From news8000.com: “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.
February 26, 2014
From wxow.com: “WMC Foundation looks into 20-year strategic plan for Wis.” – LA CROSSE – With the baby boomers retiring, Wisconsin will soon lose it’s largest group of workers.
The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation is looking for ways to replace them.
WMC Foundation President Jim Morgan traveled to Western Technical College Tuesday to find out where there is a job shortage in La Crosse, and discuss ways to train students to fill those positions.
The foundation will use that information to create a 20-year strategic plan for the state, called “Future Wisconsin.”
“And we’re trying to look at a couple of key areas like talent attraction, business competitiveness, globalization, entrepreneurship. The types of things that I think if we’re going to be successful in 20 years, we’ve got to start planning for now,” Morgan said.
There’s already a need for welders and machinists, he added.
The WMC Foundation will be meeting with 16 technical colleges, along with other schools, businesses and commerce associations for input.
February 13, 2014
From tomahjournal.com: “The School Bell: Filling the skills gap — a Tomah tradition” –February is Career and Technical Education Month, and we have been hearing a consistent message from many important individuals about the value of career and technical education for our students, the future workforce, and our economy.
In Gov. Walker’s State of the State address he talked about the skills gap which exists in Wisconsin and the employment needs which exist in skilled trades, manufacturing, and construction. Governor Walker acknowledged that “we need enough skilled workers ready to fill jobs open today — as well as those that will be open tomorrow, and in the days to come.”
President Obama, in his State of the Union address, also commented on the need for real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career. While in Wisconsin visiting a General Electric engine factory near Milwaukee, President Obama stressed the importance of having job-training programs that work. He also recognized that a four-year degree is not needed for all good jobs today, but those good jobs do require specialized training.
Our State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Tony Evers, has also stressed the importance of preparing our students to be “college and career ready” through his Agenda 2017. The Department of Public Instruction has been working to advance education reforms to ensure every child graduates ready for further education and the workplace. It appears this is common ground on which we all agree — it is important for our young people to develop skills while still in high school which will allow them to either enter the workforce after their graduation or continue with their schooling.
The Tomah School District has a strong tradition of providing instruction to interested high school students in the area of construction, engineering, and industrial technology. As a matter of fact, Evers, purchased and lived in a house that was built by high school students in the building trades class when he was the Tomah High School principal.
During the THS Success Showcase held on Jan. 16, I spent time in the “shop” classrooms to see the work in which students were engaged. Students were welding, cutting and bending metal, programming a plasma cutter and practicing skills needed in the construction trades. The Technology Education Department at THS provides opportunities for students to gain real-world hands-on experience. Students can learn about engineering robots and mapping digital electronic circuits through Project Lead the Way classes. Through industrial technology classes, they can become competent with power tools, experienced in rough and finished interior and exterior carpentry and trained in advanced machine tool skills, oxyacetylene welding and horizontal and vertical over-head welding.
We also value the partnerships developed with the Construction Professionals Association and AGC of Wisconsin, both of which have provided financial resources and materials for our programs at THS.
All of our Career and Technical Education areas, which include business, family and consumer science, agriculture and technology and engineering education, provide meaningful school-to-work opportunities for our students. Strong articulation exists between Tomah High School, Western Technical College and the Milwaukee School of Engineering in our CTE subject areas. Students enrolled in these courses have opportunities to earn college credit while at Tomah High School. This creates a seamless transition from high school to the post-secondary educational level and into the workplace. We are working on having these instructional experiences enable our students to receive state-approved skill certificates so that our local businesses and industry will have qualified entry-level employees. In recent years advisory councils have been developed in which our local construction, engineering, agriculture, and business leaders meet with school personnel to share their expertise and to provide insights into program improvements. Students at THS have the ability to develop specialized skills that will make them employable in a number of businesses/industries, as well as prepared for pursuing post-secondary education. Options exist, opportunities await and openings in the workplace can be filled by Tomah High School graduates. Filling the skills gap is a Tomah tradition.
If you have any questions or comments about the information and opinions expressed in this edition of The School Bell, please contact Cindy Zahrte, District Administrator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 374-7002.
Cindy Zahrte is superintendent of the Tomah School District.
January 30, 2014
From wiscnews.com: “Welders wanted: Employers with jobs struggle to fill them” – By Peter Rebhahn – It’s a familiar story: An economy still shell-shocked from the Great Recession of 2008-09 has left businesses downsizing and workers scrambling for a dwindling supply of low-paying jobs without benefits.
But what if the story isn’t as true as we think?
“We lose a lot of business because we do not have enough people to staff our shop,” said Larry Willer, operations manager for W.M. Sprinkman Corp. in Elroy.
Sprinkman needs more welders. In fact, Willer said, the welder shortage is one of the biggest problems the company faces.
Willer said the welder shortage has persisted for years in spite of starting hourly pay “in the teens,” plenty of overtime opportunity and a full benefit package that includes vacation time and health insurance.
“We’re looking to expand our night shift and we would probably hire in the neighborhood of anywhere from 10 to 15 welders if we could find qualified people,” Willer said.
That would be a big staff increase at Sprinkman, a manufacturer of stainless steel tanks for the dairy, food and beverage industry. It now employs 56 people – about two-thirds of them welders.
The company, which Willer said has benefitted from the microbrewing boom within the beer industry, serves customers nationwide from its 14,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in downtown Elroy.
Sprinkman’s customers include Fortune 500 giants such as Coca Cola and the Campbell Soup Company, as well as many smaller companies such as Capital Brewery in Madison.
The welder shortage is not Sprinkman’s problem alone.
At Walker Stainless Equipment in New Lisbon, Human Resources Manager Nancy Jacques said the “Welders Wanted” sign has occupied a prominent spot on the lawn at the front of the company headquarters for years. They’re looking to fill 20 vacant welder positions right now.
“It’s hard to find associates who are interested in the trade or who have any skill in welding,” Jacques said.
Walker, which also makes stainless steel equipment for customers nationwide, is Juneau County’s biggest manufacturing employer, with more than 500 workers in New Lisbon and at another facility in Elroy. About 225 of the company’s employees in Juneau County are welders, Jacques said. Like Sprinkman, business at Walker is good. Jacques said it’s frustrating to leave jobs unfilled.
“Walker’s market continues to expand,” Jacques said. “Therefore, the need for experienced welders increases also.”
