From “Shortage of qualified manufacturing, construction workers” — As the economy improves, many parts of Wisconsin are in need of qualified builders and skilled manufacturing employees.  Those companies often look to the state’s apprenticeship program to fill their needs — but the apprenticeship pool has gotten smaller.  State officials said there were almost 9,800 apprenticeships in the various building trades last year — down from almost 16,000 in 2001.

The Wisconsin State Journal said it has become more of a challenge to get young people to consider apprenticeships, despite the need for skilled workers.  Madison electrical contractor Mike Pohlman said his company does a lot of outreach to schools — and some schools don’t seem to want to direct students to the building trades.  Madison College apprenticeship manager Jim Cook the situation has improved in Dane County because of a recent construction boom.  He says the demand for apprentice services has not been this strong since World War Two.


From “MATC revamps south side Milwaukee building for worker” — Milwaukee Area Technical College’s failed enterprise center and business incubator on the south side has been converted into an education center that will provide academic and training programs in the largely Latino community.

For many years the MATC enterprise centers — one on the north side and one on the south side — provided low-cost rent designed to help launch new businesses and create jobs.

But a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation in 2008 and 2009 showed many problems with the tax-supported business incubators. Tenants were behind in rent, expenses for the incubators exceeded revenue and there was little or no tracking to determine if the incubators created jobs.

The Milwaukee Enterprise Center North at 2821 N. 4th St. started in 1985 and was sold by MATC in 2011.

But MATC retained the Milwaukee Enterprise Center South, 816 W. National Ave., which opened in 1994.

For a time, the dislocated worker program run by the HIRE Center, in partnership with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, was housed in the building to train workers who had lost their jobs.

But the investment board and the HIRE Center consolidated their operations at the investment board offices at N. 27th St. and W. North Ave. in October, said Dorothy Walker, interim dean of MATC’s School of Technical and Applied Sciences.

At the same time, MATC’s F building on N. 4th St., which housed some training programs, was sold to the BMO Harris Bradley Center next door, she said.

Some of the businesses in the incubator didn’t seem to grow well and the economic downturn contributed to the failure of the enterprise center, Walker said.

“As we looked at using space more efficiently and looking at new programs and new areas to best serve the community, we decided to re-purpose the MEC south with a focus on building more educational and training programs there,” she said.

“What we’re doing there now focuses on our core mission and meets the needs of the community.”

So the 127,000-square-foot south side building has undergone $2.3 million in renovations to accommodate the many training programs once located in the F building.

The MATC Office of Workforce and Economic Development, which works with businesses and industry to provide corporations with customized programs, has been moved to the south side.

The college is focusing on locating construction and trade-related training programs there because there are a lot of small contractors on the south side, Walker said.

Now called the MATC Education Center at Walker’s Square, it’s also close to Bradley Tech High School, which has a technical focus on construction. The college will look for ways to connect with the high school, she said.

Bay View High School also has some focus on construction and links there will be sought, she said.

The plumbing program has been moved from the F building to the south campus. The one-year program leads to a technical diploma, and it’s the only plumbing program offered at a technical college in the state, instructor and master plumber Mike Geiger said.

The training program also leads to apprenticeships in three unions — plumbers, steamfitter and sprinkler fitters, he said. Last week students were busy moving washers, dryers and water heaters into the new spaces to begin the plumbing lessons required.

The brick and masonry program also has been moved. The one-semester technical diploma program serves as a pre-apprentice program, said Dragomir Marinkovich, the associate dean for engineering and construction.

Next year the school plans to move its appliance technician program from the downtown campus to the south side, he said.

He said the trade programs are critical because it’s estimated that in the spring construction jobs will start picking up again and “these guys will be ready.”

Continuing education classes also are offered in upholstery and sewing.

Alfredo Luna, associate dean of the office of workforce and economic development, said he’s working with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, the Walker’s Point Association and other nonprofits and businesses in the area to determine the needs of the community and how the center can help.

Walker said that in addition to construction, there will be a focus around energy, solar and water services.

The south center is not far from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Fresh Water Sciences that’s being constructed on the south side and MATC will look for training areas related to water, she said.

Ald. José Pérez, who represents the area, said he’s excited about the new education center and the possibilities for developing training and jobs for so many who live within walking distance.

“With time, I think there will be so many services, such as registering for classes, filling out financial aid forms, taking classes and specialized training in the trades,” he said.

He’s especially interested in sustainability and water programs. He said that seems to be a natural progression for the area with the new fresh water sciences school, the water council and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, all located on the south side.

From “La Crosse college will building homes with advanced energy efficiency” — Western Technical College will soon be building three “passive homes”:  buildings with a rare design that significantly reduces the amount of energy use.

