From “Increasing demand for apprenticeships as aging workers retire” — Want to get paid to go to school? With an apprenticeship — you can do just that! Through an apprenticeship, an individual has access to on-the-job training and related classroom instruction. A participating employer teaches the skills of the trade on the job. The classroom instruction is theoretical and practical knowledge pertaining to the given trade. It’s an option more and more students in Wisconsin are taking — with the growing need for skilled manufacturing workers in the state.

“The student works 32 hours a week and goes to class eight hours a week, but they’re paid for 40 hours a week,” Debbie Davidson with Gateway Technical College said.

In a nutshell, that’s how an apprenticeship works. Students get hands-on and in-classroom training in a service, construction or industrial field. Typically, the programs run anywhere from three to five years.

“Apprenticeship is really unique in that you start with an employer with a need and match them with an individual to go through the training,” Davidson said.

Officials with Gateway Technical College say the demand for apprenticeship opportunities has grown, as has the number of students enrolling in programs at the school.

“In 2012, we had a total of 49 apprentices. Then, a year later, we had 80 apprentices. Now we have 140,” Davidson said.

“We’ve already started plans on four brand new programs coming up and we know that we’re going to be doubling our numbers within a very short time,” Wisconsin Apprentice Training Representative Sandy Briezman said.

So what’s driving the renewed interest in apprenticeships? We’re told it’s a skills gap, fueled at least in part by soon-to-retire workers.

“The skills gap that we’re seeing now is what was projected even before the downturn in 2009 because people were planning to retire at that point. They stayed a little bit longer, but they kept aging, so now we’re seeing people are actually at that point of retirement and companies are seeing that we need to fill that gap — and before our people leave and retire how can we utilize them to train that next generation of worker?” Davidson said.

Davidson says the late 90s were really kind of the high point for apprenticeship programs.

The Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards says statewide, there were more than 15,000 apprentices in 2001. By 2012, they had dropped to about 9,700.

From “Algoma Wolf Tech takes real life into the classroom” — ALGOMA — Manufacturing has a home in Algoma. Precision Machine, Olson Fabrication, Algoma Hardwoods and WS Packaging Group are among companies that make things in the Kewaunee County community.

So, too, is Algoma Wolf Tech, a relatively new manufacturing company housed in the tech ed classrooms of Algoma High School.

“I pretty strongly believe that kids have to make something of substance to understand the process that goes into things,” said Nick Cochart, principal of the school since 2011 and godfather of Wolf Tech.

Eleva-Strum School District’s Cardinal Manufacturing south of Eau Claire, which started in 2007, established the model for in-school manufacturing. Wolf Tech followed suit, and Bay Link Manufacturing, a creation of the Green Bay School District, will launch in the fall.

Other schools are considering similar programs, said Mark Weber, dean of Trades & Engineering Technologies at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, which is assisting many schools in establishing manufacturing-related programs.

Wolf Tech is not a seat-of-the-pants, we’ve got a saw and a few welders affair. Its equipment includes two CNC milling machines, a CNC wood router, state-of-the-art table saws and, later this month, a CNC lathe.

“We are not making widgets. We are making stuff in industry that people are using every day,” Cochart said.

Algoma School District invested more than $250,000 in Wolf Tech and tech ed, but it’s not alone in supporting the program. The CNC metal lathe is courtesy of NWTC. Algoma, which is a certified Haas Automation Inc. technical training center, will provide its facilities for public classes in CNC training and in return get the $70,000 lathe free of charge.

“Those machines have opened the door to so many things,” Cochart said.

Working with their hands

Sophomore Austin Stoller, 15, is hoping the lathe will open the door to a career as a gunsmith. He’s also fond of welding.

“I like working with my hands and making stuff. I don’t like sitting in a classroom all day,” Stoller said. “It’s just not my thing.”

Stoller is the kind of student that the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance and, increasingly, educators are trying to accommodate by providing options to a four-year college degree.