Last week, the Juneau County Board of Supervisors took official notice of the problem when it passed a resolution that asked Western Technical College to “provide the necessary leadership, teachers, technical assistance, and monetary support for the establishment of the type of welding courses needed by Juneau County manufacturers at the New Lisbon High School.”
In fact, talks between officials from the technical college and New Lisbon schools are already well underway.
New Lisbon schools Superintendent Dennis Birr said the high school teaches a welding class. He said he’s “solidly behind” allowing the technical college use of the school’s welding laboratory. Talks with technical college officials about a sharing arrangement have been going on for more than a year, he added.
“The school’s perspective has been that we have a welding lab and we’d be happy to let it be used to help more people get the welding skills that help local employers,” Birr said.
The high school’s welding lab accommodates about a dozen students. Birr said the welding class attracts a mix of students – some who are merely curious and others who think they might like a career in welding. But even the career-minded students at New Lisbon are still only high school students who, unlike college students, haven’t necessarily made up their minds to pursue a career in welding.
The problem is meeting the increased immediate demands of industry. Training welders to step from a classroom and into a real-world job at a manufacturer like Sprinkman or Walker would require an expensive upgrade to the high school’s facility. That’s an expenditure Birr said the district isn’t interested in making because the existing facility meets its limited needs.
“The people who would be taking this class aren’t our students,” Birr said.
Patti Balacek, director of business and industry services for Western Technical College, said the hope is to copy in New Lisbon the success of a similar high school-technical college link-up in Black River Falls.
“It’s been an incredible boon for everyone, but it also was a year and a half of a lot of work, a lot of fundraising,” Balacek said.
In Black River Falls, Jackson County and the Black River Falls School District came up with $80,000 to create the Welding Skills Institute at the high school. The Ho Chunk Nation, which provided Jackson County’s $50,000 contribution, played a key role in the Black River Falls funding. The Black River Falls School District contributed the other $30,000.
Other partners in Black River Falls included the Department of Corrections, Jackson County Circuit Court and the state Department of Corrections.
“If we were to proceed with New Lisbon, it will take a great deal of commitment from a number of partners,” Balacek said. “I respect that the Juneau County board would like Western to provide some of the leadership, but it was only successful in Black River Falls because other people made a significant contribution to making this happen.”
She said she awaits word of a grant application that could allow expansion of the college’s welding training. But right now the technical college doesn’t have the money for an upgrade to the New Lisbon High School welding lab, said Balacek, who added she has also discussed the issue with Mauston school officials.
One of the problems educators face, Balacek said, is getting high school students to understand that manufacturing jobs are no longer the dirty, noisy and dangerous occupations they once were.
“The view of manufacturing is something we have to help young people understand has changed, and can lead to a very viable and financially sound career move for many people,” Balacek said.
Willer said a few of Sprinkman’s welders live outside Juneau County, but attracting welders from distant areas runs up hard against a fact of life that all manufacturers face.
“People generally do not relocate for a shop job, so it limits us to people within a reasonable driving distance of our shop,” Willer said.
Willer said Sprinkman gets many job applications but the “vast majority” of applicants have no skills. They don’t understand that precision welding is exacting work that can’t be learned on the job in a week.
“These guys are fabricators,” Willer said with a nod toward workers on Sprinkman’s shop floor. “We don’t call them welders. We call them fabricators.”
Willer said company officials are considering taking matters into their own hands.
“We have gotten to the point where we are also looking at developing our own welding course and training people for the work we have available,” Willer said. “We can provide, I feel, good-paying jobs with benefits and a future – if they have the skills.”
January 24, 2014
From twincities.com: “Scott Walker’s plan would overhaul tech school funding” — Western Wisconsin property taxpayers would save about $15 million under tax cuts proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.
Money from the state’s expected surplus would offset taxes levied by Western Technical College, benefiting homes and businesses in Western’s 11-county district.
But Walker’s proposal is more than a money dump. It would also transform funding methods for Wisconsin’s technical colleges.
Western’s top official lauded the plan but wondered about the future.
“Essentially, it’s shifting the balance,” Western president Lee Rasch said. “If this plan is going to help reduce the impact on property tax, it’s really a wonderful thing.”
The governor’s plan would inject state funding into Wisconsin’s network of tech colleges in 2015 to ease the burden on local taxpayers. The average homeowner would save $89 per $100,000 of property value in Western’s district, which includes La Crosse County.
It’s a savings from this year’s rate, but it’s also lower than taxes were before voters passed an $80 million bonding referendum in 2012, Rasch said. Western’s total levy this year, not including debt, was just more than $25 million. Walker’s plan would cut that to $10.3 million.
“That’s a pretty significant drop,” Rasch said.
Western’s ability to tax property owners would be reduced from $1.50 to 61 cents per $1,000 of property value.
Western and other technical colleges would switch to a K-12-style of financing, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance President Todd Berry said. The governor’s proposal would link technical college levies to state aid and impose a cap on all revenue.
Like public schools, low property taxes would depend on continued support from the state. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the 2015 aid increase “will repeat in future years.”
“This is not one-time money,” Evenson said.
However, if state aid does dip, property taxes increase.
“That puts a new pressure on the state budget that hadn’t existed before,” Berry said.
Last year, Republican lawmakers recommended removing Wisconsin’s technical colleges from property tax bills.
At the time, Rasch criticized the proposal as a threat to local control. Walker’s proposal is “a good plan,” as long as local campuses still have the flexibility to develop courses and react to regional employment trends, Rasch said.
Walker also wants $35 million extra for training skilled workers. The program that would benefit is managed by the Department of Workforce Development, but some of the new funding would be channeled to technical colleges.
Money would go to eliminating wait-lists for high-demand courses and dual-credit programs, so tech schools could offer more college-level classes at nearby high schools.
Western officials are already considering ways to take advantage of the proposed funding, Rasch said. The college has wait-lists for welding, information technology and health care classes.
“We’re watching it closely,” Rasch said.
November 22, 2013
From huffingtonpost.com: “College Facilities As Living Laboratories for Sustainability” – College campuses across the country have been expanding their focus on sustainable practices with facilities, operations, and curriculum. These efforts have been bolstered by the efforts of several high-profile national associations such as the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and Sustainability, Education and Economic Development (SEED).
