From “Building a ‘ladder of opportunity’ ” — By Tom Barrett – Too many Milwaukee workers are either unemployed or underemployed, and too many local businesses assert they cannot find the skilled workers they need. City government is committed to doing what it can to connect workers with jobs. The federal government is stepping up, too.

The Obama administration with its American Job Training Investments: Skills and Jobs to Build a Stronger Middle Class announcement earlier this month is making a priority of job training, apprenticeships and partnerships between community colleges and businesses.

Several years ago, I attended a community meeting and listened to frustrated residents say they could not find jobs. On the same day across town, at an event at an employer, I listened as company executives said they had a shortage of qualified workers. This experience led to the development of Milwaukee’s proactive, employer-driven training initiative, the Mayor’s Manufacturing Partnership. Since the launch of the initiative, more than 100 area employers have hired or advanced the skills of more than 800 individuals in the manufacturing industry.

President Barack Obama has highlighted the Milwaukee area’s innovative workforce partnerships in his visits here, and he has engaged in discussions about replenishing the workforce as baby boomers retire. We have a real need to expose more young people to skilled labor trades. The federal investments outlined in the American Job Training Investments announcement will be responsive to these issues and support the current efforts.

In Milwaukee, we are ahead of the curve. Milwaukee’s workforce system, coordinated by the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, fosters strong relationships among industry, businesses, the technical college system and training organizations to train workers for current job openings. Milwaukee area manufacturers work closely with the technical college system and workforce partners such as the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership to develop employer-driven customized training. As a result, technical college graduates, from schools such as the Milwaukee Area Technical College, are being hired by local manufacturers, many of them with industry certifications, such as Manufacturing Skills Standards Council certification.

Our regional economy is growing and needs skilled workers, from entry-level workers to higher-level workers with specific skills. The commitment outlined in the announcement supports workers who face challenges in upgrading and certifying their skills, as well as middle- and lower-income city residents who have been particularly hard hit by the economy. The investment the White House is making in technical college education and apprenticeships will deliver newly skilled workers and build the pipeline needed for the growing economy, enhancing the efforts of Milwaukee’s forward-thinking business community.

And the timing couldn’t be better.

The City of Milwaukee has developed plans for an advanced manufacturing center at Century City, at the site of the old A.O. Smith industrial site. The center will be operated by a coalition including our technical college, workforce investment board and businesses to train and connect workers with real jobs in modern manufacturing. The Century City location puts this innovative center close to new and existing manufacturers in the 30th Street Industrial Corridor. It will be close to potential workers who are unemployed or underemployed.

Another added benefit is the investment to be made in modern equipment to train advanced manufacturing workers also will be available to companies for prototyping and testing operational improvements. Manufacturing provides a large number of well-paying jobs, with wages 31% higher than the regional average for all workers. Manufacturing is the very heart of our region’s “ladder of opportunity.”

Our goals are aligned. The City of Milwaukee and the business community are working collaboratively with workforce partners to close the mismatch between jobs and workers and to connect the public and private sectors to research and innovation.


From “Walker touts $35 million plan to bolster technical education” — Legislation signed earlier this week by Gov. Scott Walker allocates $35.4 million to help fund the education of the next generation of workers in Wisconsin.

Walker was at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay on Tuesday discussing the funding designed to bolster technical education at the college and primary education level.

“It’s all about training more the skills needed to fill the jobs today and the ones that will be coming up in the next couple of years, and this is the place to make that happen,” he said.

Walker said Northeast Wisconsin Technical College beefed up its training on computer numeric control machines after the Northeastern Manufacturing Alliance reported a need for CNC operators.

“We want to help campuses like this, and across the state, do more of that in the future,” Walker said. “We’ll also use a portion of this money to help school districts across the state get additional resources to partner for dual enrollment so young people get credit in both the high schools and technical colleges.”

This was Walker’s second stop in the Green Bay area in as many days, and he’s been a frequent visitor to the area in the past month stopping at a number of area businesses to talk about the importance of manufacturing to the state and the need to train skilled workers for immediate and future needs.

A portion of the money will also be used to help employers identify the skill sets disabled residents in the state bring to the workplace.

“The baby boom generation is at, or near, retirement and when that happens there is going to be this huge amount of openings and we’re going to need more skilled workers .. and more people working, period,” he said. “We can’t afford to have anyone who wants to work not be able to work.”

The money is appropriated through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Wisconsin Fast Forward program.