“There are so many opportunities for kids now,” Cochart said. “If they just follow their passion, there’s not just good jobs, there’s great jobs.”

Tech ed instructors Matt Abel and Russ Nockerts can teach students how to operate the machines, but that’s not really the point.

“I try to teach kids useful employability skills,” Abel said. “It’s not running a machine. It’s how is this going to affect the consumer? How’s this going to affect people down the chain?”

That’s an approach seconded and abetted by Jamie Spitzer, owner of Precision Machine, to say nothing of most manufacturing employers. It’s the so-called soft skills — problem solving, communications, teamwork, high-quality work — that employers are looking for.

“We are actually asking you to contribute. We are asking you to use your mind more and your back less,” Spitzer said. “It’s crazy how you can hire someone for their hard skills, but most likely fire them for their soft skills.”

Algoma High School and Precision Machine were each honored last fall during N.E.W. Manufacturing Alliance’s Excellence in Manufacturing/K-12 Partnership Awards. The school and the company work closely. The goal is to produce employable manufacturing workers, of course, but it’s also about students’ aspirations.

“I was one of those kids at one time,” Spitzer said. “Not everyone wants to go to a four-year school and it’s a great thing when kids can do things with their hands.”

Work has to be perfect

Precision Machine serves clients in the aerospace and timber industries, among others, and has contracted Wolf Tech for parts. They are basic pieces, but require a professional level of quality. If the product doesn’t measure up, someone from Precision Machine makes the trek around the block to the high school to explain why.

“It’s got to be perfect,” Nockerts said.

The students have to deal directly with customers, which Cochart said provides a learning moment, again, focused on those soft skills.

Abel and Nockerts are nontraditional teachers in that they have business backgrounds. Able has a degree in construction management from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

“They have to have skills sets that can cut across multiple disciplines,” Cochart said. “I think they have some of the most engaging classroom activities.”

About 70 of Algoma’s 250 students are in tech ed classes. Of those, 15 are in Wolf Tech, which requires after-school participation.

“My core group are sophomores right now. From that group, it’s grown,” Able said. “They talk to their friends; ‘Hey, this is cool stuff.’ I have kids who just want to be down here. They don’t even have a class.”

Students ‘actually learning’

Cochart said what they are doing requires a different approach to teaching. Abel said it may seem like chaos at times, though it’s not.

“Each student is on a different path,” Abel said. “Everybody is working at their own speed, trying something out and actually learning.”

Other teachers are getting involved as well, Abel said.

“Our core teachers are realizing how it relates and, for example, bringing the math into here,” he said. “In machining, we use a lot of trigonometry and some students can’t even pass algebra. They don’t even know they are doing it.”

Wolf Tech is one or two customers away from being self-sustaining, Cochart said.

Among its customers is Algoma Long-Term Care nursing home, for which it is providing new cabinets. Junior Kevin Sperber, 17, designed them and CTI Hospitality of Algoma manufactured the pieces.

“This is actually going to be used by people every day,” Sperber said, explaining what sets the project apart from traditional “shop.”

Sperber is interested in design or engineering as a career. He expects to attend NWTC, but is undecided about whether to get a four-year degree.

“I was a little interested my freshman year. I had no idea what I was going to go into, then I got interested in all of this,” he said.

There are immediate benefits, including college credits while still in high school.

“For the past two years, Precision Machine pretty much offered jobs to anyone on the machining side,” Able said.

The goal is for Wolf Tech to be a completely student-run business, from front office to factory floor. Getting students to run the machines has been the easy part, so far, but manufacturing includes jobs well beyond the factory floor. Abel said Wolf Tech needs accountants, salespeople and more.

“When we started this, I said we are four years out from hitting full stride,” Cochart said. “Some of our most talented kids are freshmen and sophomores. I’d love to see a kid start his own business within a business. I think it’s right there.”

From “Candidate tours tech: Democrat running for governor discusses worker education, jobs” — By Joe Knight Leader-Telegram staff – Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said Thursday she supports a proposal by her opponent, Gov. Scott Walker, to spend $35 million to help the state’s technical colleges provide additional training for high-demand jobs.