A La Crosse neighborhood filled with quaint, single-family houses will become the home for three new, three-bedroom passive houses. In a passive house, heating energy usage can be reduced up to 90 percent. The wall insulation is much thicker than what’s found in a standard home.

Western Technical College architectural technology instructor Mike Poellinger says the air tight windows play a key role in the design.

“The windows actually become part of the heat source. We have a great amount of window glazing on the southern exposure as we’re collecting that heat. It’s minimized on the northern exposure; usually it’s there for lighting a stairwell or secondary lighting, and we minimize on the east and west.”

Poellinger says passive homes are quieter since they don’t have active heaters.

Western is hiring a contractor to start building the first passive home this summer. Western building system technology instructor Josh VandeBerg says students and instructors will be able to study the home as it’s built.

“We’re on this lesson here, talking about air tightness. Ding! Let’s go to the passive house and take a look at it in action. Not only is this house bringing my students to the passive house and the community to the passive house, but it’s also an opportunity to for my students to learn some of the very principles we’re talking about in the classroom.”

The Western Technical College Foundation will sell the homes. There are two other certified passive homes in Wisconsin.

From “NTC takes next step in connecting students with gold collar careers” — Advances in technology and an increasing demand for skilled workers have transformed the manufacturing world, leaving employees to trade in those trusty old blue collars for ones with a gilded sheen.

With the help of its partners in local industry and education, Northcentral Technical College (NTC) is taking the next step in giving students a chance to wear that gold collar, provided it is a good fit for them, said Bobbi Damrow, dean of NTC’s North Campus in Phillips.

Positions making up the shiny, new field of gold collar careers fall into a variety of trade areas, including welding, electromechanical work, fabrication and even to some extent, information technology, as Damrow explained.

Workers who enter jobs forming today’s manufacturing sector aren’t likely to find the shop conditions that awaited their grandparents; use of robotic equipment and other advanced technology are now all part of a day’s work, according to Damrow.

NTC is but one partner in a group of northwest Wisconsin educational institutes and businesses that have joined together in advancing the Gold Collar Careers initiative – a grassroots response to challenges regional manufacturers were facing in their efforts to secure workers equipped with the advanced skills needed to thrive in the industry.

“Manufacturing growth was being inhibited due to a shortage of these skilled workers,” according to the introduction page on the Gold Collar Careers initiative Web site.

Damrow said that NTC has been involved in the movement for probably over five years due to demographic trends showing where job openings would be as Price County’s workforce ages. “In Phillips, we have a manufacturing focus.”

That focus is evident on a much larger scale at the Wausau campus where “they’ve got a number of very high tech, complete programs for the gold collar career sector,” Damrow said.

NTC’s North Campus already offers Phillips and Chequamegon High School students an introduction to this in-demand career sector along with a shot at earning 12 transferable college credits in the same certificate area via its newly introduced Manufacturing Electronics Maintenance (MEM) Academy.

Now, the campus is poised to debut a symposium on that same class of high demand careers geared at students in grades 7-12. They’ll be holding the Gold Collar Careers Symposium at Phillips Middle School Thursday, April 4 at 5:30 p.m. in partnership with the Chequamegon School District, Phillips High School, Price County Economic Development Association and Northwest Wisconsin CEP (Concentrated Employment Program) Inc. Among other areas of work, CEP offers youth apprenticeship programming.

Students in all three Price County school districts – Chequamegon, Phillips and Prentice – are invited to take part in the event.

One simple goal stands as the driving force behind the symposium:

“…We want to give the students some orientation that we do have gold collar careers in Price County,” Damrow said.

The event is set to open with displays presented by Price County manufacturers and a spread of light snacks. Students, whether already taking transcripted courses with NTC or just starting to think about future career options, will get a chance to learn about local industries, the products they produce and employment needs foreseen in the future. The second part of the event, slated to run from 6:30-7:30 p.m., will feature a panel discussion with local gold collar employees, employers and Northwest Wisconsin CEP reps weighing in on industry topics. After that, viewing of tabletop displays and talks with local manufacturers should resume, according to Damrow.

Students are asked to come to the event accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“I think it’s important that everyone is on the same page for what types of jobs are in the area,” Damrow said.

Price County students who’d like to participate in the event are asked to return a registration slip to their high school offices by March 22.

While Damrow said that she realizes gold collar careers won’t be a good fit for everyone, she would like each student to get a chance to try the job field on for size in case it suits them well.

One other upcoming event aims at giving students an even earlier introduction to manufacturing careers. The program Get S.M.A.R.T. (Science and Math Activities Using Real-World Thinking) delivers “a day of hands-on fun and exploration” to area students in grades 5-12.

Get S.M.A.R.T. is scheduled to be held at the Manufacturing Lab of the NTC North Campus in Phillips Saturday, March 9 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Program participants will be divided into two separate sessions. They can expect to spend half of their day at NTC completing a welding project and the other half creating a mystery project using state-of-the-art technology. As in the symposium, students taking part in this program will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Seventeen of the available 24 spots had already filled up as of Monday, Feb. 25, so Damrow encouraged any students who might be interested in participating to act fast and register today. There is a $10 fee for the event to cover the cost of electronics kits used in program activities. The registration fee will secure students lunch, a T-shirt, their completed projects and door prizes.

Damrow said that she’s excited for the chance to be able to give younger students a taste of the type of work at the heart of gold collar careers.

“It’s going to be a fun day,” Damrow said, adding that Get S.M.A.R.T. events will be held at all three of the largest NTC campuses, including Antigo and Wausau in addition to Phillips. Each of the events are structured consistently so that students will find the same experience, both educational and enjoyable, no matter which site they head to for the event, according to Damrow.

NTC has gradually cast a wider net in terms of getting educational offerings in the area to complement the needs of businesses, as Damrow explained.

First, new welding and MEM training was introduced in response to feedback from members of local industry that they’d like to see programs at the Phillips campus oriented more toward the demands of the manufacturing field. The next step was bringing MEM programming to the county’s high schools via academy courses.

“Now, we’re actually bringing some of those very basic concepts down to the middle schools,” Damrow said.

She explained the benefit of introducing students to the career field at these younger grade levels, touching on the key role technology has come to take on in every area of life, not just manufacturing.

“They’re very tech savvy and with the gold collar careers kind of adding that very technical, automated element, I think that introducing it to them at such a young age should really instill in them some excitement about that type of career path,” Damrow said.

Anyone with questions about the Get S.M.A.R.T. program is asked to give Samantha Buchberger a call at (715) 803-1711 or send her an email at

From “A career with a solid future” — It’s a job that dates to the building of the Egyptian pyramids, the Roman Coliseum, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.

Throughout civilization, architects and builders have chosen masonry for its beauty, versatility and durability, according to Mason Contractors Association of America. Masonry resists the effects of time and weather, and it remains beautiful for centuries.

The association points out there are several opportunities to start a career in masonry because the industry is facing a shortage of skilled employees. As a trained and skilled mason, individuals will have the job security that promises a lucrative career for years to come.

No matter what the job, the skill and precision required by a mason cannot be replaced by machines.

The bricklaying and masonry population is aging, and the need for trained masons in the field is crucial.

Local help

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College in Fennimore is doing its part in addressing that shortage with a nine-month program. It gives students basic masonry skills.

In addition to the core bricklaying classes, they also take courses in estimating, blueprint reading and construction safety and health, which includes a 30-hour Occupational Safety & Health Administration class combined with First Aid/CPR certification.

According to Don Borchert, bricklaying program instructor and industrial occupations coordinator, the program is focused on hands-on learning, with students spending 20 hours per week in the lab working with the tools. The last eight weeks is spent doing community service projects for area communities.

“We treat this as a job site and incorporate the estimating, blueprint and safety aspects into these projects,” he said.

One of those service projects is Grant Regional Health Center’s (Lancaster) Memory Walk project. Borchert and his students have assisted with the project yearly since 2006.

Last year, they won the “Crews That Rock” competition sponsored by the World of Concrete trade show. To date, 200 to 300 pavers have been sold and installed in the memory garden, according to Sandy Leibfried, manager of the Grant Regional Health Center Foundation.

“As individuals purchase pavers, they are invited to participate in the installation of the pavers, which can be a very emotional moment,” Leibfried said. “Don and his students have been very respectful and responsible in assisting the families in the installation of the pavers. The students have been fantastic and hardworking every year. This project would not exist if it were not for Southwest Tech, Don Borchert, and the bricklaying students.”

Decline in workers

Borchert said there’s been a decline of bricklayers and trades workers in general due to the lagging economy and many workers retiring.

“With the growth of construction recently, and the reduced number of active bricklayers, the need is on the rise,” he said. “This is not just a Wisconsin or Iowa problem, it is nationwide.”

Karen Teske-Osborne, executive director of the Masonry Technology Foundation of Wisconsin, agreed.

“Well-trained masons are needed to continue to be able to build the highly desirable masonry structures,” she said.

“The masonry training programs at Wisconsin’s technical colleges helped produce graduates that either were accelerated in the apprenticeship programs or frequently excelled at their first jobs, advancing quickly to the level of foreman or even starting their own mason contractor businesses,” Teske-Osborne said. “The number of graduates do not meet the growing need.”

A lifelong skill

Nearly everywhere, you see the work of a skilled mason — in office buildings, homes, schools, factories, patios and fireplaces — and jobs aren’t sent overseas.

