From “Oshkosh Corp. cuts, linked to military spending decline” — About 535 employees at Oshkosh Corp.’s defense division are scheduled to lose their jobs June 14, fewer than an earlier estimate of 700, as some people have found other jobs or have taken early retirements, the company said Tuesday.

On Thursday, the 535 employees will get a chance to find other employment through a career fair exclusively for them at the Oshkosh Convention Center.

“This is for Oshkosh defense division production employees only,” said company spokesman John Daggett.

The all-day event, sponsored by the company, is expected to attract 14 area companies that have a total of 542 job openings — most of them in manufacturing.

The list includes Mercury Marine Inc., which is seeking to hire about 50 people in Fond du Lac.

Mercury has openings for maintenance mechanics and maintenance electricians. The company has a unique “sixth shift,” where employees work 36 hours Friday, Saturday and Sunday and get paid for 40 hours.

The long-weekend shift is sought by people who want to do other things during the week, such as attend school or pursue another career.

Other companies expected at Thursday’s career fair include defense contractor Oldenburg Group, Quad/Graphics, Schneider National, The Manitowoc Co., Bemis Co., Alliance Laundry and Pioneer Metal Finishing.

Oldenburg Group’s plant in Rhinelander has openings for welders, machinists, a weld-shop supervisor and a production manager. Among other things, the plant works on material-handling equipment for the U.S. Navy.

“If we spend the day in Oshkosh and hire a couple of people, it’s worth it,” said Gayle Rutlin, a human resources generalist for the company.

Tuesday, Fox Valley Technical College staff met with Oshkosh Corp. employees to offer career guidance and job training options.

A couple of employees said they wanted to get out of manufacturing and pursue careers such as physical therapy, said Denise Martinez, the college’s director of counseling services.

“Probably a bigger share of people stay in manufacturing of some type, but they want additional skills for greater job security,” Martinez said.

The Oshkosh Corp. job cuts were announced in April, ending a four-year hiring spree in the company’s defense division and slowing what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates once said was one of the most impressive military-vehicle production runs in decades.

Only two years ago, 2,500 people attended a two-day job fair for the company, with some waiting more than nine hours to be interviewed for roughly 750 job openings.

Including those who applied online and at other times, more than 5,000 people sought jobs as the specialty vehicle-maker added staff to fulfill a $3 billion defense contract.

Now, the people losing their jobs from a slowdown in defense spending are entering an improved job market in the Fox Valley and Northeast Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

There are more than 1,000 job orders posted for production occupations in northeast Wisconsin, including orders with multiple positions, Workforce Development records show.

“The bottom line is the job market is pretty healthy right now. And the Oshkosh employees have been in the defense industry, so their certifications are top notch,” said Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board in Green Bay.

Replacing the defense contractor’s wages, including some of the highest pay in the area for manufacturing jobs, could be more difficult for many people.

“You may have to take two steps back before you start moving ahead again,” Golembeski said.

“I suspect we are going to see the same thing with the Kewaunee power plant employees, in that these men and women also are at the top of the pay scale, so they may not be able to maintain the wage level they’ve been at,” he added.

A dozen of the Oshkosh employees subject to the cutback took early retirements. About 150 other people won’t be included in the layoffs at the end of next week because they’ve already found other work or they were contract employees.

The employees losing their jobs, represented by United Auto Workers Local 578, will have hiring recall rights for up to three years. They will receive severance pay based on their unused or accrued vacation time, according to the company.

After the layoffs, the company will still have about 2,800 employees in its defense division in Oshkosh and 5,500 employees companywide in Wisconsin. But military vehicle production will drop 30%, and jobs tied to the lost work aren’t expected to come back anytime soon.

The pullback in military spending, largely from the war in Afghanistan winding down, is certain to ripple through the Fox Valley where the military-vehicle boom has supported dozens of businesses, including parts suppliers, metal fabricators, foundries and machine shops.



From “Community braces for Oshkosh Corp. job cuts” — At some point Patti Jorgensen knows she’ll be getting a call seeking help for hundreds of people who will lose their jobs at Oshkosh Corp. by mid-June.

“We always have to be prepared for situations like this,” Jorgensen, vice president of student and community development at Fox Valley Technical College, said Wednesday.

She’s referring to mass layoff announcements including those made Tuesday by the Oshkosh-based maker of military vehicles. The company said a 30 percent decline for military trucks was behind its decision to lay off 900 people, including 700 production workers and 200 salaried employees.

Its latest cuts follows 450 production worker layoffs announced in the fall.

Jorgensen said Wednesday the college was contacted by the company or other organizations asked to offer aid to displaced workers after a layoff announcement but is expecting to be notified.