She also supports the governor’s initiative to find work for people with developmental disabilities.

However, Burke said the proposal would require future funding for technical colleges to keep those efforts ongoing.

Burke spoke briefly with reporters during a tour of high-tech industrial programs at Chippewa Valley Technical College’s Gateway Campus. She criticized Walker for cutting $71 million from technical colleges in the first budget he oversaw as governor “just at the time when our technical colleges needed a boost.”

At the time Walker said budget cuts were needed because of a $3 billion state budget shortfall.

Burke said the types of high-tech manufacturing skills being taught at CVTC would help the middle class and would help grow the state’s economy. She spent time speaking with CVTC students, asking them about their career aspirations.

Jamie Rasmussen, a 35-year-old CVTC welding student, said more funding for CVTC programs will help more of them receive the training they need to find jobs.

Asked whether the process she observed Thursday could help build bicycles, Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive and a former commerce secretary under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, said she wasn’t sure but noted Trek works closely with technical colleges in southern Wisconsin.

From “Eaton expanding, upgrading its Cooper Power Systems plants in Waukesha” — Every time someone turns on a light or fires up their office computer, there’s a good chance that a Cooper Power Systems electrical transformer or another of the company’s products was part of the process.

Since 2012, Cooper has been part of Eaton Corp., a power management company with $22 billion in sales in 2013.

Eaton, based in Dublin, Ireland, has 102,000 employees and sells products in more than 175 countries. This week, the company said it was expanding and upgrading its Cooper Power Systems plants in Waukesha that make electrical equipment including power transformers and voltage regulators.

The $54 million project will create up to 200 jobs over the next two years, according to Eaton, as the company expands its Badger Drive plant and upgrades its North St. and Lincoln Ave. plants.

“The reason we are investing in the expansion in our facilities is to help meet the growing demand we are seeing, not only from our utility customers, but also from the commercial and industrial customer base,” said Clayton Tychkowsky, president of the Cooper Power Systems division.

Eaton has a wide range of products including truck transmissions, aircraft fuel systems and electrical systems.

Last week, the company said its fourth-quarter revenue rose 28%, boosted by higher demand for electrical products and systems.

Electrical product sales jumped 57% to $1.8 billion in the recent quarter ended Dec. 31.

Demand picked up in multiple areas including data processing centers, commercial construction and the oil and gas industry.

“One thing all those fields have in common is they require products to help transmit power to a usable point in their electrical system,” Tychkowsky said.

Eaton also stands to benefit from an increase in residential construction because the utility companies that provide power to homes use Cooper products.

“We see long-term potential growth for the products we manufacture here, which is why we feel this is a good investment,” Tychkowsky said about the plant expansion and upgrades.

Last April, Eaton announced it was cutting nearly two-thirds of its 260 jobs in Pewaukee.

The reductions included 130 production and 33 salaried positions as the company said it was moving molded rubber manufacturing from Pewaukee to a plant in Querétaro, Mexico, this year.

The job cuts were unrelated to the Waukesha plants, and the Pewaukee employees will get first preference in the Waukesha hiring, according to Eaton.

As part of the hiring, the company has partnered with Waukesha County Technical College to provide job training.

“We are taking a proactive approach as opposed to sitting back and waiting for talent to be available for us,” Tychkowsky said.

The expansion on Badger Drive will include 55,000 square feet of new manufacturing space.

Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is providing up to $1.36 million in tax credits for the expansion and plant upgrades, which are tied to the new jobs.

“Retention of sound businesses like this is something we all need to pay attention to. There are other opportunities in the nation for a company like Eaton to move out of state,” said Reed Hall, WEDC secretary and chief executive officer.

Wisconsin also benefits from the electrical products, according to Hall.

“Safe, reliable electrical power is critical to growth. It’s like broadband. There are a couple of things businesses absolutely have to have to consider expanding in our state,” Hall said.

