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Youth Apprenticeship leads to technical college

After years of lagging behind other districts, the Youth Apprenticeship program in Oshkosh is getting a push from the school district and chamber of commerce to offer high school students work experience in a variety of careers.

The Oshkosh Area School District hasn’t historically had a strong apprenticeship program, because the curriculum wasn’t developed enough to meet their requirements or there weren’t employers to sponsor them.

Still, businesses in Oshkosh have consistently been involved in employing students through cooperative education programs, or co-ops, Julie Mosher, OASD director of curriculum and assessment, said. The youth apprenticeship program asks them to take that partnership to the next level.

Wisconsin’s YA program is part of a statewide school-to-work initiative and integrates school-based and work-based learning. Students are simultaneously enrolled in academic classes and employed locally under the supervision of a skilled, worksite mentor.

Oshkosh’s effort to expand apprenticeships comes at the same time that Gov. Scott Walker is pushing to increase funding for the programs. Walker announced in January that Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship, or YA, program would receive additional grants totaling more than $226,000, and Cooperative Educational Services Agency 6 in Oshkosh received $18,747 of those funds.

CESA 6 serves 42 schools in seven counties to coordinate programs and services between schools, districts and the state.

Tania Kilpatrick, CESA 6 career and technical education coordinator, said YA is an important opportunity for students to test drive a career.

“When you’re looking at a workforce, economics, building the pipeline of future employees,” she said. “Any opportunity that you can give kids options for education I think is important.”

Changes to the requirements for apprenticeship programs have changed, while the district’s strategic plan has an increased focus on ensuring students are college, career and community ready.

“With the new checklist and the new requirements that matched our curriculum and matched our philosophy a lot better,” Mosher said. “We felt that we could possibly start getting employers to match up with it.”

With that in mind, the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce stepped in to help create partnerships with local businesses.

Two apprenticeships were recently secured with Bergstrom Automotive.

Hands-on learning

Marc Stanga, a senior at Oshkosh West, is an apprentice at the Bergstrom GM division in Oshkosh. He works for a few hours each day after school and on Saturdays, where he’s learning alongside a mentor to become a GM-certified auto technician.

So far the 17-year-old has learned how to do oil and headlight changes, check fluids and more.

“It’s teaching me the basics of being an auto mechanic,” Stanga said, adding the mentor has been a key part to what he’s learning.

Stanga plans to attend Fox Valley Technical College, where he’s enrolled in the GM program.

“My whole life I’ve wanted to be an auto mechanic,” he said. He thinks the youth apprenticeship will be a big help to getting a job in the future and hopes to receive a scholarship from the program as well.

Stanga said he’s loving his apprenticeship because it’s really hands on.

“It’s like a paid internship,” he said. “You really can see if you really like to do what you were planning on doing.”

Stanga is also working on live cars in a lab at West for the curriculum part of his apprenticeship.

The college-level learning uses standards for 11 different areas that are put out from the national Automotive Service Excellence Certification, Mark Boushele, transportation technology instructor at West, said.

“The homework is all right in front of you,” he said. “So you actually see … the progress that you’re doing and working with.”

Apprenticeships have benefits for both students and employers.

Students gain a valuable, real-world connections between the curriculum and work. There’s no bad internship experience because of the skills one learns during it, Mosher and Patti Andresen-Shew, Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce education and workforce coordinator, said.

Even if students end up not wanting to go into the career, it teaches the importance of showing up on time, flexibility and adaptability, as well as how to work under pressures and stress, Mosher said. Plus, learning they don’t like something can be just as important.

A long-term investment

YA is a heavier load for both students and employers than co-ops because of the mentorship requirement and need to complete a checklist of requirements laid out by the state. Many different scheduling factors have to line up in order for it to work, Mosher said, which is why co-ops have worked out better in Oshkosh in the past.

Juniors and seniors have to apply for the program, and then they have to nail an interview with the employer to get the position. The courses for the program have to fit with the high schools’ schedules, and that has to line up with lab, clinical or work schedules. Students also need to complete a certain amount of hours working on the job.

“All these stars have to align,” Mosher said.

Though it’s a commitment for employers to train, mentor and pay the students, in many cases it’s a long-term investment.

The State Department of Workforce Development said 85 percent of YA students are offered jobs at the end of apprenticeships, which can be more effective than finding workers through recruiters or advertising. Employers have said it also inspires current employees to be even better workers.

“We like to hire locally and have had great success hiring people early in their work life, who can then learn and become a part of our culture and grow with our company over the course of their career,” Tim Bergstrom, President and COO of Bergstrom Automotive, said in a statement.

“The Chamber and our local school system have come together to provide us with a unique opportunity to find just this type of candidate to become a potential long-term team member,” Bergstrom said.

YA is not limited to any one kind of career or student, Mosher said. There’s room for all Oshkosh students, whether they go on to a two or four-year school, into the military or directly into the workforce.

Mosher and Shew would like to see the program expand to include more career paths. Agriculture, communications, tourism, and information technology are just some of the possible programs listed on the Department of Workforce Development website.

Shew and Mosher are actively looking for more employers to participate in YA, as well as students who want to explore their interests in an apprenticeship setting.

Career exploration is the most important aspect of YA, they said.

“We want our students to explore their career options and have a plan,” she said. “That plan may change, but at least they have a plan and they’ve done some thinking behind it.”

Read more: From thenorthwestern.com: "Oshkosh schools working to build apprenticeship program"

Workforce Paradox conference coming to tech colleges

Wisconsin continues to battle the workforce paradox – high unemployment, yet employers desperately seeking qualified workers.

The WMC Foundation, in partnership with the Wisconsin Technical College System and all 16 Technical Colleges, is proud to highlight current workplace solutions and an early preview of a new initiative to establish a 20-year strategic plan for the state called – The Future Wisconsin Project.

Each session will include a panel presentation on innovative practices in K-12, college programming, and customized business solutions followed by discussion. There will be an optional college tour at some sites immediately following the program.

February 17 – Gateway Technical College, Kenosha.

February 19 – Fox Valley Technical College, Appleton.

February 21 – Blackhawk Technical College, Janesville.

February 25 – Western Technical College, La Crosse.

February 26 – Milwaukee Area Technical College.

March 3 – Northcentral Technical College, Wausau.

March 4 – Waukesha County Technical College.

March 6 – Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire.

March 7 – Indianhead Technical College, Rice Lake.

March 11 – Nicolet Technical College, Rhinelander.

March 13 – Mid-State Technical College, Wisconsin Rapids.

March 14 – Lakeshore Technical College, Cleveland.

March 17 – Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Green Bay.

March 18 – Moraine Park Technical College, Fond du Lac.

March 21 – Southwest Technical College, Fennimore.

March 27 – Madison College.

The cost to attend is $30/person; $20/person for WMC and/or local chamber members.

To register or for more information call 608.258.3400 or visit www.wmc.org.

Read more: From hngnews.com: "Workforce Paradox conference comes to Madison March 27"

MSTC honors students in centennial celebration

Two farmers from Mid-State Technical College’s agriculture programs were recently selected to receive Centennial Merit Awards.

Kevin Spindler of Farm Business and Production Management and Trevor Peterson of the Farm Operation program earned the recognition last month.

“In honor of 100 years of technical education in central Wisconsin, the MSTC community wanted to provide special recognition to students within each of its 50-plus program who have demonstrated commitment to their education,” said MSTC Foundation and Alumni Director Chris Maguire.

The funds were provided by the MSTC Foundation Board of Directors.

Students were selected based on academics, attendance and leadership within the program, college and community.

Seeing the benefits

Spindler, who farms near Stratford, admits he wasn’t thrilled four years ago when he found out he’d be required to go back to school as a condition of a Farm Service Agency loan.

“I was forced to do it and didn’t know if I was going to get much out of the schooling or not,” Spindler said.

His father, Russ, who had studied production agriculture when he started farming in the 1970s, gave him a bit of advice.

“He said you’re going to get out of school what you put into it,” Spindler recalled. “So I went into it with an open mind.”

Now in his fourth year of the Farm Business and Production Management program, Spindler said he’s been pleasantly surprised.

The program, which spans six years, is designed for those already operating a farm and focuses on ways to maximize profits.

“Basically one year is for the beginning farmers, to get them up to speed in all agricultural areas,” instructor Mike Sabel said. “The succeeding five years each cover a specific topic, and those are soils, crops, nutrition, livestock management and finance.”

Students meet at remote locations throughout the technical college area for about three hours on one evening every other week.

“We have 10 classes a year over a period of 20 to 22 weeks in October through March,” he said.

Sabel stays connected with students through the summer with individual on-farm visits.

Spindler said the network he’s grown through class has been one of its biggest benefits.