“We put $15 million in the budget there to do customized worker training, this additional money will be on top of that,” Walker said. “They’ll work directly with technical college campuses… to say, ‘What do you need? Where are your shortages?”

From “Could be a shortage of manufacturing workers in Wisconsin” — Skilled workers may be hard to come by in the state of Wisconsin over the next 20 years. The Wisconsin Manufacturing Commerce Foundation was in La Crosse Tuesday to highlight its 20-year plan to combat the issue.

Western Technical College is one of 16 stops the Manufacturing Commerce Foundation is making in Wisconsin. Technical colleges play a big role in giving students the education needed to become skilled employees in manufacturing.

With the baby-boomer generation coming to retirement age, there could be a higher number of job openings in Wisconsin.

“Well this is an aging state. We expect about 800,000 additional people in this state over the next 30 years but 95 percent of those are going to be over the age of 65,” Wisconsin Manufacturing Commerce Foundation President, Jim Morgan said.

According to the Wisconsin Manufacturing Commerce Foundation, skilled laborers are a dying breed.

“We’ve got some challenges coming down the road around talent attraction, around business competitiveness, that we’ve really got to start that conversation right now,” Morgan said.

The WMC Foundation wants to establish a 20-year plan called Future Wisconsin.

“The things that were outlined here today are trying to get people to think more about manufacturing careers as viable options,” Western Technical College President Lee Rasch said.

Schools like Western Technical College are big contributors to the plan.

“We’re key players because we do a couple things. We work very closely with area manufacturers, we have an existing network, we provide a lot of education and training for the next generation of the workforce in manufacturing and we also represent this region,” Rasch said.

Training the next generation may be tough. The WMC Foundation says keeping that age group in Wisconsin is not easy.

“Unless we do something to keep our young people here and figure out a way to attract more people here we’re not going to have the people available for the jobs that we’re going to have,” Morgan said.

The president of Western said he was glad that the foundation stopped in La Crosse. It allowed for more of the manufacturers in our area to take part in the discussion.

The Wisconsin Manufacturing Commerce Foundation will be working with colleges and universities throughout the year.


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 “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.

From “Mayville Engineering plans to expand, hire 100 workers” — Mayville Engineering Co. is planning to expand five of its plants in Wisconsin, resulting in 100 new manufacturing jobs, the company said Monday.

The expansion is the result of orders from existing customers as well as new work the company has landed, said Mayville marketing manager Brian Johnson.

Mayville Engineering Co., is an employee-owned firm based in the Dodge County community that shares its name. Mayville is about 55 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

Nationwide, the company employs about 2,000 people and generates more than $300 million in sales.

“We’re putting in some pretty significant equipment and we have to hire a bunch of people, so we’re trying to get the word out,” Johnson said.

“We’ve been successful at getting really good people in here and we’re in one of those situations right now where we need to get some more,” Johnson added. “It’s a good place to be.”

The new jobs will be primarily at the company’s two plants in Mayville, two plants in Beaver Dam and a plant in Wautoma. The company also has two plants in Neillsville in west-central Wisconsin, as well as plants in Michigan, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia.

“We have a number of new products that we are launching with some key customers in the agriculture, construction and power sports industries,” Johnson said.

Mayville Engineering specializes in making the parts used to build equipment ranging from large trucks to agricultural equipment to all-terrain vehicles. It does prototyping, production manufacturing, fabricating, tube forming, coating and assembly services in a variety of markets.

“We’re a key supply chain partner for a number of the large original equipment manufacturers,” Johnson said.

Company leaders realize they are hiring in a marketplace where demand is high for skilled labor. “That is something that we hear a lot,” Johnson said. “It’s no small challenge.”

The company’s position as an employee-owned business gives it an advantage when seeking to attract workers, he said.

“When they are looking at opportunities, we find that a lot of people are interested that they have a chance to earn stock in the company,” Johnson said. “That’s kind of a compelling advantage that we have.”

The company also has successfully entered into partnerships and apprenticeship programs with Moraine Park Technical College and Mayville High School.

The company is hiring for skilled manufacturing positions, including robotic and manual welders, laser operators, brake press operators, CNC machinists, punch press operators, tool and die makers, painters and material coordinators.

But the company also wants to hear from folks who might not have significant manufacturing experience. “Even if it’s not a long one, if they have a good work history that they can show us, we’re looking for good people who are going to fit into our culture,” Johnson said.

