From “La Crosse summit seeks Rx for health gap for disadvantaged” —Coulee Region health officials are pressing their quest to improve residents’ overall well-being by diagnosing the impact of factors such as socioeconomic conditions.

The evolving concept of health equity “includes health care, but it’s a lot more,” said Jordan Bingham, who will address the topic as keynote speaker Friday at the annual Health Summit of the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium.

“Having access to health care is only about 20 percent of it,” said Bingham, health equity coordinator for public health in Madison and Dane County. “Other things include the environment — and I don’t mean just clean air and water. Those play a part, but it also includes healthy housing, healthy food and healthy activities.”

Some people don’t have access to such advantages, she said, adding, “Where people live, their education, their income, race and social class are significant health predictors.

“Over the years, we’ve educated people on how to be healthy but not addressed the environmental factors,” Bingham said.

The theme of the summit from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Lunda Center at Western Technical College is “Health Equity: The Opportunity for Health Begins in Our Families, Neighborhoods, Schools and Jobs.”

It piggybacks on the outcome of the summit last year, when participants resolved to examine factors such as income, poverty and education, consortium executive director Catherine Kolkmeier said.

“I hear more and more in the community about how health is tied to people’s circumstances — how we live, where we work,” Kolkmeier said.

“There is a lot of momentum in the community about neighborhood revitalization, and that is tied into health,” Kolkmeier said.

Previously, health considerations often were split into clinical care at hospitals, the physical environment in the city and county and socioeconomic conditions that various public agencies addressed, she said.

“It’s become more obvious now that you can’t separate the health and the socioeconomic conditions,” she said.

Although data exist on the federal and state levels, it’s harder to discern statistics locally, so the consortium is working on that, Kolkmeier said.

The consortium, which covers 20 counties in the tri-state area, and other local agencies have developed a reputation for taking health initiatives seriously, said Bingham, who previously was the state’s Healthy Communities coordinator.

“A lot of places around the state see La Crosse as a leader,” she said. “Folks there are doing great work with smoke-free living … and increasing access to healthy foods and activities.”

Avoiding the political rabbit hole of the Affordable Care Act, Bingham said Obamacare at least is creating access to health care for people who didn’t have it before.

Beyond that, though, she said, “What is our responsibility to create opportunities for people to live, work, learn and play?”

Bingham acknowledged differences between urban and rural areas.

“Urban communities traditionally are more walkable, more dense and have more resources,” such as being able to get to a park to exercise, she said.

“In rural settings, which are a huge challenge in Wisconsin, people may have a lot of physical activity. But in reality, most who live in rural areas traditionally drive to their jobs,” she said.

“When it comes down to it, the reality is we don’t all have the same opportunities,” she said. “I live close to two grocery stores. I can ride, walk, bus or drive to work.

“I can provide the basic needs, but people on limited income or with disabilities or who live in apartment where the only place to play is the parking lot cannot,” she said.

“All of us need to understand that our community isn’t healthy until all have the opportunities to close the health gap,” Bingham said.

“It may be obvious — but maybe not — it’s a sad state of affairs when where people live or their ZIP codes determine how healthy they are or how long they live.”

From “Conversation: Apprenticeship program needs business partners” — By Rich RymanPress-Gazette Media talks to business leaders in its weekly conversation feature. This week, Lisa Schmelzer of the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce discusses the chamber’s Youth Apprenticeship Program.

The program is in its 20th year in Brown County.

Q. What is the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce’s Youth Apprenticeship program?

A. The Youth Apprenticeship program is a statewide school-to-work initiative offered by the state Department of Workforce Development designed specifically for high school students. It integrates academic and technical instruction with paid, mentored work experience at an area business. The program is facilitated for 10 area school districts in and around Brown County by the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

Q. How many youth are participating?

A. Of the 94 students we have participating in the program, we secured training site placements for 46, with many more students eagerly waiting to begin their on-the job training.

The breakdown of participants by school district is:

Ashwaubenon, 10; Howard-Suamico, 12; De Pere, eight; Denmark, eight; Green Bay, 26; Luxemburg-Casco, six; Pulaski, 11; Seymour, six; West De Pere, five, and Wrightstown, two.

Q. In which jobs are apprenticeships available? What determines availability?

A. The Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce Youth Apprenticeship program offers nine high-demand career areas with more than 40 career pathways.

