including more than 120 Wisconsin companies.

Each littoral combat ship takes about 40 months to build. The 10 ships under contract will keep the work going for nine to 12 years – longer, if Marinette is awarded additional ships in a new round of bids in 2016.

The jobs aren’t going to fizzle out any time soon. Right now, the future looks “pretty rosy for us,” Marinette Marine President and CEO Charles Goddard said.

“We can easily handle 100 or more hires out of high schools in a year,” Goddard added.

But many parents won’t encourage their children to enter the skilled trades. They’ve seen manufacturers cut jobs and wreak havoc in the lives of people who depended on that work.

“It’s a tough row to hoe because the bigger issue is with the parents,” Kaiser said. “When they were young, they probably worked in high-volume, repetitive factory jobs.” Those jobs have disappeared.

Training at the gates

Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of Marinette Marine’s founding. The company has had layoffs in the past involving hundreds of employees, but it has been one of the area’s strongest employers.

The company contacted area high schools last fall, telling school officials about its training program through Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.

The training center is a mere 300 feet from the shipyard gates in Marinette. It will offer paid instruction in welding, ship fitting, pipe fitting and electrical work, along with on-the-job training that pays about $12 an hour.

In addition to work experience, students may earn credits at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College that can apply toward a two-year degree.

It’s the first time Marinette Marine has offered this opportunity to students, although it has provided training for hundreds of its regular employees and offers tuition assistance for employees pursuing a college degree.

The company has added 600 jobs in the past 12 months, largely for the Navy work, but for other projects as well. It has hired people from across the United States but still worries about attrition as older employees retire.

The average age of shipyard employees is 45. That must come down, Goddard said, so the company doesn’t face workforce shortages as a wave of employees heads into retirement in the not-too-distant future.

It’s also why Marinette Marine has reached out to area high schools to recruit young talent, Goddard said.

Marinette school officials did not return calls asking about the training program that was offered to their graduating seniors.

Thinking of the future

Erik Bergh, superintendent of the Menominee School District, said Marinette Marine was very aggressive, “in a good way,” about trying to provide opportunities to this year’s graduates.

“They are really encouraging students to see that there are many roads in life, and that working for them would be a great experience,” Bergh said. “Manufacturing has been a big part of our area ever since the timber industry went away. We have companies that have rebounded nicely from the recession and are now concerned about the availability of talent in terms of expansions and the aging workforce.”

Still, persuading students to enter the skilled trades hasn’t been easy. They are attracted to other careers, and the area has a low unemployment rate.

“There is no doubt it’s a quandary. We have spent an awful lot of time with this,” Bergh said.

Too many high school students don’t have a career plan or interest in college, said Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board in Green Bay.

“The top kids are very motivated, and they’re going to college or tech school. But there’s a whole group of kids, and I would say it’s a pretty large group, who are not thinking about what happens after high school,” Golembeski said.

“I see it over and over again. Those are the kids who could really benefit from something like the Marinette training,” he added.

Justin Plansky of Menominee, Mich., is one of the seven applicants for the company’s training. He graduated from high school earlier this month and works as a dishwasher at Applejacks restaurant.

Plansky said he was the only one in his graduating class who took four years of mechanical shop classes. He preferred the hands-on instruction, with hot metal and sparks flying, over classroom lectures.

“Some people think shop classes are boring, but they’re really not,” Plansky said. He’s pursuing a career as a welder but said he might switch gears someday and become a high school metal-shop teacher.

Homegrown talent

Plansky is the type of student Marinette Marine wants. He has welding experience, is mechanically oriented and doesn’t want to leave the area.

The company may widen its search for recent graduates if it can’t fill training positions locally, but prefers homegrown talent.

“This is a very rural area, which is why we cast the net to approximately nine schools,” said Phillip Henslee, a Marinette Marine human resources manager and the company’s vocational outreach coordinator.

Henslee came to Marinette from the semiconductor industry.

Given the area’s shipbuilding heritage, he was surprised at how difficult it was to find skilled-trade recruits.

“I was very amazed at how much of a downturn the trades have taken over the last several decades,” he said.

This fall, the company will reach out to high school juniors, trying to get them interested in the training before their senior year, when many students already have made post-graduation plans.

Henslee remains optimistic, saying the program will build on its success over time.

“This is a challenge,” he said. “But it’s a winnable challenge.”