One of the most prominent elements of this trend is that sustainable facilities not only reduce operating costs, but also serve as learning spaces for students … a concept referred to as living laboratories. Sustainable practices can be incorporated into a wide range of programs, from technician training to managing sustainable systems.
In Wisconsin, Western Technical College is extending the concept of facilities as living laboratories with two new initiatives: Passive House Construction and Applied Hydro Technology.
Passive House Construction
Western Technical College has existing associate degree and diploma programs in Building Systems Technology, Wood Technics, Architecture Technician, Landscape and Horticulture Technology and Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technician. These programs provide a stream of graduates with excellent job placement rates in their respective areas. Though there has been some coordination in curriculum and projects, these programs for the most part are stand alone. That is changing with the faculty-led initiative to develop Passive Houses.
Passive House technology has an established presence in Europe and emerging presence in the United States. Passive houses use ultra insulation and air circulation techniques to reduce energy consumption by at least 80 percent. By adding alternative energy elements such as solar panels, a passive house can exceed 90 percent reduced energy consumption.
In order to provide instruction in passive house technology, the five programs involved in the initiative must integrate their curriculum. And, the ability to construct real homes would be ideal.
The college entered into a community partnership with Hillview Urban Agriculture Center (HUAC) … an organization that promotes locally grown food and healthy eating. HUAC was located in a century old greenhouse located in a residential neighborhood in La Crosse, Wis. The building inefficiency placed a real burden on the operational viability of the organization. Western Technical College partnered with HUAC to relocate the greenhouse to the college campus. In turn, HUAC donated the land (three city lots) from the old greenhouse site to be developed into passive houses. Once the homes are constructed, they will be sold to private owners.
By developing these houses, the five programs will be adding a new dimension … an integrated curriculum in passive house technology. Over the years, the college built more than two dozen traditional homes as part of a neighborhood revitalization program for the City of La Crosse. Now the college looks forward to building energy-efficient, passive-rated homes.
Hydro Technology and the Angelo Dam
Prior to 2013, Western Technical College did not offer a hydro technology program. But as a signatory to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, the college was seeking opportunities for alternative energy sources. One presented itself when Monroe County decided to sell a dam on the La Crosse River, approximately one-third mile from Western’s public safety facility. The County no longer wished to maintain the dam and in 2011, offered to sell it to the college for $1. An engineering analysis determined that the structure was in excellent shape and could easily accommodate new hydro technology equipment. In September 2013, the college received Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) approval and the hydro equipment is currently being installed. The dam will be powered and generating electricity in December 2013.
The newly powered dam will allow the college to offer a five-course certificate in hydro technology in 2014 … a certificate that is unique in the upper Midwest. The college will also offer a technical seminar on How to Power a Dam. And, since there are more than 600 non-energy producing dams in the state of Wisconsin, there is great potential for influencing increased use of hydro technology as a viable alternative energy source in the upper Midwest.
Back to the Concept of Living Laboratories
So, these are interesting program initiatives in sustainability, but how do they serve as unique examples for living laboratories? First of all, both initiatives literally pay for themselves. The passive houses will be sold one at a time, with the proceeds of the sale being used to build the next house. The Angelo Dam will generate 1.2 million kwh per year with the energy sold to a regional utility. The annual revenue will cover the annual borrowing payments for the hydro equipment. Ultimately, once the equipment is paid for, the energy generated will be equivalent to removing the college’s six satellite locations from the grid. Even a LEED Platinum building has to assume the cost of construction as part of the overall cost.
Western is pleased to see these two new initiatives launched. But beyond their program impact, we also realize that a new door is being opened. On the other side, lies community-based facilities as living laboratories and new educational opportunities for colleges and universities.
From lacrossetribune.com: “Walker ‘still focused’ on jobs” — By Patrick B. Anderson - Training programs and new businesses will drive Wisconsin job growth, Gov. Scott Walker said Monday during a tour of Western Technical College.
The governor and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch visited with educators and students at the local technical college. Wisconsin is not on pace to add 250,000 private sector jobs by 2015 as Walker promised when he was elected. However, new businesses and schools such as Western will help more Wisconsin residents find work, Walker said.
“We’re still focused on that,” Walker said. “New jobs are going to come from small businesses, not big corporations.”
The governor toured Western and local offices for the Job Center of Wisconsin. The visit followed Walker’s proclamation of October as Manufacturing Month.
Kyle Larson, 21, took a break from his work at a vertical milling machine to talk to the governor. He started at Western’s machine tool program after struggling to find a job working on cars. Manufacturing work seemed to offer more opportunities to find work and move up the ladder, Larson said.
“I didn’t want to waste my time,” Larson said.
Lukas Bright, 19, saw the same type of job opportunities in welding. That’s partly what drew him to the field, the Western student said. He’s still in his first year, but already he’s already got work prospects.
“There’s hundreds of jobs available,” Bright said.
Western president Lee Rasch shared with the governor the local campus’ plans to add new facilities and take on more students. Voters passed an $80 million referendum last year for Western building upgrades, and work has already begun on some of the projects. Remodels and additions will create new learning opportunities for students who want to land a manufacturing job out of college, Rasch said.
“They’re looking for skilled workers,” Rasch said. “They want to know what we’re doing.”
Wisconsin added 24,305 jobs between March 2012 and March 2013, ranking 34th in the nation in job creation, according to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state added 72,710 jobs from when Walker took office until March, according to the bureau.
However, the state has added 11,000 new businesses under his leadership, and new businesses will help add more opportunities for Wisconsin workers, Walker said.
“We want to build off of our positive foundation and move the state forward,” Walker said.
Walker said his office has poured $100 million into workforce development. But direct state aid to Wisconsin’s technical colleges was held flat this year, and will increase by about $5 million next year. Western will also have more flexibility next year to use categorical grants from an existing $22 million pot of funding for worker training programs.
Worker training programs are a major focus for Wisconsin lawmakers, Walker said.
“As employers tell us as we go around the state, they have jobs,” Walker said. “We want to make sure we’re putting our money where it has the biggest impact.”
October 4, 2013
From wxow.com: “Partnership allows Western students to build “green” – La Crosse – Imagine saving up to 90% off your utility bill. Students at Western Technical College will build a home that efficient thanks to a new partnership.
Western, Mayo Clinic Health System, The Hillview Urban Ag Center, and the La Crosse Community Foundation are working together to deconstruct the old Hillview green houses and build in their place 3 energy efficient homes.
Organizers broke ground on the first home Thursday morning. The homes feature “passive” technology; a construction model that focuses on sustainability.
Western students from multiple programs will help build the homes. The first of which is expected to be finished early next year.
September 4, 2013
From wxow.com: “Classes back in session at Western Technical College” – Classes are back in session at Western Technical College.
The fall semester got underway Thursday to mark the beginning of a new school year.
Roughly 15-hundred full time students are enrolled at Western this semester.
This year’s fall class includes the first group of students to attend class under the new trimester schedule. Students in 10 programs now attend class year round.
To get the new year off to a fun start, the school handed out free ice cream to students and presented entertainment in the student center.
August 28, 2013
From wxow.com: “Jail educators prep for GED test changes” – Changes are coming to the GED test in Wisconsin that could make it harder to pass the high school equivalency exam.
Willa MacKenzie is the jail educator from Western Technical College. She works with inmates at the La Crosse County Jail, in an effort to help them complete their GED. In 2012 and 2013 about 40 percent of those who started the exam, successfully competed it.
“The thing about the jail setting is they don’t have that outside network of friends to deal with,” MacKenzie. “They don’t have the problems and the addictions in jail so it really is a nice clean, clear time for them to complete.”
Beginning January 1, there will be changes to the GED in the state of Wisconsin. The test will only be administered on a computer, so test takers must have basic keyboarding and computer skills. It will also be harder..and condensed in to four sections instead of five
“We’ve raised the level of things people need to be able to do,” said Chad Dull, the dean of instructional support services at Western Technical College. “There’s very little memorization, it’s more comprehension and being able to respond to text and make an argument.”
While the new test is more difficult, educators say those who successfully complete it are more prepared to continue their education or enter the workforce.
“On the current test, when you write you write a 5 paragraph essay based on a random prompt, which is not a very real world thing to do,” Dull said. “Now you’re going to read things and respond to them in writing which really mirrors more of what most of us do in the real world.”
Mackenzie says many of the inmates she works with have the skills to pass the exam, they just need to know how to apply them.
“What we’re looking for is them to understand something they read, understand what the argument is and use that argument to back up their opinion,” MacKenzie said. “And I think that’s what these people can do in real time and that’s what gets them ready for the work force. So I think those skills together that they already have on board, for survival skills, if we can channel those, they’re going to be good.”
Anyone in the jail interested in completing their GED is able to get in to the classroom 3 to 4 times a week. And Mackenzie says if you started the GED, you must finish before the new test in January, or you will have to start over.
August 19, 2013
From wxow.com: “Western program helps ex-offenders” – LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)– Western Technical College has a new initiative to help inmates transition to life outside of jail.
Western received a nearly $292,000 grant from the Federal Department of Education to aid a program geared toward helping inmates re-enter the community through education and social services.
For 15 years Western has provided educational opportunities in the jail but the new grant, called the Positive Re-entry Offered through Vocation-and Education-focused Narratives or PROVEN, goes beyond classes in jail.
Clifton just got his High school diploma, but the he didn’t take the typical route to graduation.
Clifton Traywick just got his High school diploma, but the he didn’t take the typical route to graduation.
“Partying, drinking and stuff, I got in some trouble ended up in jail. I did six months in jail,” Traywick said.
Clifton used those six months to get back on track, getting his GED and utilizing Western Technical College’s PROVEN program.
“People coming out of jail, while they’re in, will receive employability training through our education program, learn how to use the services that are available to them as they enter back in to the community,” said Chad Dull, dean of Learner Support and Transition at Western. “The intention of the grant is successful re-entry and for Western, hopefully transition to educational programs here at Western.”
To reduce the rate of re-offending, Western works not only with the La Crosse County Jail but other programs and groups like the YWCA, Justice Sanctions and Workforce Connections.
“Helping participants identify the resources that are in the community, to help them find housing if they have a felony, to help them maintain their sobriety in whatever capacity that looks like for those individuals, that’s definitely a huge part of this program,” said Tonya Vantol, the project coordinator.
Traywick says the program could reach a lot of inmates.
“It can help people not just as young as me, but people older too,” Traywick said. “Everybody needs help sometimes. People mess up and I feel like Western is a good way to get back on your feet.”
But it’s not just the inmates and ex-offenders reaping the benefits of Western’s program. The Proven Grant is working for the greater good of the community.
“It’s a fair question about why invest in people when they’re in jail. It’s always more cost effective to make sure people don’t go back to jail,” Dull said. “This is a way to turn tax users into tax payers. This is an investment in our community.”
The PROVEN grant is still in it’s infancy but already there are success stories like Clifton’s.
“I’m doing so well. I’m not hanging out with the same crowd, I’m not partying anymore. So I feel like, what can stop me?”
Clifton got out of jail a couple of weeks ago and is still utilizing the Proven program. He will begin classes at Western on Aug 29.
There were over 80 programs that applied for the grant with Western being one of just three selected. Western is the only program that serves a jail. The other two assist prison populations.
July 30, 2013
From wxow.com: “‘Active shooter’ training underway at UWL” – The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Western Technical College are teaming up this week to help first responders prepare for possible emergencies.
The “active shooter” training began Monday and runs through Thursday.
Kellie McElroy, Western’s law enforcement academy director, said UWL holds yearly, active shooter exercises. But she said this is the first year Western, which holds various tactical training classes of its own, is participating in UWL’s drills.
“Getting training for all the different public safety entities… that’s not something we get to do very often,” she said.
Law enforcement and emergency response officials from as far as Dane County are taking part in this week’s drills at UWL. Although McElroy said the bulk of the departments are from the Western Technical College area — covering La Crosse, Monroe, Jackson, Trempealeau and Vernon Counties.
Muddy Boots Tactical Training, a Florida security company specializing in emergency response, has been brought in to oversee the classes.
Mike Kilian, of Muddy Boots, said the active shooter training focuses not just on tracking down and disarming any potential shooters, but also on treating victims.
“If somebody is injured or shot, we don’t have time to let law enforcement clear the entire building before we can go in to help,” Kilian said. “So what we’re doing in this class is practicing escorting EMS personnel to the victims and extracting them while other teams are looking for the suspects inside the building.”
Kilian said it’s important to make the training as realistic as possible.
“You will react how you train,” he said. “If you have no formal training and don’t practice things, you’re not going to react very well.”
The training exercises are also expected to foster cooperation and collaboration between the various departments responding to various emergencies.
“You should all be training together,” Kilian said. “We get better results if we all train together because we all have the same goal: public safety.”
From wxow.com: “Demolition underway for Greenhouse Project and Learning Center” – La Crosse -Western Technical College has started demolition on their former residence hall on Vine Street, to make way for their greenhouse system and learning center.
The project on campus will provide space for Hillview Urban Agriculture Center, as well as for the college’s Landscape Horticulture program.
In July 2010, HUAC received a $25,000 grant from the La Crosse Community Foundation to develop a business plan for an urban agriculture center. That plan included: educating the community on growing, preparing and preserving nutritious foods, growing produce, and developing community-wide composting. However, the weight of the property mortgage, along with the age of facilities, created significant barriers to developing a financially sustainable plan.
Franciscan Healthcare has stepped up to financially assist HUAC with their current mortgage, teaming up with both Western and HUAC to provide community wellness programs focused on nutrition and physical activity.
“Western, along with the collaborative efforts of Mayo Clinic Health System and Hillview, will promote local food, healthy eating and sustainable practices through the new venture called Sustainability Institute,” said Lee Rasch, President of Western Technical College. “This is a component of our 10-year master plan, Vision 2020.”
As part of this new collaborative effort, a state-of-the-art, Urban Landscape and Agriculture Center, including an energy-efficient greenhouse will be constructed on Western’s campus at the corner of 7th and Vine Streets, where the former Ivy Motel and previous residence hall are located. Horticulture, landscape, science, agriculture and culinary programs will all reap the benefits of having the facility on the downtown campus. In addition, Hillview Urban Agriculture Center will be housed in this greenhouse, providing their mission with greater visibility and accessibility.
All three organizations believe this effort among educators, growers and health care is another step to improve the health and well-being of individuals and the communities they serve.
Demolition will last approximately 2 weeks. Construction will begin in late 2013 or early 2014, with completion in 2014.
From huffingtonpost.com: “From Wisconsin to Africa: Technical education translates to lives saved” — By Lee Rasch, president Western Technical College - Healthcare facilities in Cameroon need much more than staff with medical training. This third world country needs to link clinics isolated by thick rainforest, desert, and rugged terrain. Sharing medical expertise via a reliable connection could mean the difference between life and death. Recognizing that need was the first step in what would be a three-year, 6,400-mile journey to another country.
Picture this: two women from West-Central Africa, neither with a technology background, given an opportunity to study computer networking in the United States, with a goal of returning to their homeland to set up a viable network serving 16 hospitals and clinics in this remote land.
That mental image briefly summarizes the challenge facing Sister Kathleen Shela and Sister Virgilia Zamah of the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis in Cameroon.
Five years ago, both women were working in clerical positions. Neither had any formal education beyond the secondary level, nor any technology background. But when they were invited by their Provincial Superior to study computer networking at Western Technical College, they embraced the opportunity.
To be certain, this was a rapid and unexpected change in their career plans. And neither was familiar with the plans to embed computer technology into the operations of the extensive hospital and clinic network operated by the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis in Cameroon and parts of Nigeria and the Central African Republic. But they did agree to accept the challenge.
Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is a far cry from Cameroon. However, the college had prior connections with the Tertiary Sisters, providing instruction in dental assisting and basic education. The college offered the opportunity for these two sisters to study in La Crosse and pledged to raise the scholarship funds needed for their education.
Sister Kathleen arrived first in January of 2009. She was joined by Sister Virgilia in the fall of that year. Both sisters started with a basic education skills refresher in their first semester. Both acknowledged that there was a culture shock of sorts. In fact, Virgilia said she was on the verge of returning to Cameroon before her first semester ended. They faced such a rapid redirection in their lives, in an unfamiliar field of study and in a foreign country (with cold winters). And the task ahead seemed so daunting.
Despite a literacy rate on the higher end by African standards, Cameroon is clearly a third world nation with massive poverty, a high rate of HIV and other diseases, and huge gaps in infrastructure. In spite of these challenges, both women persevered. They received positive encouragement from the La Crosse-based Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and a number of faculty and staff members at Western.
They credit their many new found friends in La Crosse for their success so far. Both credit Western faculty member Don Thesing with incredible instructional leadership and technical assistance. Don helped them acquire donated materials and assemble two servers (as a class project). The servers were shipped (shipping to Cameroon is a whole story in itself!) to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to serve as the backbone for the Shisong-based flagship facility.
Recognize that these two women are smart and very capable. But, their story also involves courage and incredible determination. They both graduated in 2012 – Kathleen with associate’s degrees in computer networking and office technology support, and Virgilia with an associate’s degree in computer networking. Both became members of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for community and technical college students. And both are now back in Cameroon at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, hard at work in advancing their project.
I feel the world will be learning more about these two wonderful women. Their work is really just beginning.
From wxow.com: “State budget outlines K-12 funding” – Governor Walker made a stop at Western Technical College Monday, as part of what he’s calling his “Working for Wisconsin Tour.” The governor’s speech focused on the newly signed budget and what he sees as the benefits for the state, including a $650 million income tax cut. The budget also includes K-12 education funding for the next two years.
“We want to continue to transform education in this state so we put more money in our public schools, about $300 per student over the next two years, in our public schools,” Gov. Walker said. “We provide more educational options for our families.”
All Democrats in the Senate and Assembly voted against the budget, in part because the K-12 education funding. Rather than $300 dollars per pupil over the two years, Democrats hoped for close to $550 per, money they say could have come from other portions of the budget.
“We don’t think that the income tax break is a really logical thing because most people won’t even notice the couple dollars a week that it’s going to benefit them,” said Rep. Steve Doyle, a Democrat from 94th Assembly District. “That money we think would have better gone to K-12 education so that we really can fund our schools to the level they need to be funded. Talking with my local school superintendents, they’re not sure what they’re going to do to make ends meet in this next budget.”
But the governor says schools are finding ways to operate within their state mandated means, citing a Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism report released last week, that shows many districts in the state maintained the same amount of full time staffers or close to it over the last few years. The governor says the funding Democrats wanted just wasn’t in the numbers.
“The last time the Democrats had control of the budget process, they raised taxes more than $1 billion, they raised taxes via local property taxes, and they still cut money from public education,” Gov. Walker said.
Still it’s not all disagreement between the two parties, one portion of the budget garnering bipartisan support is a two-year tuition freeze for UW-System. Both the governor and Rep. Doyle say that will be boost for students and the state.
During the Assembly budget debate, Democrats didn’t bring up any amendments. Rep. Doyle says Republican leadership told the caucus they would reject the democrats proposed changes anyway. Rep. Doyle says instead, they will bring up the reforms in various pieces of legislation next session.
June 21, 2013
From lacrossetribune.com: “Western breaks ground on $4.1 million addition” – Western Technical College officials broke ground Thursday on a $4.1 million addition for training diesel and heavy equipment technicians.
It is the first project to get underway from Western’s $80 million referendum in the fall. The referendum is slated to fund six major building projects, including extensive remodeling to the Coleman and Kumm centers, and the college’s technology building.
College officials expect to support an extra 1,000 students with the new spaces funded through the referendum.
The 20,000-square-foot training addition begun Thursday in La Crosse includes more classrooms and more space for teaching students in-demand technical skills, according to the college.
The revamped Truck and Heavy Equipment Facility is scheduled to be finished next spring and open to students in the fall.
The new building will also house Western’s new compressed natural gas training program, funded by a grant from the state’s tech college system.
June 19, 2013
From wxow.com: “Western Tech. College praises Doyle/Nerison assembly bill” – An administrator at Western Technical College praised a bill that recently passed the Wisconsin State Assembly Tuesday.
From wxow.com: “Local law enforcement undergo tactical emergency medical training” – LA CROSSE – Police officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs responded to a mass casualty shooting drill at Western Technical College, Sunday.
It was part of a 40-hour tactical emergency medical support course led by Waukesha County Technical College instructors.
Sunday’s drills included a mass casualty shooting and a downed officer.
“In a mass casualty situation there’s a triage situation that has to happen,” said Jim Hillcoat a La Crosse firefighter and paramedic. He’s taking part in the class.
“There was a danger in the scenario we just did that wasn’t mitigated yet – or we weren’t sure it was mitigated. So, that needed to be dealt with and you have people who need help medically that have traumatic injuries,” Hillcoat said.
The course teaches first responders how to utilize military and emergency medicine under the threat of gunfire, for example, the shootings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and the Azana Spa in Brookfield, Wis.
Tactical EMS Instructor Chad Stiles responded to the Azana Spa shooting.
“You never think it’s gonna happen in our community but when it does, we need to really be prepared to give the best response,” Stiles said.
That’s why he’s training law enforcement and EMS to work together in dangerous situations.
“Usually they operate side-by-side, but they’re working independently of each other,” Stiles said. “This class kind of brings them together like a marriage, almost, and teaches them each others objectives.”
The Tactical EMS class is funded by the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance and Wisconsin Hospital Emergency Preparedness.
Upon completing the course, EMS responders can submit their training record to the state and get a tactical EMS endorsement with their license, Stiles said.
June 17, 2013
From lacrossetribune.com: “Baldwin tours Western, talks jobs, economy” – Sen. Tammy Baldwin toured Western Technical College on Friday to talk jobs and learn about the school’s efforts to bolster the Coulee Region’s workforce.
During her first visit to the La Crosse tech college as a United States senator, Baldwin said she was also reaching out to similar institutions to learn about their partnerships with local businesses, and how those collaborations can spur the economy.
“At this point in our economic recovery, that is just one of the keys,” Baldwin said.
The La Crosse area showed the best yearly job increases in 2012 since the recession, including growth in the health care and leisure industries, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.
Nearly 93 percent of Western’s 2010-11 school year graduates were able to find jobs, including 85 percent who found jobs in Wisconsin, according to a survey by the college.
Western officials tailor the school’s offerings to what local employers need, but the college also provides training programs for local businesses.
Shelley Ellingson, training coordinator for Northern Engraving, toured campus with Baldwin.
Her company used state grant funding to bring in Western and train staff. Western’s training programs helped improve the relationship between management and workers, and increased efficiency, Ellingson said.
“I think it’s helped our supervisors apply some soft skills when working with employers on the floor,” Ellingson said.
Baldwin mentioned her work on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and credited tech colleges for being an alternative option for high school graduates who don’t have the time or money for a four-year university degree.
“Some are going to try to fit into a career as soon as possible,” Baldwin said.
Western’s successful $80 million referendum last year will help the college to update and expand school buildings and crank out more students. New spaces also mean improved training for a future workforce, Western President Lee Rasch said.
“It’s just going to be better for students,” Rasch said.
Baldwin toured Western’s facilities, including the current heating and ventilation training center, which will eventually move to the new $32.6 million applied technology center.
Baldwin called Western a school on the “eve of transformation,” after seeing a computer image rendering of the new technology center. Instead of dim, cramped corners of the old HVAC space, the images showed a building filled with windows and natural light.
“Look at how different that is from what we walked through,” Baldwin said, evoking laughs from a small audience of Western officials and representatives from local businesses. “This is really exciting for me.”
Baldwin also lamented Congress’ inability to find timely solution to a looming rate hike in federal student loans. Rates on Stafford loans might double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent unless lawmakers can agree on a fix.
Lawmakers took until the 11th hour crafting a bipartisan solution to the same problem last year, and that could be the case again this year, Baldwin said.
Meanwhile, college students are “struggling with enormous debts,” Baldwin said. “It’s such a critical issue.”
May 9, 2013
From lacrossetribune.com: “State officials pitch apprenticeship program” – What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question asked of every child, and the answers aren’t encouraging for manufacturers.
“Wisconsin is facing a skilled workers gap,” said Jonathan Barry, deputy secretary of the state Department of Workforce Development. “We constantly run into business owners that are having trouble filling skilled positions.”
Barry visited Trane’s Engineering Technology Center in La Crosse on Wednesday to promote the state’s apprenticeship program, a state-school-employer partnership that aims to increase the pool of skilled workers.
“Employers want to hire people who have experience,” Western Technical College President Lee Rasch said, which leaves applicants wondering, “If you don’t have experience, how do you get experience?”
The apprenticeship program allows employers to target promising candidates and offer their own on-the-job training combined with classroom study. Workers get trained while earning wages; the average apprentice made $161,000 during their tenure, which lasts between two and six years.