Growth and expansion at Mayville Engineering is an example of the positive part of what is proving to be an up-and-down performance of manufacturing in recent times. Manufacturing is a key sector of Wisconsin’s economy.

Diversification is key

“The recovery has been so uneven,” said David J. Ward, CEO of NorthStar Consulting Group, a private economic consulting and research firm in Madison. “There’s no pattern.

“We’ve had nothing out there that would say to manufacturers or anybody else, ‘Hey we’re on a roll,'” he said.

An important aspect for manufacturers is to have business across sectors, Ward said.

“Certain sectors are doing OK. Others, they’re not contracting or anything, they’re just kind of bumping along,” he said.

Having a diversity in business is exactly the strategy that Mayville has pursued.

“We really transcend a lot of different markets,” Johnson said. “So, if one market might be having a hard time, we have other markets that are growing.”

Job fair Dec. 7

Mayville Engineering will hold a job fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 7 at its Dodge County headquarters, 715 South St., Mayville, to recruit for manufacturing positions, including robotic and manual welders, laser operators, brake press operators, CNC machinists, punch press operators, tool and die makers, painters, and material coordinators.


From “Stoughton Trailers’ Wahlin takes the high road through economic challenges” — For most area businesses, the Great Recession was nothing less than devastating. For Stoughton Trailers, however, it was just one terrifying part of a ferocious three-headed monster.

The company was already experiencing a brutal downturn before the recession hit its frightening heights in late 2008, having seen a slackening in demand for its signature dry-van trailers starting in 2006.

Add to that the hollowing out of another once-profitable sector — intermodal equipment — because of Chinese competition, and you had a recipe for disaster.

You could say that’s just what befell Stoughton Trailers as the family-run company approached its 50th anniversary near the close of the last decade, but it has stormed back in the past few years, going from around 1,400 employees before the downturn began, to around 250 when the recession was doing its worst damage, to approximately 1,000 today.

At IB’s next Icons in Business presentation on Dec. 3, Stoughton Trailers President Robert Wahlin will discuss the company’s survival strategies in the wake of the Great Recession and the challenges the company faced in both ramping up and ramping down production in response to global economic forces.

According to Wahlin, it wasn’t just the loss of business that hurt Stoughton Trailers, it was also the hemorrhaging of considerable human capital, which threatened the long-term success of his company.

“When we dropped from around 1,400 to around 250 in basically about a three-year period, at that point, you’re not just cutting to the bone, you’re cutting into the bone,” said Wahlin. “So it was during that time period we lost a lot of good people, a lot of our core talented manufacturing personnel.”

In an era when it’s already difficult to recruit and retain skilled manufacturing workers, losing all that accumulated talent poses a significant problem. Part of Stoughton Trailers’ response was to refocus its remaining workforce on continuing education.

“The people we were able to continue with, we did significant investment in, and what I mean by that is educational investment,” said Wahlin. “So we had shop floor people, we had administrative people, the whole group. … We took people off the floor and put them in the classroom, and we had classes in quality certification, Lean Six Sigma, ergonomics, and just kind of general business classes as well. And we were able to build up and improve our core base of personnel and improve those jobs while pursuing educational opportunities as well.

“We did this through MATC, and it got to the point where some of the classes were so dominated by Stoughton Trailers employees that they actually came and held the classes at our facilities.”

But while the company’s remaining workforce no doubt felt fortunate to be in the factory or in the classroom — anywhere but on the unemployment line — according to Wahlin, keeping them motivated in the face of so much grim news was one of his biggest challenges.

“Yeah, it’s a big challenge to keep them excited about coming to work every day when they see people that they’ve worked with for so many years have to leave or sit on the sidelines,” said Wahlin. “You can easily fall into an, ‘oh, what’s the point?’ type of atmosphere, and especially when you’re taking on improvement projects and educational opportunities, it’s hard for people to see the advantage of that because it’s not an immediate payback. So when you’re doing those types of investments, there’s a sense of urgency to put that education and that investment to good use and to see that payback, but you just have to be very patient and wait for the right time.”

Moving forward

The right time eventually came, but not before the company was forced to retool and allow plenty of good people to move on to other jobs. While much of the company’s resurgence can be attributed to a rebound in demand for its core products and a rosier economic picture overall, Stoughton Trailers also re-evaluated its product line and redoubled its efforts to address the manufacturing skills gap.