From “Manufacturing leaders try to change perceptions” — GRAND RAPIDS — Manufacturing is not a dirty word — nor is it an industry for the uneducated.

That is the message business leaders want to share with a new generation of Wisconsinites — a generation that increasingly chooses four-year degrees, said Jim Morgan, president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation, the state’s chamber of commerce.

“The high-paying, low-skilled jobs — those are the ones that have left, and, quite frankly, I don’t know that they’re coming back,” Morgan said Wednesday during a visit to Mid-State Technical College’s Wisconsin Rapids campus.

“At the end of the day, ground zero for this is right here in the technical colleges.”

The discussion came as part of a partnership between the state chamber and the Wisconsin Technical College System to address the shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing and highlighted some of the feedback the group got from a series of 54 listening sessions in Wisconsin with more than 300 manufacturers.

In order to boost interest in manufacturing jobs across the state, the foundation is developing a strategy aimed at resolving the shortage of skilled workers, including compiling a list of best practices, launching a public awareness campaign and assisting local chambers of commerce in addressing the issue, Morgan said.

“This is going to get solved community by community,” he said. “What you do in Wisconsin Rapids is going to look different than what happens in Eau Claire or Green Bay.”

One example of such a local effort is the Workforce Central program, a grass-roots initiative facilitated through Incourage Community Foundation that has developed a three-pronged approach to workforce development, said Rick Merdan, a facilitator for Workforce Central.

Among the initiative’s programs are those that help individuals overcome the barriers to getting a degree or even their high school diploma; provide training for people who have lost their jobs and need new skills to re-enter the manufacturing world; and incumbent workers who need to upgrade their skills to enhance their position in their respective industry, Merdan said.

“The misconception of manufacturing being ‘dirty, dumb and dangerous’ comes from all the mill shutdowns that we’ve had here,” he said. “We need to displace that.”

One of only four rural sites in the country with such a program, south Wood County stands as an example for how other communities can follow, said Al Javoroski, dean of MSTC’s Technical and Industrial Division.

“It’s about pooling our resources to make a more focused push toward educating everyone about what careers are available and what education is needed to get there,” Javoroski said. That education should start as early as the elementary or middle school level, he said.

Officials need to make an effort to publicize the work manufacturers are doing because the stories people are telling are at least five decades old, Morgan said.

“Until we get kids and parents and counselors in there to see it, how are we going to change that paradigm?” he said.

Steve Berlyn, general manager at Mariani Packing Co., a member of both the Workforce Central Funders Collaborative and its CEO Peer Council, said the cranberry processing industry has evolved dramatically during the past several years to the point where the company had to expand its Wisconsin Rapids plant.

“I think manufacturing as a whole is changing,” Berlyn said. “It’s high-tech.”

Thirty percent of the jobs in the state require a bachelor’s degree or more, while 70 percent require something more than a high school diploma, Morgan said.

“If you’re not growing something, making something or mining something, the rest of us are all kind of along for the ride,” he said.

From “Technical college helps more students find work following graduation” — In this tough economy, teachers there say skilled trade workers are more in-demand than ever.

Leaders at Mid- State Technical College say many employers have jobs ready, but need workers with special training. That puts pressure on the students to be prepared and ready for the real world as soon as they graduate, that’s why the college is there to help.

Vice President of Student Affairs, Connie Willfahrt says the do as much as they can to help students find jobs following graduation. “One of the key resources used to help both students and employers is called tech connect. It’s a service for employers to post jobs. It’s very widely used.”

The school graduates around 1,000 students each year. About 86 percent of them end up in a career path they had hoped to get into.

School leaders say that number is higher than in years back, and they continually see their students getting more jobs each year.

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From “Uptick in starting salary of tech college grads” — A new report shows new technical college graduates are making more money than their counterparts the prior year. The Wisconsin Technical College System’s annual follow up survey shows median salary for all graduates starting their careers is $31,822 ($31,198 the year prior) with those earning associate degrees receiving a median salary of $36,033 ($35,616 for 2010 grads).

System President Dan Clancy says their research also shows 88 percent are working within six months of graduation. Most of them–71 percent–work directly in their field of study. Clancy says these figures are about the same as last year, a positive sign given a down economy.

Clancy credits advisory committees, made up from people in the industry, that help guide students while in their programs.

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