Program areas, identified as high demand by the state Department of Workforce Development include:

• Agriculture, Food, & Natural Resources, Animal Basics, Large Animal/Herd, Vet Assistant, Plant Basics, Crops, Greenhouse, Landscaping, Water Resources

• Arts, A/V Technology & Communications – Printing, Graphics

• Financial Services – Accounting, Banking, Insurance

• Health Science – Nursing Assistant, Medical Assistant, Pharmacy, Ambulatory/Support Services (dietary, laboratory, imaging, optometry or physical therapy), Medical

•  OfficeHospitality, Lodging, & Tourism – Dining, Kitchen, Front Desk, Housekeeping, Travel/Tours, Grounds & Maintenance, Meetings & Events, Marketing & Sales, Management

• Information Technology – IT General, Hardware, Software

• Manufacturing – Assembly & Packaging, Manufacturing Processes, Machining, Operations Management, Welding, Equipment Maintenance

• STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) – Engineering Drafting, Mechanical Design, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering

• Transportation, Distribution & Logistics – Auto Collision, Auto Technology, Logistics/Supply Chain Management

Q. What are the programs greatest needs?

A. The program is in immediate need of more Brown County area businesses tfor on-the-job training in many of the program areas, especially health, auto tech/collision, STEM, finance and welding areas

Q. Have you had to turn students away because of a lack of employers?

A. The program doesn’t turn students away; students start their industry-related classes at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in anticipation of the job placement. However, students who are not placed in an on-the-job training position are missing the most important and crucial components of the program: the opportunity to start building valuable employability and industry skills.

Q. Anything you’d like to add that we did not cover?

A. With the projected workforce shrinkage due to the anticipated “Silver Tsunami,” — the large number of Baby Boomers reaching retirement — the Youth Apprenticeship program can be part of the solution. We bring goal-oriented youth into workplaces and industry paths and create highly skilled workers to fill businesses’ employment pipeline. Students in the program now may be the full-time employees businesses hire down the road.

If you’d like to learn how participating in Youth Apprenticeship may serve as a pipeline to your future work force, please contact Lisa Schmelzer, Youth Apprenticeship program manager, at (920) 593-3411 or More information on the program is available at

From “Skilled trades, health care jobs among hottest in Oshkosh area” — OSHKOSH — Manufacturing technology, skilled trades and health care positions are among the hottest job prospects in the Oshkosh area, local workforce development leaders say.

In a time when jobs still are hard to come by — especially for those without specialized training — there is hope for applicants who are seeking employment in some of the high-demand sectors and know where to find the necessary training for those positions.

“We’re definitely seeing manufacturing jobs still hiring,” said Brian Covey, communications director for Forward Service Corp., which runs the Winnebago County W-2 program and serves low-income families in the region. “Through W-2, what we’re seeing is a lot of care-giving (jobs).”

For example, certified nursing assistants or in-home caregivers are among the most in-demand positions, as well as construction jobs, especially with the upcoming reconstruction of a bridge along U.S. 41, Covey said.

According to state Department of Workforce Development statistics for the third quarter of 2013, the top industries by employment in Winnebago County were food services and drinking places, transportation equipment manufacturing, papermaking, administrative and support services, and educational services.

The county experienced a non-adjusted unemployment rate of 5.1 percent in December, compared to 5.8 percent statewide and 6.5 percent nationally, according to the most recent DWD estimates.

“In the manufacturing environment, a lot has changed since the baby boomers first entered the job market,” said Paul Stelter, CEO of the Neenah-based Fox Valley Workforce Development Board. “Those jobs require a lot more technical skills. As a result, the people who are looking to enter into the manufacturing industry today need at least at technical college education.

“Manufacturing isn’t that dark, dirty place that you associate with manufacturing plants of 50 years ago.”

According to data compiled from the 2012 and 2013 Fox Valley Technical College graduate employment research reports, the top job markets in the region include criminal justice and law enforcement as well as agri-business and science technology.

Also among the top industry sectors are nursing assistant, marketing, administrative professionals, electromechanical technology and welders, all of which are offered at FVTC locations in Oshkosh, said Chris Jossart, media relations manager for Fox Valley Technical College. He said welding, wood manufacturing, aviation, marketing and medical technology also are in high demand.

The system has campuses in Grand Chute and Oshkosh; regional centers in Chilton, Clintonville, Waupaca and Wautoma; and training centers in Appleton, Oshkosh and Neenah. In addition to job-specific training — much of which is offered through FVTC — many local employers are looking for workers with soft skills, such as time management, teamwork, flexibility and the ability to learn on the job.

“Employers are looking for the best fit, and the best fit includes not only the technical part but also the person’s ability to show up on time, to work well with others, to be a contributing member of the team, and all those are contributors to hiring a person,” Stelterhe said.