“We glean a lot of ideas off each other,” he said. “Class is always an interesting experience, and everybody in class seems to have a real genuine open-door policy.”

Spindler milks 75 cows and raises 170 acres of crops on his Marathon County farm, which has been in his family for more than a century.

“Four years ago I started buying the cows and personal property from my parents,” Spindler said. “Last April I purchased the real estate.”

Spindler said he hopes to eventually retrofit a parlor in his tie-stall barn and build a free-stall to grow the herd to 150 or 200 head.

His brother, Ryan, is also active on the farm.

Spindler said his Mid-State classes have shown him the many options he has as he looks to the future.

“It’s been a great way to learn about different setups and what I can do differently,” he said.

Spindler and his fiancée, Beth Kolbeck, have two children, a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, and are expecting a third addition in mid-February.

“Our hope is the kids may want to be a part of this someday,” he said. “If they do, we’ll grow to accommodate them.”

As for his merit award, Spindler said he was shocked to be chosen out of all the students in his program. He was surprised with the award as he walked into class one evening after rushing to get there after chores.

“If I’d known I was getting my picture taken, I’d have cleaned up a bit,” he joked.

Sabel said Spindler exemplifies the kind of student he likes to have in his program.

“He’s very open to information and really weighs the information he’s given to make the best decision possible,” Sabel said.

More importantly, Spindler isn’t shy about sharing what he’s learned with others.

“That’s how the entire program works so well,” said Sabel, a 25-year veteran of Farm Business and Production Management. “It’s that network they develop with other farmers that makes it so successful.”

Future of agriculture

Peterson, 20, farms with his parents, Dave and Cindy Peterson, near Marshfield.

He and his older brother, Michael, hope to gradually take over the farm, where they milk 75 cows and run 400 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa.

“We plan on expanding the herd next year and building a barn,” Peterson said, adding their current setup is a stanchion barn.

Though he doesn’t have any solid plans, Peterson said he’s considered investing in robotic milkers someday.

“One day it would be cool to have them,” he said. “They need to advance and get their flaws figured out first,” he said.

Though he grew up on the farm, Peterson said the knowledge he’s gained during the two-year Farm Operation Program — like his insight into robotics — has been invaluable.

The 36-week program, which takes a minimum of two years to complete, focuses on day-to-day farm operations. Each segment is broken into three six-week terms, running from November to April every school year. Classes are from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., working around chore schedules.

“It gives a great overview of everything that has to do with farming, from animal nutrition to crops and pesticides, manure credits,” he said. “It has helped me a lot.”

Peterson was surprised to hear he’d been selected to receive the merit award.

“I had no clue,” he said. “I just walked into class one day and there was this big check.”

Each of the students receiving merit awards were given $100.

Program instructor Teri Raatz said Peterson has received a number of other post-secondary scholarships during the past two years he has been in the Farm Operation Program.

“Trevor is not only an excellent student, he is also a respectful and responsible young man,” Raatz said. “He is always on time and willing to put his best effort forward in and out of class.”

Peterson was an active member of the Marshfield FFA.

“He has carried his passion for agriculture through his post-secondary studies also,” Raatz said. “He is a wonderful example of what the future of agriculture looks like.”

Read more: From thecountrytoday.com: "Mid-State Technical College honors students in centennial celebration"

Sen. Tammy Baldwin tours Madison College touts GREEN Act

By Ryan Whisner – U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin visited Madison Area Technical College campuses in both Fort Atkinson and Madison Friday to discuss her new legislation aimed at job training and workforce readiness for high-skilled jobs in clean energy.

The Grants for Renewable Energy Education for the Nation (GREEN) Act allocates competitive grant funding for clean energy career- and technical-training programs so that students are better trained for post-secondary education and better equipped for the high-skilled “green collar” jobs of the future.

“I’m excited about it because we know this is an area where there is job growth that is outperforming job growth throughout the United States,” Baldwin said.

She said more than 3 million Americans are employed in the growing green collar workforce, including in clean energy and sustainability. That is more than the number of people working in the fossil fuel industry, and twice as many as those employed in the biotech industry.

Additionally, Baldwin noted that the jobs created in the clean energy economy pay better than the average American job, with compensation rates 13-percent higher than the national average.

“What the GREEN act focuses on is partnerships between secondary schools and post-secondary schools to actually plant the seed of the potential of these careers earlier,” the senator said.

Both through her campaign for U.S. Senate and as a senator, Baldwin said, she has traveled the state visiting manufacturing and other sites where inspiring things are happening.

Specifically, she recalled visiting manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and other green energy sources.

“I talk at these sites about the employment future,” Baldwin said. “One of the things I hear frequently are that the local high school students are looking elsewhere and are not necessarily planning to have careers in the industries that have supported their communities for generations.”

The senator noted that a lot of people are saying that the conversation has to start earlier, even in middle school.

“We’re seeing some really promising outcomes when the conversation does start earlier,” she said, citing examples of schools that have added curriculum through which students can earn technical college or university credit and others that have started energy efficiency and renewable energy class work.

“Part of the bill I’ve introduced focuses on that type of continuing curriculum,” Baldwin said. “It would begin earlier and provide opportunities to expose people at a younger age to the advanced industry around them and the green energy job possibilities and really to establish partnerships between the high schools and technical colleges of our state.”

The bill also provides opportunities for technical schools or high schools to upgrade their own energy systems to serve as model training facilities.

Baldwin said the intention is for students to be able to be actively involved in the installation and maintenance and analysis of how effective the systems are as part of their green collar career tracks.

“It becomes a teaching and learning opportunity,” she said, noting that in some cases, the students write the grants. “We think it is an exciting way to get young people interested at an earlier age.”

Baldwin said her purpose in introducing the bill was to help address the ongoing economic issues.

“There is no greater challenge for our nation or for our state than to get our economy back to full strength,” the senator said. “We know the hits we’ve taken in recent years, whether it’s recession-based or because of other policies.”

She noted that manufacturing, in particular, has taken a huge hit.

“We’ve always made things in Wisconsin and we want to see a clear path back to the forefront, with an emphasis on clean, renewable energy,” Baldwin said. “You are in the front line and I’m really excited to hear more about what you are doing here.”

She noted that it was great to be at the Fort Atkinson campus of Madison College, where so much is happening in terms of preparing students for these types of such green-collar jobs.

“Sometimes I think we talk about this too narrowly,” she said.

During her visit at the Fort Atkinson campus, she spoke with instructors and students involved in renewable energy, transportation and manufacturing. Specific areas highlighted included hybrid vehicle automotive technical training, compressed natural gas technology and renewable energy (wind and solar energy).

Also, Jefferson City Administrator Tim Freitag and Mayor Dale Oppermann were on hand to discuss the recent installation of a solar farm by Half Moon Ventures of Chicago in the city’s North Business Park.

The senator also visited the campus’ state-of-the-art welding labs, where students are involved in learning greener manufacturing processes into the future.

“It is very exciting speaking to both the instructors and the students who are very optimistic about this future of this sector of economy,” Baldwin said after the campus tour.

The senator said she is proud of Wisconsin’s technical colleges for being the “unsung heroes” across the state.

“Madison College is no exception to that rule; in fact, it is a leader among them,” Baldwin said. “In our changing economy and as we have been struggling to recover from a deep recession, they have played such a critical role in helping returning students retool their skills for advanced manufacturing jobs in the future, but they also really are being focused on having the students career-ready on the day they graduate.”

She said it is filling an important need.

“There also are tremendous partnerships with the private sector making sure they are relevant to the needs of employers all around,” Baldwin said.

Following her stop in Fort Atkinson, the senator also visited the Commercial Avenue campus in Madison to tour the solar instructional labs and learn about the net-zero energy home project that the college and the City of Madison Community Development Authority have teamed up with to support the development of net-zero energy performing homes in the Allied Drive neighborhood of Madison.

Baldwin also has visited Milwaukee Area Technical College, Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay and Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids to discuss the GREEN Act.

Read more: From dailyunion.com: "Sen. Tammy Baldwin tours MATC-Fort, touts GREEN Act"

MSTC online courses begin Feb. 10

Mid-State Technical College is offering a series of “late start” online courses, beginning Feb. 10, for individuals interested in taking a class but are unsure they want to wait until the beginning of next semester.

Available courses include Business Law & Ethics, Developmental Psychology, Intro to Business, Intro to Psychology, Intro to Sociology, Introductory Statistics, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Oral/Interpersonal Communication, Principles of Management and Written Communication.

MSTC is encouraging people to register for courses by Feb. 5. Individual classes are subject to cancellation if they have low enrollment. To learn more, call 1-888-575-MSTC (6782), visit www.mstc.edu or stop by campuses in Stevens Point, Marshfield, Wisconsin Rapids or the county center in Adams. Individuals previously enrolled at MSTC can register online through MyMSTC.