In addition to ramping up production to address the pent-up demand for replacement trailers, the company began to diversify.

“During the downturn, we were just into dry-vans,” said Wahlin. “Into the downturn and coming out of it, we started building a grain trailer, so we got into agricultural equipment. … We also have been scratching and clawing to find our way back into intermodal containers and chassis. It went to China, but we redid [our] Evansville plant and significantly changed the product design, trying to find a way where we can be efficient enough to get back into that market.

“We had been, for the last few years, the only North American supplier that’s been trying to get back in, but we’ve been building containers and chassis again, and right now we’re looking and have been doing research into other products such as flatbeds and refrigerated equipment and other things. So yeah, the dry-van market started to increase primarily through equipment replacement demand, and we also diversified our products so we weren’t as susceptible to the downturn and the swings that go with a single product line.”

While slaying the Chinese competition dragon requires a novel, up-to-the-moment strategy — one that Wahlin promises to share at the Icons in Business presentation — an even greater problem for the company, and other U.S. manufacturers, may be the lingering manufacturing skills gap.

While laying off hundreds of employees is devastating on both a personal and professional level, finding enough skilled people to meet new demand can be almost as challenging as winding down production.

Wahlin says the company was able to recall between 300 and 350 of its former employees when it started hiring again, but many had moved on, and the available pool of skilled labor simply isn’t what it used to be.

“We’re in somewhat of a unique situation,” said Wahlin. “Our plants are in Stoughton — so Southern Dane — as well as Rock County in Evansville and Green County in Brodhead. And when GM left Janesville, the whole manufacturing infrastructure just kind of disappeared from the area. There’s not the base of welders and industrial painters and machine operators and press operators. There’s not nearly as much of that skill in the area as there used to be, so you get to a point where you can’t go and rely on hiring those skills.

“We have an in-house welding department where, I would say over 95% of our welders we promote from within and train in-house, and they’ll spend a week or more in our welding training center. … We’ve taken a much different approach and investment to training and education than we had to in the past, when some of those manufacturing skills were more readily available in the market.”

Wahlin says the company has also opened up the company’s facilities to high school kids to show them what manufacturing has to offer and prove to them it’s not the hard, dirty, physical work it was in the old days. Beyond that, however, the urgency of the moment demands that his company act now. It’s a good problem to have — particularly considering the dark days Stoughton Trailers recently emerged from — but that doesn’t make the problem any less real.

“The whole skills gap issue is kind of a nationwide phenomenon, and yeah, I think a lot of programs are getting in place and a greater emphasis is being made in the tech schools to start to rebuild that,” said Wahlin, “but manufacturers today can’t wait for that to happen. They need people today or tomorrow, and they’re left with no other choice but to get them in and train them internally.”

From “Gov. Scott Walker visits Lakeshore Tech. College on Wednesday” — Governor Scott Walker toured Lakeshore Technical College on Wednesday, November 6th to learn about their apprenticeship program and mobile training lab.  Lakeshore Technical College is hosting a two-week public open house of its facilities and lab to celebrate Manufacturing Month.

“Lakeshore Technical College is providing critical, high-quality training to students, employees, and high school teachers,” Governor Walker said.  “We need partners in the technical college system and business community to make our commitment to worker training a success.  Manufacturing Month was about more than just touring technical colleges and manufacturing companies. We wanted to take the opportunity to emphasize how a job in manufacturing is a great family-supporting career and one that is full of highly skilled and innovative workers.”

Lakeshore Technical College offers training to high school students, summer training for high school teachers, and assessments of workers’ skills and competencies.

Their mobile lab allows the college to provide on-site training in industrial maintenance and programmable logic controls.

The lab also helps high school students earn up to five credits in the electro-mechanical technology program; these credits help students enter the workforce quickly after graduation.

The fall legislative agenda includes additional investments in apprenticeship training, incentives for high school students who graduate with job ready credentials, and scholarships for students at technical colleges.

Additionally, the budget provided funding for career planning beginning in 6th grade.

Many times our students do not understand the potential a career in manufacturing can have for them.  These investments are part of our commitment to growing the manufacturing industry and ensuring our students are ready for a career as soon as they enter the workforce.

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From “Kleefisch touts Sheboygan jobs effort” — When it comes to being successful in a global economy and creating new generations of workers to compete in the skilled marketplace, Sheboygan County has a lot to be proud of.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch was in Sheboygan Monday morning to give the keynote address during the Lakeshore International Network and Knowledge Exchange, or LINKE, Wisconsin Global Trade Conference, and took a few minutes to talk about Sheboygan County’s role.