Nearly 16,000 people in the Oshkosh-Neenah area work in production occupations, followed by about 13,000 in office and administrative support and about 7,000 in sales and related occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Transportation and material moving, food preparation and serving, and health care practitioners and technical occupations round out the rest of the industries that employ more than 5,000 people each.

From “Youth apprentices find positions with local companies” — Nick Steenwyk, of Sheboygan, is a computer aided design drafter in the bathing group for Kohler Company in Kohler. Like most CAD drafters, he performs tasks such as working with Creo software to create models and drawings of whirlpools.

Unlike most CAD drafters, Nick is currently a high school student at Sheboygan Christian High School. Through the youth apprenticeship program at Lakeshore Technical College, Steenwyk began working at Kohler Company.

“The best part of my YA experience has been working in a career field I’m interested in pursuing,” Steenwyck said in a news release. “Not only am I able to pick up skills and techniques that with be invaluable in years to come, my experience has been a tremendous help in determining a career field I want to enter.”

Steenwyk is not alone in Sheboygan County when it comes to Youth Apprenticeship. The Lakeshore Technical College Youth Apprenticeship program recently completed their annual Information Nights for high school students interested in the 2014-15 Youth Apprenticeship program. For the third consecutive year, the Sheboygan County Youth Apprenticeship program is seeing large increases in both student apprentices and employer participation.

Representatives from employers like Nemak, Rockline, Blue Harbor and Wigwam also are working with students.

Youth apprenticeship offers students the opportunity to explore future careers while they are still in high school and get paid for their time working at area employers. Youth apprenticeship offers one- and two-year programs in fields like health, hotel and hospitality, culinary, finance, mechanical design, welding and manufacturing.

The Sheboygan youth apprenticeship program has grown rapidly in the past few years, from 11 students in 2010-11 to 32 students in 2011-12. The program swelled to 68 students in the current school year. It’s expected that number will rise to 85 for next school year.

For more information on the LTC youth apprenticeship program, contact Jill Preissner at 920-693-1261 or

From “Health care, accounting, tech are hottest fields for area graduates” — Shainah Hughes knows she’ll find a job and support her family when she graduates.

Job security is one of the big reasons the 29-year-old student at Western Technical College is pursuing a degree in electronics and computer engineering.

“When I graduate, there’s going to be a need for that,” Hughes said.

Health care, accounting and technology are big draws for grads who want to live locally, but college officials agree there’s no hard and fast trend.

Job security is “huge” for today’s graduates, said Beth Dolder-Zieke, director of career services at Viterbo University.

Many started college on the eve of the recession.

“They heard you go to college, you do really well, get a job,” Dolder-Zieke said. “And then they go to college, and for those of them who were aware of what was going on, it was very discouraging.”

College grads have high expectations from their first job. Nationally, they expect a salary approaching $50,000 and “want opportunities for future growth,” Dolder-Zieke said.

For that, many are looking to health care.

More than 160 students graduated from Viterbo’s un-dergraduate nursing and nursing-completion programs last year. Western, UW-L, Winona State University and Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical in Winona all offer degrees in health care, too.

Radiography, certified nursing assistant and physical therapy programs have a consistent following because of local hospitals, said Jackie Newman, career services specialist for Western.

“The regional area makes health care a popular pick,” Newman said.

Physician assistants and nurse practitioners are also in demand by local hospitals “because that’s a way that they can serve underserved populations,” said Tim Tritch, UW-L’s associate director of career services.

Health care-related work makes up nearly 20 percent of La Crosse jobs, and about 24 percent of Winona County jobs, according to state employment data.

Issac Tillman went back to college with plans to open a restaurant but wound up working in financial aid.

Tillman started in Western’s business management program, hoping to pad years of experience and a past degree in food service. He soon realized he wanted something more stable.

Tillman graduates this year and has already found work in Western’s financial aid office.

“It clicked,” Tillman said.

Accounting and technology are both strong choices for students like Tillman, who stay in the region, college officials say. Employers want skilled workers in both fields.

“Even when the economy goes bad, they still need accountants,” said Gale Lanning, director of admissions for Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical. “They have always been our consistent program that still will survive no matter what.”

Career choices vary as much as certificates and degrees available at the region’s colleges — especially when an aspiring college grad is willing to move for work, Tritch said. Proximity of two major job markets, the Twin Cities and Madison, creates myriad possibilities for students.

From “Regional job picture stabilizing: Skilled manufacturing, healthcare tops career bets” — Mass layoffs have eased at northeastern Wisconsin businesses and the demand for skilled workers is soaring.