Read more: From stevenspointjournal.com: "MSTC mid-semester classes start Feb. 10"

WMC partnering with WTCS, UW System to create 20-year plan

By Karen Rivedal – The state’s biggest business group — Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce — is partnering with higher education leaders and the state’s job creation agency on a 20-year strategic business plan for Wisconsin.

Tentatively titled the Future Wisconsin Project, the effort will focus in its first year mostly on the oft-reported lack of skilled workers in manufacturing and many other challenged industries and sectors of the workforce, such as information technology.

But it’s also about taking a longer look at economic development issues facing the state and creating a workable and enduring system for addressing those issues, with timely input from business, government and academia, WMC president Kurt Bauer said.

“I think we’re all a little guilty of operating from month to month, year to year, election cycle to election cycle,” Bauer said. “This is supposed to be broader than that. This (will) look out and see what Wisconsin is going to be, and (ask ourselves), ‘Do we like it?’ and if we don’t, ‘How do we change it?’ ”

The goal of developing a lasting “infrastructure of communication” among the key parties is the main thing that differentiates the WMC project from other broad economic studies and initiatives such as Be Bold Wisconsin, said Morna Foy, Wisconsin Technical College System president. The tech system is one of the effort’s four partners, along with the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the quasi-public job creation agency recommended by the Be Bold Wisconsin study.

By contrast, Foy said, “(WMC leaders) are trying to build a road map that people can follow this year and the year after that and the year after that.

“Some of the topics they’re interested in examining are big. They go beyond the interests or borders of any individual company. It’s really refreshing for us to see them take that longer view.”

UW System spokesman Dave Giroux credited WMC for involving higher education leaders early in the process and said he liked what he described as WMC’s focus on “human capital, the competitiveness of our business and industry, and the overall quality of life.”

“We see ourselves (in the UW System) touching on these areas in many different ways,” Giroux said.

The effort is motivated by troubling demographic projections that threaten a crisis for Wisconsin’s aging workforce in the decades to come, WMC leaders said.

The Wisconsin Applied Population lab projects 14.2 percent overall population growth in the state by 2040, with about 800,000 more people but most of them over age 65, according to Jim Morgan, president of the WMC Foundation, the group’s research arm.

WMC also cites a Georgetown University Study that predicted 317,130 additional jobs between 2010 and 2020 in Wisconsin but only 15,150 new workers.

Incoming WMC chairman Dan Ariens, president of Brillion-based Ariens Co., an outdoor power equipment manufacturer, said WMC and its partners needed to create a “consensus dialogue” over these issues to effectively address the problem before it gets worse.

“There’s a workforce shortage now,” said Ariens, who also is vice chairman of the WEDC board of directors. “It’ll be a crisis later.”

Beyond workforce development — or “talent attraction,” as the Future Wisconsin project terms it — the issue of business competitiveness also is slated to be studied closely in year one of the initiative. Future years could focus on other identified issues, likely including global engagement, government effectiveness, life quality and entrepreneurial spirit.

Discussions and ideas also will center around what the parties see as the state’s various strengths and barriers to growth. WMC’s own agenda, mainly representing the viewpoint of business owners and industry, must be balanced by input from the other partners for the initiative to be successful, Foy noted.

“If the script is already written and all the ideas have been thought of, and (WMC leaders are) just doing a yearlong road show (of their conclusions), other parties won’t want to engage,” Foy said. “That’s not my sense at all about what they’re looking for in this. They are really trying to stretch beyond their own view to make sure they get the best and smartest ideas.”

WMC will share plans for the project more widely in the coming weeks and months, starting with its own members Feb. 6 at the group’s annual Business Day, a key membership and lobbying event in Madison.

Jim Morgan, president of the WMC Foundation, a research arm of the group, then will present the project at each of the technical system’s 16 colleges in February and March, with public listening sessions and regular meetings of the partners and other stakeholder groups throughout the year, leading up to a December forum where notes on problems will be compared and action plans could be issued.

Bauer and Ariens said possible end results could include new legislative proposals that WMC could lobby for, and/or more grassroots steps or decisions that any of the partners could take on their own.

“It’s not just going to be another white paper,” Bauer promised. “It’s a process. More than anything, what we want to do is spark the debate and make people aware of what is coming down the road.”

Giroux agreed the project could be unique.

“We haven’t seen before the state’s lead business organization and the two higher education systems working directly together on something of this magnitude,” Giroux said. “We may have seen this model on a small scale, but not like this.”

Read more: From madison.com: "Leading state business lobby looks to create 20-year strategic plan for Wisconsin"

Corporate executives describe ‘pains and triumphs’ of expanding business

PEWAUKEE – It was time to talk about how expansion deals for growing businesses and industries in Waukesha County can get done through the availability of local and state resources meant to spur growth in the private-sector economy.

The Waukesha County Economic Development Corporation and Wisconsin Business Development expedited the discussion Wednesday in an event attended by nearly 140 at Waukesha County Technical College’s Richard T. Anderson Education Center.

The group composed of bankers, attorneys, consultants and business leaders heard a pair of corporate executives talk frankly about the pains and triumphs they encountered while recently expanding their shops.

The two talked about how they accessed resources, a sometimes difficult process, to help their firms expand in size and business.

The traditional starting point for the launch and expansion of many businesses here has been through financial institutions or the Development Corporation. Wisconsin Business Development, a nonprofit group, offers economic development solutions, potential investment capital and business strategies.

Sarit Singhal, president/CEO of Superior Support Resources Inc., of Brookfield, talked about navigating through various state, county and local financial offerings to more than double the size of his information technology firm.

Read more: From chippewa.com: "The business of expanding business"

Manufacturing still drives area, state economy

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.

Read more: From chippewa.com: "Manufacturing still drives area, state economy"

February is CTE Month

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, and the Wisconsin Departments of Public Instruction (DPI), Workforce Development (DWD) and the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) are encouraging students, schools, parents, and educators to discover the high standards, innovation and excellence offered through the state’s CTE programs.

“Career and Technical Education introduces students to workplace expectations for knowledge and technical skills through a blend of classroom instruction and hands-on experiences,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “Because coursework is grounded in high standards and workforce needs through partnerships between educators and employers, young people in our high school CTE programs graduate college and career ready.”

“CTE has never been more important,” said Morna Foy, president of the Wisconsin Technical College System. “We’re proud to be partners in highlighting the many opportunities students have to participate in CTE. The result is a richer learning experience, greater awareness of education and career options, and many times, college credit.”

“Career and Technical Education Month offers an excellent opportunity to highlight successful partnerships, strong leadership, and promising initiatives to help build a skilled workforce to move Wisconsin forward,” DWD Secretary Reggie Newson said. “In collaboration with schools, the technical college system, employers, and parents, we are committed to helping both current and future generations of workers gain greater awareness of the challenging and cutting-edge career paths that technical education supports.”

More than 90,000 Wisconsin high school students are taking career and technical education courses in fields such as agriculture, business, family and consumer science, health occupations, marketing, and technology and engineering. Those increased opportunities help students find a viable route to a rewarding career. Many CTE programs provide multiple pathways for students to prepare for diploma and apprenticeship programs, technical college degrees and industry certifications, as well as four-year degree programs and other career and training.

Wisconsin’s technical colleges play an important role in expanding CTE opportunities for students through partnerships and dual credit coursework.

“Everyone knows that student engagement through great teaching is at the core of learning,” Evers said. He recounted a visit to Eleva-Strum’s Cardinal Industries, which focuses on metal fabrication. “The students do customized piece work for various fabricators in northwest Wisconsin, filling a niche in the industry. The class was run like a business. Students received both high school and technical college credit. And at the end of the year, profit sharing provided $1,200 per student. This innovation has been recognized nationally through Modern Machine Shop Magazine.”

In a partnership among the Baldwin-Woodville, Hudson and Menomonie high schools and OEM Fabricators, coursework and experience promote advanced manufacturing as a career choice. The Manufacturing Careers Pathway Partnership reaches both middle and high school students through career exploration, job shadowing, youth employment, state of the art training facilities, dual enrollment with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and tuition assistance. Evers visited the Eleva-Strum, Baldwin-Woodville and Menomonie high school CTE programs last year as part of the CTE month observance in Wisconsin.

In honor of this year’s CTE month observance, Evers, Foy and Newson are planning classroom and on-site CTE visits throughout the state. Details will be forthcoming.

Read more: From lacrossetribune.com: "February is CTE Month"

K-12, tech college partnership to train welders

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.”

Read more: From wisnews.com: "Welders wanted: Employers with jobs struggle to fill them"

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