“If you consider Sheboygan a little community, I will tell you it is the little community that could,” Kleefisch said. “You guys in Sheboygan County actually have some really good things going on.”

LINKE is a business consortium that provides local companies with networking opportunities and relevant information on global business trends.

In addition to Kleefisch, the other keynote speaker was FBI Special Agent Byron Franz, who works with corporations, colleges and universities to protect intellectual property and trade secrets.

Kleefisch said one of the best examples of Sheboygan County’s can-do attitude is the partnership that has developed between education, government and the private sector to identify the needs employers have and to train students to fill those needs.

That includes the partnership between Lakeshore Technical College and area companies that are helping to fund an expansion of the advanced manufacturing areas of the Trade and Industry building.

“In Wisconsin, we have more manufacturers per capita than any other state in the country so that’s a really big deal, particularly here in Sheboygan County,” Kleefisch said. “ I would argue that because we have such a great partnership between our private sector and government and education, you will start to attract a lot of interest in investors and also folks who are considering relocations and joining the supply chain of this area because they’ve got a workforce that is ready.”

A ready workforce, she said, is key.

“We have 30,000 jobs available every single day, open, on our website … and yet we still have folks who are on unemployment,” she said. “We need to make sure the folks who are on unemployment are gaining some of the skills our employers need their employees to have in order to get employed. That’s fixing our skills gap.”

Another issue Kleefisch talked about Monday was the growing opportunities exporting presents for Wisconsin companies.

She said that according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, 97 percent of the exports from the United States are made by small businesses, if small business is defined as having 500 employees or fewer.

“Isn’t that cool?” Kleefisch said. “97 percent. Who would have even thought?”

That statistic presents an opportunity for Wisconsin businesses, because the market is growing.

“We know that for the first time … since 2007, we’re actually seeing our traditional economic markets overtaking emerging economic markets in a promising future,” Kleefisch said. “That means the U.S. and Japan, others, Europe, with established economic markets, are actually seeing a very promising future, even more promising than the emerging markets like, say, China and India and Brazil. That’s very exiting.”

From “Industrial manufacturing skills training info session Aug. 15 at Nicolet College” — With high local demand for workers with solid industrial manufacturing skills, Nicolet College will be holding an information session will be held Thursday, Aug. 15, for anyone interested in learning about the skills and training necessary to enter the field.

The Industrial Mechanical Information Event will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. in the college’s Manufacturing Lab in Art Tech Center 108 on the Nicolet Campus.

Anyone interested can drop in any time that is convenient for them to tour the lab and meet with instructors.

At 5:30 p.m., area manufacturing employers will take part in a panel discussion to talk about the specific skills they need in employees, how people can get these skills, and how an individual can go about applying for a job at the various manufacturing facilities.

Grants to cover all tuition costs are available to qualifying individuals. Nicolet staff will be on hand to help people fill out the grant applications as well as fill out the application for admission to Nicolet College.

Nicolet staff will also be on hand to give tips on how to write a good resume as well as what it takes to perform well in a job interview.

Nicolet offers a manufacturing skills training program that starts with students earning the short-term Industrial Maintenance Fundamentals certificate. Credits earned can then be applied to the one-year Industrial Electronics Maintenance technical diploma which then ladders into the two-year Industrial Mechanical Technician associate degree.

Wages in the Northwoods range from $12 to $24 an hour, depending on experience.

For more information about industrial manufacturing training at Nicolet, visit or call the college at 715-365-4451, 800-544-3039, ext. 4451; TDD 715-365-4448.

From “Chopping it up” — An innovative project in Manitowoc County aims to rev up an interest in manufacturing among young people — helping to propel them toward the technical careers that need skilled people.

The Mini-Chopper program currently operates in four Manitowoc County schools with help from the local Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) and local company sponsors.

Read more in Insight on Manufacturing


From “As construction booms in Madison, skilled workers are in short supply” — Wisconsin may be lagging the rest of the country in job creation and Madison is falling behind peer cities in economic growth, but the economy here is great for union electricians.

Dave Boetcher, business agent for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 159, says the 900 members of his Madison-based local are at “150 percent employment.” No joke.

“All of our local members are working and we’ve had to bring in members from other locals and other states to man the work,” he says.