From “Manufacturing still drives area, state economy” —  by Ross Evavold – This question was once posed to me: Where would Wisconsin be without manufacturing?

It’s basically a rhetorical one, since the answer is quite obvious. Consider these facts:

  • Wisconsin leads the entire U.S. in manufacturing jobs per capita.
  • Ten percent of the state’s pool of workers 16 and over are employed in manufacturing. That’s twice the national average.
  • Manufacturing is the state’s single largest employment sector.
  • We have more than 9,000 manufacturers in the state, and more than 400,000 workers in that area.
  • All but one of Wisconsin’s 37 largest industries are in manufacturing.
  • It provides jobs for a majority of Wisconsin workers who do not have a college degree.

So as you can see, manufacturing is still the driver of the Badger state’s economy, for now and the foreseeable future.

Manufacturing is responsible for about 20 percent of the gross state product, and that figure translates to roughly the same percentage in the Chippewa Valley.

Our heavy reliance on manufacturing also comes with some risks. Wisconsin has many fewer manufacturing jobs than it did in 2000, but it has also retained more jobs than other manufacturing-heavy states, while manufacturing has also weathered the Great Recession of our lifetimes better than other job sectors.

Not that there won’t be challenges. Charlie Walker, director of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation, said that in trying to stay ahead of the curve, this area has been very proactive in identifying long-range issues that will impact growth.

He cited three major criteria for this area’s manufacturing success: the talent level of the workforce; accessibility to the marketplace through rail and highway infrastructure; and reliability of power. Walker says we stack up well in all three categories.

The Chippewa Valley also ranks well when it comes to advanced manufacturing, encompassing the high-tech assembly industry like the one we feature on the cover.

SGI has roots here dating back to when Silicon Graphics bought Cray Research in the mid-’90s. And now Jabil Circuits will become the latest worldwide player to land here, with its purchase of SGI’s manufacturing facility.

Jabil’s success story is impressive: Since its start nearly 50 years ago in Detroit, the company has expanded relentlessly through acquisitions and by evolving to serve numerous industries. In 2012 it ranked 157th in Fortune magazine’s list of the 500 most admired companies.

Oh, and SGI is very much sticking around here, as so many other related businesses have also done once they come to the area. TTM Technologies still produces circuit boards with about 1,000 workers in Chippewa Falls, and Cray, Inc., just installed and filled more supercomputer orders than any quarter in its history, sending its stock price soaring.

They have all found workers in this area to be among the best in the nation, which supports Walker’s contention as to the talent level.

Helping produce those workers with specific skill sets for our manufacturing companies are UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College, which have forged relationships with many area firms. The schools have been so successful that some graduates have actually had to turn down job offers.

Our winter issue also takes a look at why Five Star Plastics in Eau Claire’s Sky Park Industrial Center is undertaking its second large expansion in five years, and Nanospark, a young spinoff company in Altoona with a bright future.

A key area with manufacturers is often exports, and Momentum West, an economic development group representing 10 area counties, is expanding its horizons this year by going beyond our borders. It is targeting two international trade shows with hopes of landing businesses for this area.

From “Walker focuses on jobs during Stratford stop” — STRATFORD — Personal income growth in Wisconsin in 2013 shows more people across the state are working, but job statistics could improve with worker training and encouraging more young people to enter the manufacturing workforce, Gov. Scott Walker said during a visit to A&B Process Systems on Wednesday.

“I hear so many businesses say not only do we have positions open, but we’ve got business waiting … if only we could fill the positions we have,” Walker said.

He said the roughly 50,000 jobs currently posted on the Job Center of Wisconsin website indicate a skills gap in the state.

Walker said he put $100 million of the current state budget toward workforce training, including short-term training and investments in technical colleges, to prepare workers for manufacturing, information technology and health care careers.

“Each of those key industries has the ability to hire more people if we have enough people with the skills to fill the positions,” he said.

Walker said parents and guidance counselors who encourage young people to consider careers in manufacturing will play a role in filling open positions.