Here’s how the program works:
The DWD lays out core training and job experience standards for several industries and then customizes the process for each employer. Employees spend about 80 percent of their time on the job and 20 percent in theoretical classroom training, usually provided by the Wisconsin Technical College System.
But sometimes there’s just not interest.
“There’s a mantra that manufacturing is dumb, dirty,” Barry said. “It’s simply not the case. It’s not just bending metal all the time.”
Begun in 1911, the program is nothing new in Wisconsin, but it’s taking on new urgency as more companies lament a skilled worker shortage.
Enrollment dipped by about a third, down to about 10,000, in the past decade, a slide that mirrored general economic trends.
A Georgetown University study found that the skills gap will leave almost a million jobs vacant, most of which already exist and would need refilling after retirements.
A recent La Crosse School District survey cited by Rasch found that only 2 percent of students planned to pursue manufacturing careers.
“Everyone has a dream of going to college,” the district’s Career and Technical Education Coordinator Annette O’Hern said. “And when you have a dream of going to college you don’t think about manufacturing.”
Much of Wednesday’s event focused on finding ways to introduce manufacturing to students in middle school and high school.
“I really believe that’s where it’s at,” Trane’s La Crosse plant manager Brad Tacheny said.
Barry emphasized that the program isn’t trying to squelch four-year colleges but offer a realistic, necessary alternative to the “college paradigm.”
“We need to expose young people to the full range of their choices as early as possible,” he said.
The La Crosse School District is hoping to ramp up that exposure. They plan to introduce an Engineering Academy — also covering manufacturing and architecture — next year. The academy will partner with Trane to provide real-life context and expose kids to manufacturing plants.
The district already offers classes in welding and manufacturing, but they’re not always popular.
“We can’t always get a lot of students interested,” O’Hern said. “We’d like that number to be bigger.”
Parents worry about job security and have encouraged children to pursue white-collar studies and a traditional four-year education.
Karen Morgan, director of the Bureau of Apprentice Standards, called on businesses to take initiative.
“We don’t have enough employers that are actually using the apprenticeship programs to train,” she said.
Barry said schools and state programs shouldn’t be the only ones reaching out to students.
“We in the business community need to be doing some of that,” he said.
The apprenticeship program isn’t just for manufacturing. It offers three trade sectors — construction, industrial/manufacturing, and service, which cover careers from plumbing to cosmetology.
The continuing education helps reinforce that such careers have advancement options, Morgan said.
“It’s only the beginning of their career,” she said. “It’s not a dead end.”
From wpr.org: “La Crosse college will building homes with advanced energy efficiency” – Western Technical College will soon be building three “passive homes”: buildings with a rare design that significantly reduces the amount of energy use.
A La Crosse neighborhood filled with quaint, single-family houses will become the home for three new, three-bedroom passive houses. In a passive house, heating energy usage can be reduced up to 90 percent. The wall insulation is much thicker than what’s found in a standard home.
Western Technical College architectural technology instructor Mike Poellinger says the air tight windows play a key role in the design.
“The windows actually become part of the heat source. We have a great amount of window glazing on the southern exposure as we’re collecting that heat. It’s minimized on the northern exposure; usually it’s there for lighting a stairwell or secondary lighting, and we minimize on the east and west.”
Poellinger says passive homes are quieter since they don’t have active heaters.
Western is hiring a contractor to start building the first passive home this summer. Western building system technology instructor Josh VandeBerg says students and instructors will be able to study the home as it’s built.
“We’re on this lesson here, talking about air tightness. Ding! Let’s go to the passive house and take a look at it in action. Not only is this house bringing my students to the passive house and the community to the passive house, but it’s also an opportunity to for my students to learn some of the very principles we’re talking about in the classroom.”
The Western Technical College Foundation will sell the homes. There are two other certified passive homes in Wisconsin.
May 6, 2013
From wxow.com: “A walk in the shoes of a dementia patient” — More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. The number could rise to as many as 16 million by 2050.
Alzheimer’s is the largest category of dementia. Dementia is not a disease, but a term used to describe symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. Seven of 10 Alzheimer’s patients live at home, but many caregivers aren’t equipped to deal with the symptoms.
In the Coulee Region, The Alzheimer’s Association provides assistance to families.
“I think it’s definitely a difficult disease for caregivers to understand because it effects every person differently,” said Brett Williams of The Alzheimer’s Association. “So someone can learn about Alzheimer’s Disease, but until you really learn how each person is going through it, there’s no way to really understand it.”
At Western Technical College, students entering healthcare fields have a tool allowing them to walk in the shoes of a dementia patient. The virtual dementia tour is part of an Alzheimer’s training course. Participants are asked to perform simple tasks but with limitations that simulate those of a person suffering from dementia.
“It helps the worker communicate effectively and communicate appropriately,” said Linda Schneider, an adjunct instructor at Western.
The course limits all your senses, from sight to motor skills to hearing, so even listening to the instructions is difficult. There are even inserts in the participants shoes to create a pins and needles sensation dementia patients experience.
“Dementia is not normal aging at all,” Schneider said. “Dementia is a problem happening in the brain. It’s a disease within the brain.”
And it’s a common disease, according to the National Institute on Aging, half of those over 85 suffer from some type of dementia.
“One thing I learned on the dementia virtual tour was how confused I was,” said Jacquelyn Ross, a Western student who went through the simulation. “I just couldn’t’ believe how much was really going on and then still expected to act like a normal person.”
Experiencing just how frustrating it can be to just fold a sheet, helps caregivers understand the struggles their patient faces.
“A lot of people need to know,” Ross said. “Not enough people know.”
Despite being told exactly what to do and having an instruction sheet, when News 19′s Kristen Barbaresi only managed to do one of the five tasks correctly. She set the table for two instead of four, filled both glasses instead of just one and wrote a letter about her family, instead of a letter to her family.
“Help with the expectation that they have of working with a person that’s got these kinds of cognitive impairments as well as impairments of aging with hearing and feeling,” Schneider said.
27 percent of Alzheimer’s patients suffer from minor depression and 22 percent have major depression and the course helps participants understand why.
“I’ve put myself in their shoes,” Ross said. “You know that there’s no cutting corners. It’s just what it is.”
The Alzheimer’s course is funded by the Bridges to Healthcare grant Western received in 2011. The course is the result of feedback from employers who said personal care workers need more training in dementia, especially with the aging population.
The course isn’t only helpful for students. The idea is expanding to the community and professions dealing with the elderly.
“We’re looking at doing some additional training in the next year,” said Sandra Schultz, Bridges to Healthcare Grant coordinator. “We’re doing a foundation course with the Alzheimer’s association. And we’re also looking at doing specific training with various groups such as the law enforcement and we’re looking at the EMT group.”
April 24, 2013
From wxow.com: “Western Technical College holds annual dumpster dive” – Four years ago staff and students from Western Technical College started dumpster diving to see just how effective their recycling program was.
The idea was to find out how much recyclable material is being thrown in the regular trash. They found a lot of recyclables that first year but they have found less each year since then.
The schools says every year they find new ways to improve the recycling program which allows them to save money on hauling away garbage, money that could be used in the classroom.
“The things that I’ve noticed over the last few years is that the majority of the garbage is turning into hand towels. So that’s one of the things we’re working on right now is how we can reduce the amount of hand towels we use,” says Mike Pieper, VP Finance and Operations at Western.
Mike said this is not only the right things to do environmentally but socially and financially as well.
From lacrossetribune.com: “Students could lose test scores in GED change; Western offering help” – Tabitha Bohnert aims high. The 25-year-old La Crosse resident is intent on finishing her GED, with plans to continue on to college and become a social worker.
After more than four years of school, Bohnert needs to finish just one more test in the GED’s lengthy five-test battery before she can move on to the next stage in her education.
She’ll have to take it soon. The test will be administered on computers beginning next year, and students who haven’t completed all five batteries will have to start from scratch.
“I heard that everyone is going to lose their test scores,” Bohnert said. “I figured it’s best to complete it now.”
More than 1,300 Western Technical College students are in the midst of taking the test, which measures proficiency in math, reading, literature, science and English. About 43,000 students in Wisconsin need to finish the GED by the end of the year or face starting over.
The last time the test changed was in 2002. The American Council on Education, the group that owns the exam, wants to make sure GED students are meeting today’s standards for college and career readiness, said Beth Lewis, state administrator for the GED and high school equivalency diplomas.
Not only will the test become strictly computer-based, old content will be swapped out in favor of new questions. The new material will be based on the same national standards used in K-12 classrooms. The so called “Common Core” curriculum controls what lessons are taught in core subjects such as math and reading.
The test format is also changing. One of the five sections in the current GED exam is an essay question, but the new test will be four sections, with written responses included.
The new way requires more analysis, said Chad Dull, dean of instructional support services at Western.
“It’s a much more authentic way to learn,” Dull said. “We think that this new test will be better.”
Changes to the test will ripple all the way down to the classroom.
“You’re going to be spending more time on reading and writing persuasively,” Lewis said.
Programs that offer the GED will also need to prepare older test-takers on how to use computers.
The last day to take the GED in its current form at Western is Dec. 13.
Western officials are offering extra GED test dates before the update. They’ve also sent out mailers and hung posters in an effort to warn students of the deadline.
Students sometimes avoid the tests because they are nervous, or because of a hectic personal life, said Karla Walker, math and science instructor for Western’s instructional support services.
“My biggest concern is they won’t come in,” Walker said.
But Western is trying to speed up the testing process. Students who want to finish quickly can sign up for a two-week “fast track” program in May and August that includes prep time, practice tests and the entire five-course battery of exams.
“Give us a little bit of your time,” Walker said. “And we will help you there.”
April 11, 2013
From lacrossetribune.com: “Welding institute launching bigger lab” – A local initiative to train skilled welders has received monetary boosts and will have a bigger lab and more participants when its first regular session begins next month.
The Welding Skills Institute is using a combined $80,000 it received from Jackson County and the Black River Falls School District to expand its BRF High School-based lab and, in turn, welcome more participants.
The initiative, started last year in an effort to fill a growing local need for skilled welders, will begin its first regular session May 13 with nearly double the number of participants it had in each of its two pilot sessions.
“I’m super excited about it,” said BRF High School Principal Tom Chambers, who helped launch the institute. “I think it’s a great example of collaboration between the school, county, businesses and the community.
“The project is, by far, the biggest collaborative project I’ve worked on.”
The effort to launch the Welding Skills Institute began when Nelson Global Products welding engineer Paul Schulz approached Chambers to use high school welding lab space to test new company applicants.
That push showed there weren’t many qualified applicants for welding jobs in the area, and soon representatives from local businesses, Western Technical College, Jackson County Treatment Court and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections began collaborating to launch the institute to fill the local need.
The institute trains participants in basic wire feed welding skills through welding, blueprint reading and math curriculum that are necessary for jobs at manufacturing companies like Nelson Global Products and D&S Manufacturing.
“I think it’s an excellent start. It’s a real short-term, high-intensity program that hopefully someday will expand into longer terms and more technical topics,” said Schulz, who will accept a 2013 Business Friends of Education award from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for Nelson’s work on the institute.
“I think we’re off to a really excellent start.”
The Welding Skills Institute received $50,000 in Ho-Chunk Nation funds through Jackson County last fall and $30,000 from the BRF School District to allow it to update the lab. Nelson and D&S Manufacturing also have donated materials and equipment throughout the program’s tenure.
Work on the BRF High School technical education classrooms spurred by the monetary contributions has allowed the institute to expand from seven welding booths to 13, which are about one-third bigger than their original size.
That will allow more students to enroll in the first regular 10-week session next month, including five spots for high school students interested in higher-level welding, three spots for Ho-Chunk Nation participants and the rest for Jackson County Treatment Court participants and placements through the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Officials hope to hold four 10-week sessions a year now that the expansion is taking place and the pilot period is complete. They are pursuing a grant to create a mobile classroom equipped for computerized numerical control training, a skill in demand and a natural extension of basic welding, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Lister said.
They also hope the institute will remain a presence in the community for the indefinite future.
“I’ve been impressed with the collaborative effort by Western Technical College, (the Department of Corrections), principal Tom Chambers at Black River Falls High School, as well as the willingness of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors and the Black River Falls School Board to fund substantial expansions and improvements of the welding institute,” said Lister, who also assisted in the program’s launch.
Chambers said community collaboration has been an integral part of the program and commended the work of Nelson, D&S and other local entities.
He said it’s appropriate Nelson was recognized through the Department of Public Instruction award.
“Nelson has been very supportive of the whole process,” Chambers said. “They’ve been good partners to work with.”