There is so much work, he says, that the local has been calling up members from other union locals elsewhere – as far away as Chicago – to offer them jobs on projects around Madison.

By far the biggest construction project is the expansion at Epic Systems in Verona. On that campus alone, 450 electricians are earning a paycheck, says Boetcher.

The effects of Epic’s rapid expansion are evident far outside of its sprawling suburban campus. The company’s constant hiring is driving a mini real estate boom throughout Madison, as developers scramble to build apartments to house the young, middle-class workers moving here in droves.

“There’s like 1,600 apartment units coming downtown in July and August,” says Harry Sulzer, an inspection supervisor for the city of Madison. “Some of that is driven by our friends in Verona. A lot of those professionals are moving to downtown Madison.”

The housing boom reflects a welcome reality after the long recession: There are nearly no vacant apartments in downtown Madison. And of the existing units, many are old and run-down; they’re barely suitable for penniless UW students, let alone young professionals with disposable income.

More houses are going up too. Andrew Disch, a spokesman for the Madison Area Builders Association, says 403 permits for new single-family homes have been issued in the first five months of 2013, compared to 307 during the same period last year.

For many people who are thinking of setting up permanently in Madison, there’s never been a better time to stop renting and start buying. While landlords continue to raise rents in response to the saturated market, home prices remain fairly low and interest rates are quite favorable.

“I think we’ve finally reached a point in the consumer’s mind – (while) they may not have a real high level of confidence in the economy, they’ve come back to their strong belief and confidence in housing,” says Kevin King, president of the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin.

This is all great news for workers in the construction trades – the sector that was devastated by the housing bust in 2008. Or, it’s great news for those who remain.

“We’ve had a number of calls from our contractors looking for employees,” says Stephen Stone, director of business development for the Associated Builders & Contractors of Wisconsin, a group of non-union contractors. “They’ve called back their employees they’d laid off and now they’re looking to expand.”

The problem is, many workers became so discouraged during the recession – or so desperate for money – that they stopped looking for construction work.

“They’re doing something else now,” Stone says. “And I don’t think those people are going to come back to our industry – they’re not going to leave that other employment until we as an industry can prove that the market is back.”

That’s why John Stephany, who teaches construction and remodeling at Madison College, says the trades are a great opportunity for young people looking to make a good living. Almost all of the 24 students who recently graduated from his program found jobs immediately after finishing school. And unlike many college graduates, they can expect pay raises in the next year.

“I think the average wage for graduates has increased $2 in the past year,” says Stephany. “The average starting wage has gone from $10 to $12 an hour to $14 to $17 an hour.”

Keep in mind, that’s just the starting wage. Experienced trades workers make far more than that. A union electrician in Madison who has completed a five-year apprenticeship earns a base wage of $33.45 an hour (roughly $70,000 a year if working full time) plus benefits.

And yet, as the economy slowly recovers, large swaths of young workers who are struggling to find good jobs aren’t considering the trades. The message across the country, from guidance counselors to the White House, has emphasized the importance of college in the 21st century.

Indeed, as manufacturing jobs that once offered middle-class wages have been shipped overseas or made obsolete by mechanization, many parents likely see college as the only responsible path for their kids to take.

But unlike manufacturing, the trades aren’t going away anytime soon.

“These are jobs that can’t be outsourced,” says Stephany.

And unlike traditional college, where the typical student accrues thousands of dollars of debt, a trades apprentice makes money while attending school to learn the trade. To become a union electrician, for instance, one undergoes five years of on-site and classroom training — all the while getting paid.

Women, who increasingly dominate college campuses and are surpassing men in many white-collar professions, remain greatly underrepresented in the trades. At Madison College, in fact, there is a program, Tools for Tomorrow: Women in Trades and Technology, designed specifically to offer women a glimpse into a potentially profitable field.

The head of the program, Nancy Nikkoul, says the percentage of women in the trades has hardly budged in the past two decades. Currently, she says, only 2.3 percent of construction apprentices in Wisconsin are women.

Two decades ago, Sandy Thistle, who now is an instructor in the program, was one of the few women who went into construction. After dropping out of UW, where she had been studying to enter the female-dominated field of nursing, she decided to give carpentry a shot.

“I was good at math, I was kind of athletic, I wanted to work outside and do something physical,” she recalls.

There were also practical considerations: “I wanted to be able to have a decent living and union carpentry paid very well.”

Specifically, being in a union — where pay for all workers is negotiated in a contract — ensured that she would be paid as well as her male peers. “We all know that if (employers) could pay me less because I’m a woman they would,” she adds.

So how much longer is this building boom going to last?

Much of it is being driven by several major projects – notably Epic – and some of it likely represents homeowners and businesses making up for the break they took from building during the recession.

“Four more years,” predicts Awad Hanna, a UW professor of civil engineering who studies the construction labor market. “I can see at least four more years of this tight (construction) labor market and then construction will be tied to the economy.”

From a construction worker’s perspective, another four years of steady employment is welcome, but those who endured the Great Recession – when the national unemployment rate in construction was at one point as high as 27 percent – may wonder if it’s only a matter of time before the next downturn occurs.

Mayor Paul Soglin, however, believes that the building frenzy represents a long-term shift toward economic development in Madison.

“The volume of construction here in Madison that’s under way or will be under way shortly is a significant increase which outperforms what you would expect to see in this recovery,” he says.

He attributes the building bonanza in part to a message he believes his administration has sent to developers that their projects are welcome.

Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, says Soglin deserves credit for his development efforts, but argues that the move toward a development-friendly city hall began with Soglin’s predecessor, former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

“I think it’s certainly true that over the last few years there’s been an epiphany that development isn’t going to happen on its own,” he says.

While the jobs provided by Epic and building projects on the UW campus are great, Brandon says the most encouraging signs are the cranes on smaller, private-sector sites.

“It’s not just Epic, it’s not a single point in time,” he says. “It’s becoming a trend line.” 


From “Kinetic trains industrial knifemakers” —  Kinetic Co. Inc. in Greendale has invested in its facilities and employees as it has grown.

The company, founded in 1948 in Milwaukee, has 110 employees at its 75,000-square-foot facility, which has been expanded four times, most recently in 2009. And there’s room for growth – the facility sits on 10 acres.

“We have room for more expansion. We are essentially full again,” said president Jared Masters.

Kinetic makes about 20 categories of knives and has around 5,000 different SKUs. The knives, most of which are made of steel, are adapted to meet the desired cutting style.

New employees must be thoroughly trained on how to set up each job, since there are so many different product set-ups, Cash said. Over the last five to 10 years, a lot of experienced employees have been retiring so he has undertaken a constant and more documented training process in the shop.

Kinetic recently received a $42,520 Workforce Advancement Training grant from Milwaukee Area Technical College for blueprint training, master CAM and surface grinding training.

There are two sections of nine workers each that started the courses at MATC’s Milwaukee campus on May 20, said Ginny Gnadt, senior specialist in public relations at MATC. The employees will also be trained in MSSC safety at work.

“This provides the company with better-trained employees and gives the workers a chance to make more money by having a higher skill level,” Gnadt said.

Since their father, Joseph, died in February, brothers Jared and Cash Masters have taken the helm at the industrial knifemaker.

Under Joseph, the company grew significantly in the last five years, entering new markets and widening its reach.

“We’ve expanded our focus,” said Cash, vice president. “Years ago it was just knives for paper.”

The company now serves steel mills, power plants and other industrial companies with both blade manufacturing and contract grinding and machining.

“We’ve got such a wide variety of product lines and products within those product lines that this is what’s helped us when the economy might slow down,” Cash said.

But that variety can also mean a longer lead time because of the number of product changes each machine undergoes, Jared said. Its diversity has also set Kinetic apart from competitors, since it serves several industries instead of just one.

Paper manufacturers like Kimberly-Clark Corp. still make up the largest portion of Kinetic’s customer base, while steel mills and food packagers are also drivers.

A thin perforation blade is used to create designs and perforate products like toilet paper, while thick contoured knives slice through metals. Most of the blades Kinetic makes aren’t sharp to the touch – they’re simply used with force.

Depending on the application, a blade is rough ground, milled or turned. Kinetic takes on any project it can perform, Jared said.

Many of Kinetic’s customers are in the Midwest, particularly for the contract machining work. It exports about 10 percent of its products, and is growing that segment in South and Central America, Jared said.

The company keeps its work in-house so it can control the quality, which sets it apart from competitively priced products, he said.

“When a piece of raw steel comes in the door, for all of our product lines we do 99 percent of the work here,” Cash said.

Kinetic had about $25 million in annual revenue in 2012, up more than 20 percent in the last three years. Jared expects about five percent growth for 2013.