“Once you learn it, you can’t take it away,” Borchert said. “These are jobs that are staying in the United States. You can’t build a trowel that reaches from another country. Buildings have to be built here and they always will be.”

Borchert said the importance of the program to a potential student is that it gives that person a solid base to start from.

“Good marketable skills that contractors are looking for,” he said. “The pros for contractors is that Southwest Tech provides a source for employees — good, committed employees that are coming to work with the training process started. It is a very expensive investment for employers to train employees, and this gives them someone who can be productive from the start.”

Lyndal Anthony, an industrial technology instructor at East Dubuque (Ill.) High School, hears constantly from businesses about how hard it is for them to find skilled labor.

“In today’s ‘electronic information’ world, people/students seem to be looking for the jobs that are easy and pay lots of money,” he said.

Anthony said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that weekly income of skilled labor is more than the weekly income of a person with a master’s degree.

A lesser-known trade?

Anthony, who took a group of students to Fennimore last year to preview the program, experienced that many years ago when he decided to go to college. It was proposed that the income he could earn with a two-year degree was half of what he was already making as a machinist and even with his teaching degree today, it is still half of what he could make in a machine shop.

“I hear about a lot of construction, mechanics, welding, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) jobs where there are shortages of workers, but for whatever reason, I just don’t hear about masonry jobs, which does not mean that there aren’t masonry jobs available, I just don’t hear about them,” Anthony said.

“That is a shame. After taking my students to Southwest Tech to check out the masonry program, my students found that laying bricks was fun and easier to do than they thought it would be, so there has to be a huge misconception about masonry work.

“I would guess that, more than anything, there is a lack of information and masonry programs for people to be aware that there are a lot of jobs and a lot of money to be made in the masonry field.”

The association noted the wages of a skilled mason are one of the highest in the construction trades, but wages depend on where an individual works and who that person works for.

Bureau of Labor statistics indicate the 2010 median annual pay was $45,210, or $21.83 per hour. Teske-Osborne said the bureau projects that there will be a 41 percent increase in the labor force for masons from 2010 to 2020 while the increase for construction workers is projected to be 14 percent.

Data from Wisconsin NetForce show an entry salary range from $33,000 to $65,000. Experienced masons’ salaries range from $49,000 to $74,000.

“Southwest Tech’s bricklaying/masonry program offers a fantastic opportunity and great return on investment,” said Duane Ford, Southwest Tech president. “Students who invest nine months of their time and a current total of $5,430 for tuition, fees, tools and equipment can walk out of graduation into a good, family-supporting job. Financial aid is available for qualifying students. There are plenty of jobs.”

From “MATC [Madison College] students work to revive homes in New Orleans” — The two-story farmhouse was built a century ago on a plantation in Plaquemines Parish, near New Orleans. This week, a student crew from Madison Area Technical College is reviving the hurricane-battered structure so a single mother and her three boys can move back home.

“They have had no luck,” said Brenden Palormo, one of five volunteers from MATC spending the week down south and blogging about it here.

About 15 years ago, a young couple bought the house and dreamed of reviving it. In late 2003, the father and oldest son died in a car wreck, leaving a single mother and school counselor, Robin Leslie, to raise three boys. The reality television show “Extreme Makeover” granted the couple’s wish in early 2005, repairing the house to some of its former glory.

Later that year, Hurricane Katrina came and undid most of the renovation, requiring another extensive makeover. Then came Hurricane Isaac last August, doing even worse damage to the interior. Since then, according to the St. Jude Community Center in New Orleans, the mold-infested house has sat empty; Robin and her sons have rented elsewhere; insurance checks to repair the house have been slow to arrive; rental assistance from FEMA isn’t going very far.

“They’re in limbo,” Palormo said.

The crew from MATC arrived Sunday and will work every day this week before leaving Saturday. They’ll focus on mold remediation on the second floor of Robin’s house with a goal of making it livable again. They’re also working at another house nearby that’s damaged even worse. There, the goal is just to clear the mess, he said.

Sandy Thistle, a carpenter who teaches construction and remodeling courses at MATC, is leading the trip. Each year, the college’s service team sponsors alternative break trips. A contact from past MATC trips to New Orleans told them about the houses in need of repair.

From “Moraine Park students place in national electricity competition” — Max Paulus of Fredonia and Istvan Biro of West Bend had a powerful performance in the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference held June 23-27 in Kansas City, Mo. Each competing with about 25 other students, Paulus placed 8th and Istvan placed 12th in the Electrical Construction Wiring and Industrial Motor Control competitions, respectively.
“The students spent time preparing prior to the competition and both seemed very confident going into the competition,” said Mark Wamsley, electricity instructor at Moraine Park. “After experiencing the national competition, we all have ideas on how to improve for next time.”         

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