FVTC has faced similar situations, Jorgensen said. When Ohio-based NewPage closed its Kimberly mill in 2008, displacing 600 workers, FVTC was among the many organizations asked to offer job retraining assistance.

In mass layoff situations, displaced workers get priority consideration for classes and programs at the college, she said.

“If services are required quickly, we can do things like get new students into classes midsemester if necessary,” Jorgensen said.

She said the college also works with nontraditional students to help acclimate them to a classroom setting.

“We have to test students for their college readiness because in some cases, they haven’t been a classroom for more than 20 years,” Jorgensen said.

Workers forced into new careers often seek new professions, she said. These students go through career workshops to help them determine their interests.

“Some students elect to go through a two-year degree program while others may want to learn a new skill faster,” Jorgensen said. One popular choice is the college’s truck driving program, which can be completed in 13 weeks and has a high placement rate for graduates thanks to relations with regional trucking firms including Schneider National in Ashwaubenon.

Besides lost jobs, production cuts also will impact Oshkosh Corp.’s numerous vendors. It annually works with more than 1,400 Wisconsin-based vendors who provide more than $1.4 billion in goods and services to the company.

John Dennis, president and CEO of Gardan Inc., a Hortonville-based contract assembly services company, said his firm has done work for Oshkosh Corp. previously but none of its components were used in military vehicles.

Dennis said the work his company did with Oshkosh Corp. represented “a small piece” of his business.

Dennis said when Oshkosh Corp. landed some of its large military contracts in recent years, many businesses around the region sought opportunities with the company.

“During the recession, we tried to change gears and didn’t want to put all of our eggs in the military basket,” Dennis said. “Everyone was trying to look for something they could do and we just never got involved with it.”

As government contracts at Oshkosh Corp. concluded, Gardan wasn’t affected, he said.

Dan Neufelder, president and CEO of Affinity Health System in Menasha and senior vice president for Ministry Health Care, said he is concerned for the affected employees at Oshkosh Corp.

He recognizes the economic factors behind the company’s decision and said the job cuts will be felt in the community. Affinity operates St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton and Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh.

“Any time 900 people in the community lose their positions, it’s not a good thing and it’s not a good at all for the communities where they live or the health care system,” Neufelder said. “Individuals currently employed with insurance may end up without (health) coverage and we are concerned about that.”

From “Survey: Oshkosh good for business” — Oshkosh business executives say Oshkosh has better universities and technical colleges, fewer problems recruiting employees and a better economic outlook than their counterparts throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

In 2011, the Oshkosh Business Retention and Expansion Committee, an Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corp. subcommittee, conducted 38 one-on-one surveys with Oshkosh CEOs and business owners to determine their business outlook and to identify problems such as transportation and parking issues or training problems before they become more significant.

Northeast Wisconsin Regional Economic Partnership communities in 16 counties have conducted a total of 286 surveys since the program started in 2007.

OAEDC Economic Development Coordinator Evan Wendlandt said results from 2011 surveys indicate none of the 38 Oshkosh businesses expect to close in the next three years and 82 percent of them project sales growth in the next year. In comparison to regional results, Wendlandt said fewer Oshkosh companies reported problems with employee recruitment and retention and more expect the economy will improve in the next five years.

“We want to find out what they’re seeing now, what they fear might happen and for these interviews to be the first red flag so if any issues come up, we can resolve them right away,” Wendlandt said.

Festival Foods Manager Rick Vanderloop said his meeting with the group a few months ago helped ease some of the grocery store’s concerns about the closure of the U.S. Highway 41/State Highway 21 interchange well before construction began last week.

“We discussed how we were going to get customers to come to this side, to make it more of a destination,” Vanderloop said. “They told us about the West Side Association’s sign program and that helped us direct traffic around the road closings.”

Vanderloop called it “a good discussion.”

Melissa Kohn, director of Fox Valley Technical College’s Oshkosh campus conducted some of the interviews. She said the tenor of the interviews was positive even during the recession, when companies faced challenges at every turn.

“I’ve gone through the down time where some of these companies could have talked about doom and gloom, but there’s always been this sense of optimism about things getting better,” Kohn said. “What I often find is employers are, first, appreciative of the interest in their business and, second, reaffirmed. Employers really want to show us what they’re making, what their product is.”

Kohn said she also benefits from the process. She said she gains a better understanding of the local economy and what FVTC can do to remain responsive and helpful to manufacturers in the area.

OAEDC Executive Director Rob Kleman said the surveys also noted many companies reported financing, the state’s tax structure, public transportation and parking remain issues.

“The most important part of the program is we’re reaching out to our local businesses and wanting them to tell us the good things as well as the local issues they face, so we can help address them right away,” Kleman said. “Any issues that do come up, we incorporate into our work plans so we make sure businesses can get what they’d like.”

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