“Guidance counselors still have the mindset you have to have a four-year college degree to have a good career, and that’s just not true,” Walker said. He said manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin pay an average of about $52,000 a year, are more likely to offer benefits and have higher retention rates than many other jobs.

Companies such as A&B Process Systems often work with the same customers, but manufacturing different equipment for those customers keeps the job interesting, he said.

Walker said state investment of $6.4 billion in infrastructure and tax incentives for businesses such as A&B Process Systems to invest in capital also will encourage job growth.

A&B Process Systems, which designs, fabricates and installs equipment and accessories for processing liquids, celebrated 40 years in business in 2013. The company employs 425 people, and annual sales exceed $100 million.

Paul Kinate, CEO of A&B Process Systems, credited the company’s success to dedicated employees, the leadership of founder Ajay Hilgemann and a commitment to customer service.

“Our employees are dedicated, innovative, embrace technology and automation and strive to improve every day,” he said.

Kinate called Walker a friend to business who has made a difference in Wisconsin’s economic growth.

Walker will deliver his annual State of the State address Jan. 22. He said he will address jobs, as well as property tax cuts and changes to the state income withholding tax, which will put more money in employers’ and workers’ hands.

From “State program to boost worker training: $15 million in grants available to businesses” — The need to improve worker training in Wisconsin is so significant that even Democrats and Republicans are in agreement. It’s a rare occurrence lately for the Wisconsin State Senate to pass a bill unanimously with bipartisan support. But the Wisconsin Fast Forward bill became that rare occurrence last March when all 33 Wisconsin senators and 94 of 98 state Assembly representatives voted to approve the workforce initiative.

Gov. Scott Walker and Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development Reggie Newson at a recent press event for Wisconsin Fast Forward at Northcentral Technical College.

The legislation was the first to pass in Gov. Walker’s $100 million workforce agenda over the 2013-15 biennial budget period, passing even before the budget did.

“(Wisconsin Fast Forward) is the cornerstone of the state’s workforce investment strategy,” said Reggie Newson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

“It’s the most proactive and most aggressive investment in worker training that I can remember,” said Bryan Albrecht, president of Gateway Technical College.

Wisconsin Fast Forward is a $15 million worker training grant program and it’s kicking into gear in 2014.

“The ultimate goal is to develop talent to fill existing jobs and create new ones,” Newson said.

Applications for the first round of worker training grants were due in mid-December, and DWD – and its new Office of Skills Development that was also created as a part of the Fast Forward initiative – is currently in the process of evaluating those grants, which are set to be announced in January.

The first round of grants amounts to $2.7 million, and focuses on worker training in three areas – manufacturing, construction and customer service.

Scott Jansen, director of the Office of Skills Development, said $400,000 of the grant money will go to customer service, $300,000 to small manufacturers (with less than 50 full-time employees), $1 million to manufacturers of any size and the remainder will go toward construction. The grants are set to be announced in late January, and the earliest training grant implementations could be up and running as soon as March 2014, Jansen said.

A key aspect of Wisconsin Fast Forward, Jansen said, is the program’s requirement to hire the employees being trained.

“We don’t just want to throw public money at additional training,” Jansen said. “We want (businesses) to be able to make the hire at the end of the program.”

Jansen said businesses applying for these grants must prove a commitment to hire.

Newson said that with this program using “demand-driven” requirements, it is focusing on “underemployed, unemployed and incumbent workers.”

The $12 million that remains after the first round will be allocated each quarter, as the DWD will announce a new round every three to four months until June 2015, Newson said.

The Office of Skills Development is currently analyzing which occupations and sectors to focus on for the program’s second round, which will be announced in late January, Jansen said.

Wisconsin Fast Forward is built to be an inclusive, collaborative process, Jansen said, with input and expertise from strategic partners, including the Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant Evaluation Committee, which includes panel members from the DWD, the Wisconsin Technical College System, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, as well as the employers applying for the grants.