The company invested almost $2 million in equipment last year. It moves employees around based on which areas are busier.

“We don’t do budgets,” Jared said. “If we need it, we buy it. If we don’t need it, we don’t buy it.”


From “New manufacturing lab at Wausau’s NTC” —  The new Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Center of Excellence is in business at the North Central Technical College. School, community and business leaders joined together on campus for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Developers say it is designed to be a collaborative effort between the school and area businesses. Mark Borowicz, NTC Dean of Business & Industry Solutions says, “This is really an opportunity for our students to learn the latest technology and for workers at area businesses to get the training they need, too.”

Wisconsin manufacturers have repeatedly voiced concerns that there aren’t enough highly skilled workers to fill the job openings they have in their businesses.

For more information on the project or any of the programs at NTC you can check out there online information at

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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 “State can be a model for creating skilled workers” —  By Tom Still —An expert in invention and entrepreneurship who has forgotten more about both than most people know recently used this line in a room of economic development professionals: “Increasingly, there is no room in America for the unskilled.”

Before the politically correct among us rise up in solidarity for the right to remain unskilled, let’s do something refreshingly honest and concede he’s right.

The current job market certainly suggests so, given the stubborn national unemployment rate three years after the official end of the recession. And so have credible studies on the future of the American workforce, such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast and state-specific reports from the Georgetown University Center on the Economy and the Workforce.

Between 2008 and 2018, Georgetown researchers predicted, the need for workers with some kind of postsecondary training or education will grow by 139,000 jobs in Wisconsin. Jobs for high-school graduates and dropouts will grow by 52,000 jobs. By 2018, 61% of all jobs in Wisconsin will require some postsecondary training.

Meeting the need for skilled workers – from people with the right training for today’s high-tech manufacturing to people with advanced college degrees – has been addressed by three recent reports in Wisconsin. That kind of consensus around the size of the problem should mean solutions are achievable, even in a divided political era.

Unveiled a month ago was “The Road Ahead: Restoring Wisconsin’s Workforce Development.” Otherwise known as the Sullivan report, it was a volunteer effort headed by Tim Sullivan, the former Bucyrus International executive who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker in February to take a hard look at state workforce gaps.

The report stressed that demographics alone are threatening the state’s long-term economic health. The number of senior citizens living in the state will nearly double between 2010 and 2040 (from 777,000 to 1.54 million), the report said, and its working-age population will grow by a miserly 0.4% (from 3.57 million to 3.58 million).

“Baby boomers are also aging out of the workforce, leaving gaps that cannot be met by our current projected population, or the education system in which they develop working skills,” it read.

The Sullivan report’s conclusions ranged from finding ways to encourage immigration of high-skilled, hard-to-find workers to better coordination of state workforce programs to establishing academic and career plans for all students.

Another recent report stressed the importance of science, technology, engineering and math education. “Wisconsin STEM: Navigators to the future” was produced by a group led by Bryan Albrecht, president of Gateway Technical College. Gateway has a successful history of meeting employer needs for skilled labor.

That report noted that so-called STEM occupations are predicted to grow by 17% from 2008 to 2018 and that STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26% more than their non-STEM counterparts. Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs in the United States was three times the rate of non-STEM jobs. Workers with STEM skills are also more likely to keep a job, contribute to a local economy and drive innovation, the report noted.

“STEM education is an imperative to secure our state’s viability in a competitive global economy,” said S. Mark Tyler, president of OEM Fabricators and a contributor to the report.

It established five markers to chart success: Eliminate barriers that prevent learners from exploring STEM careers; emphasize acquiring STEM knowledge and skills for all learners; increase public-private partnerships with a focus on STEM skills; establish a statewide awareness campaign for STEM careers; and invest in development for educators so they can better integrate STEM throughout the curriculum.

Also weighing in is the Department of Public Instruction, which recently issued its Agenda 2017 report. Among its recommendations are increasing Wisconsin’s graduation rate, doubling college and career readiness rates, and increasing the percentage of students scoring proficient in third-grade reading and eighth-grade mathematics.

One specific DPI recommendation: Expand high-school programs for “dual enrollment.” Those are programs that allow high school students to earn college credits and specific career skills through industry certifications and youth apprenticeships.

Indeed, there is precious little room in America for the unskilled. With the help of those who are committed to understanding the problem, perhaps Wisconsin can become a model for giving the unskilled hope and pathways to more rewarding, productive lives.

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