Despite growing concerns about an overall global slowdown, business leaders say the region’s diverse economy continues to find markets for its goods and services, which means they need people to meet demand, making competition fierce for skilled workers.

Statewide, the jobless rate in July stood at 7.3 percent and around the region, unemployment rates ranged between 5.6 percent in Calumet County to 8.2 percent in Marinette County.

Jeff Sachse, a labor market analyst for the state Department of Workforce Development, does not anticipate jobless numbers will change dramatically in the short term but expects continued, gradual improvement for a variety of business sectors, particularly in manufacturing, health care and construction services.

“Clearly, welding and CNC (computer numerical control) machinists positions are what we hear about all the time,” said Sachse, who monitors employment activity for northeastern Wisconsin.

Large government contracts secured by shipbuilder Marinette Marine and Oshkosh Corp., a maker of military vehicles, are behind rising demand for those workers.

“Between Marinette (Marine) and Oshkosh (Corp.) they are pulling from the surrounding labor market, which has created a need throughout the system,” Sachse said.

Manufacturing still represents about a quarter of all employment in the region. However, the health care and construction industries also have seen steady job growth in recent months, Sachse said.

“The (federal) stimulus helped larger-scale projects. Roadwork, including (U.S. Highway) 41 is an example,” Sachse said. “But we’ve also seen some resurgence on the residential side.”

Sachse said the growing number of nursing homes and assisted living facilities around the region and expansion by the health insurance industry, particularly by insurance giants Humana and United Healthcare, is driving job creation in the health sector.

“The steady growth we’ve seen in health care has not necessarily been with the hospital systems,” he said. “Services tied to health care, particularly health insurance, have seen significant numbers and also demands from the aging population will put more demand on providers.”

Finding, retaining workers

Sachse said the regional manufacturing sector’s strength is the role it plays in the overall global supply chain. He said manufacturers have weathered economic downturns mostly because a majority of them supply components and parts to companies that make a variety of machinery worldwide.

This is the situation for Fox Valley Tool & Die, which has about 180 workers, spread across two plants in Kaukauna.

“We make the parts that make the parts,” said Mark Dennis, one of the owners of Fox Valley Tool & Die.

He recognizes there is heated competition for his workers, most of whom are machinists with specialized skills who can create custom parts and components.

Dennis said an aging workforce, especially in skilled areas, is a problem for regional manufacturers. As a part of a state effort to shore up future workers for manufacturers, Dennis has worked with high schools from Shiocton to Little Chute and other Fox Cities communities to introduce students to manufacturing.

He also works with Fox Valley Technical College on training programs for people interested in careers as machinists.

Getting to people early in their career planning is essential, Dennis said.

“It gives us a chance to show young people that the machine shops today may not be the ones their grandfathers worked in,” he said.

Dennis said many jobs, especially those requiring specialized skills, require a two-year degree.

His son, John, the CEO of Gardan, which employs about 50 workers at in Hortonville and Brillion, said he’s been fortunate to find qualified workers when his company needed to fill openings.

“I think because of the region’s strong farming and manufacturing tradition, people here just have a strong work ethic and many of those people settle in the region,” John Dennis said.

Health care outlook

The health care industry has been working with colleges and nursing schools over the past several years to ensure a steady flow of nurses will come into the system to replace those retiring.

Tom Veeser, chief nursing officer for Affinity Health System in Menasha and vice president of patient care at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton, said the health care industry recognizes that demands for services will increase as the nation ages.

Hospital operators also face competition for workers from an increasing number of care facilities for the elderly, which also are in need of registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses.

Traditionally, registered nurses tend to have an easier time finding work, Veeser said. But there also is a growing demand for certified nursing assistants.

“At least for us, it’s getting harder to recruit CNAs because they’re getting more lucrative salaries from nursing homes and sometimes from physician offices,” Veeser said. “We may not be able to compete on salary in some situations but we try to offer a better benefits package.”

From “Groundbreaking for health and technology center” — GRAND CHUTE – Fox Valley Technical College is expanding. Tuesday, school officials broke ground on a new building.

The Health Simulation and Technology Center is expected to be completed next fall.

A $66.5 million public referendum passed last April will help pay for the project.

It features a three-story, 60,000 square foot building.

“It’s a very exciting day. We’ve been in the planning process for this facility for at least seven or eight years, and to see it come all together and actually turn the dirt today at our groundbreaking, is extremely exciting,” said Robert Sternhagen, the human patients simulator coordinator at FVTC.

Once completed, the new building will also feature new technology, including virtual reality and computer simulation.

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