“This whole process allows us to be nimble and flexible to be able to meet employers’ needs and incentivize and develop talent in high demand areas of the state,” Newson said. “It also does something impactful that goes along with what the governor wants to do, which is aligning education, workforce development and economic development to create an economic development outcome.”

Newson said the Wisconsin Fast Forward grant programs will be “employer-driven,” “demand-driven” and “customized based on their specific needs.”

In the grant applications themselves, Jansen said, “employers need to identify what the curriculum is, and they’re the ones writing the curriculum.”

“Wisconsin Fast Forward is based on models from other states – Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota – creating a demand-driven program that employers can access…to do customized worker training to be able to meet the skills gap,” Newson said.

Pat O’Brien, president of the Milwaukee Development Corporation and the Milwaukee 7, said there’s been a lot of discussion on the issue of the skills gap, noting that many companies complain that they can’t find employees while at the same time the unemployment rate is 7 to 8 percent, and higher for people of color. It is a challenge to the region, he said, with companies getting pickier to compete in a world economy and lower-skills jobs going to Mexico and overseas.

Albrecht said the issue of a “skills gap” is more of a moving target because of rapid changes in new technology.

“There is a skills gap, but there is probably a larger skills mismatch, where (current) skills may not align with new skills that are necessary,” he said, giving automated manufacturing and other computer-related skills as examples. “That second-tier skills training is where we see the gap. The effort now is to close a higher-level skills gap.”

“We need to make sure people are wired into the jobs of the future,” O’Brien said.

The Office of Skills Development was created as a part of this initiative to oversee the grants and programs and to be a collaborative, convening force to align the efforts of the state’s education, workforce development and economic development, Newson said.

“It’s been a very good resource because it provides a communication network,” Albrecht said. “The Office of Skills Development pulled several offices together so it can have a greater impact on the dollars that are invested.”

O’Brien said Jansen, who’s most recent job before becoming the director of the Office of Skills Development was with the Greater Milwaukee Committee, is the right person to be leading this initiative, citing previous workforce development initiatives with the GMC.

“I have a lot of faith in Scott Jansen,” O’Brien said. “He’s been a cornerstone of this project. I really respect Reggie (Newson) for putting this together.”

Jansen said the office currently has four employees, and completes tasks like writing administration rules, designing the grant process, building the website (, marketing the initiative, managing the grant application process and auditing the training program.

It was through the new office’s efforts that DWD was able to identify construction, manufacturing and customer service as the fields for the first round of grants.

“We saw from our strategic partners, from technical colleges and from our employer inquiry that those three are in high demand right now,” Jansen said.

“This is all strategic,” Newson said. “At the Job Center of Wisconsin website, there is somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 available jobs listed at any given time. At any one point in time, there’s between 100,000 and 150,000 jobs going unfilled in the state of Wisconsin. These programs will help us fill those jobs.”

Jansen said that 1,200 to 1,400 customer service jobs are available on the Job Center’s website on a weekly basis.

“Customer service is the number one requested job position in the state,” Newson said.

Any specific connections from this program to the Milwaukee area remain to be seen, but Jansen said there have been many applicants within the Milwaukee area for Fast Forward grants, and that there will be a regional focus.

“You’ll see in grant program announcements that employers will validate request with places like the M7,” said Jansen. “(They) need to validate that those are legitimate skill needs.”

Jansen said one area in Milwaukee where a need for skills development has been identified is in automated manufacturing.

“Population-wise, we’re 36 percent of the state in the M7 region, and we’re 38 to 40 percent of the state’s gross product,” O’Brien said. “On any measure, we’re 35-40 percent of the state’s economy. Any program the state does that’s statewide has a big impact on us. On average, (the Milwaukee 7 region) should get 35 to 40 percent of those dollars.”

Albrecht said his greatest hope for the program is for it to put people back to work.

“In southeastern Wisconsin, with new job areas coming to be available – like the 2,100 new jobs in Kenosha County – we’re going to have to find a way to invest in training to meet that demand,” he said.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 173 other followers

%d bloggers like this: