From “Key to good work: train, train, train” — Workers are faced with two choices in today’s job market — adapt to the rapid changes in their industries or get left behind.

John Cichon, 44, of Stratford was on the verge of being one of those left behind when he was laid off in 2008 after a 15-year career building windows at SNE in Mosinee.

“I was worried about being in my 40s and only having window-building skills,” Cichon said.

With jobs scarce and money tight, Cichon decided to change careers. He never had welded before in his life, but after researching local job openings, salaries and other information, that’s what he decided to do.

He went back to school, worked jobs to gain some experience and now is employed by Schuette Metals in Rothschild after completing the company’s revolutionary in-house, welding academy training program. Today, he spends his days welding parts for military vehicles as part of the company’s government contract.

Cichon is among the thousands of workers who have taken advantage of training and other programs to adapt to changes in central Wisconsin’s economy. Shrinking budgets and increased expenses have forced many local employers to become more efficient. Employees have had to learn new skills after their employers eliminated positions or brought new technology into the workplace. Workers who lost their jobs learned they needed to refresh or learn new skills in order to be attractive to prospective employers.

Tom Younger, Department of Workforce Development area manager for the Job Center of Wisconsin in Marathon County, said the Great Recession has been a life-altering event for many workers.

“A lot of them have gone on to school and they are saying, ‘I am just lost. The technology is so beyond what I’m used to,’” Younger said.

Classes on computer skills as basic as sending emails and uploading resumes are available at local libraries, and workers who haven’t been in school since before computers entered the workplace often need such remedial lessons. More complex computer skills such as Web design and accounting software are available at technical colleges.

Technical colleges play an important role in central Wisconsin for both students fresh from high school and veteran workers. Mid-State Technical College Vice President of Academic Affairs Ann Krause-Hanson said 63 percent of MSTC students are ages 25 and older, many of whom are seeking real-world skills to use in local businesses and industries. The college has campuses in Marshfield, Wisconsin Rapids, Stevens Point and Adams.

The partnerships between technical schools and businesses provide an avenue for workers to get additional training even while still on the job. One example is the short-term contract training MSTC provides for local businesses. About 90 workers at Domtar in Nekoosa received updated training on hydraulics through the program this summer, Krause-Hanson said.

Some workers, such as those who lost their jobs after plant closures at SNE, Federal Mogul in Schofield, or Wausau Paper in Brokaw, had to find new careers quickly.

The North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board based in Plover is a partnership between government and business that plans, administers and coordinates the federal Workforce Investment Act employment and training programs in nine counties. NCWWDB has partnered with technical colleges and the DWD to create a short-term specialized training in fields such as food service, machine-tooling and welding. The workers get training in a matter of weeks, instead of enrolling in a yearlong course at a technical college, and are back into the workforce as soon as they graduate. The training includes face-to-face time with local business leaders who evaluate the participants’ work in the program.

Bruce Trimble, employer services director for NCWWDB, said that 95 percent of participants found jobs after completing the program.

“We had people getting job offers before they were done,” Trimble said.

Schuette Metals created its welding academy nearly a year ago. New hires spend up to three weeks learning the math, blueprint-reading and welding skills needed at the company and then work under the eyes of mentors. Even veteran employees undergo constant training to sharpen their skills, said Tony Schmidt, the company’s director of education.

Russ Weis, 37, of the town of Emmet, has welded for 18 years, but said he didn’t learn nearly as much about the trade until he went to work at Schuette three years ago. Now, he is mentoring new employees after they complete the welding academy.

“It’s huge having a company do this for you instead of having to go to the tech (school) on your own time,” Weis said of the continuing education.

From the Wausau Daily Herald: “Food manufacturing science certificate helps train workers for food processing jobs” — GRAND RAPIDS — For Rodney Cassel-Gebhardt, Monday marked an end and a new beginning.

The Wisconsin Rapids resident lost his job at Schreiber Foods in 2008, when the company closed its plant in the Wisconsin Rapids West Side Industrial Park. While his manufacturing experience allowed him to get a temporary job in Plover, a lack of training prevented him from finding a full-time position — until recently.

“I’m fortunate that I got a job,” the 31-year-old said Monday after a recognition ceremony at Mid-State Technical College’s Wisconsin Rapids campus.

Cassel-Gebhardt was one of 18 students who recently earned Mid-State’s food manufacturing science certificate — the first tangible result of the community-led Workforce Central initiative, the project’s director said.

“It’s a joint philanthropic and public investment strategy, and this is the first training that’s come out of that,” said Jennifer Riggenbach, who leads the grass-roots workforce development project at the Community Foundation of Greater South Wood County.


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