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Column: Local employer feedback essential to providing relevant programming

Collaboration with local employers and community partners is critical to achieving the Mid-State Technical College mission.

MSTC works closely with these stakeholders through membership on program advisory committees and participation in focus groups. This collaboration enables our college to understand the current and emerging skills needed by the workforce and provide the training employers need and seek.

We rely heavily on this information in order to keep our offerings up-to-date. This critical information is used to plan and develop curriculum, determine the length of training and establish certificate or degree requirements. It is also a resource to learn which technical skills are necessary in various sectors of the local workforce, which seem to change every year. In fact, many of these skills were unheard of just a generation ago.

At times, this valuable input might point to workforce needs for a new program offering.

A recent example of employer collaboration is the development of a new Stainless Steel Welding certificate. MSTC was fortunate to receive a federal grant through the Department of Labor that permitted us to remodel and retool the Marshfield Campus welding shop. This process was aided by a meeting of stainless steel fabrication employers last year that verified the skills entry-level stainless steel welders needed for local employment.

Employers also provided input into welding lab equipment selections, course content and the structure of training. The outcome, the new Stainless Steel Welding certificate, runs year round. New students can start any month and can work at their own pace and ability.

Beginning in August, MSTC will offer a new Health and Wellness Promotion associate degree. Health care providers and educators, along with several community agencies, came together to advise MSTC on this emerging field. This associate degree will prepare students with knowledge of health and wellness concepts, as well as program development and promotion skills. We plan to deliver this coursework in a flexible format, mostly online.

Local, regional and national trend data from the Department of Workforce Development, or DWD, help us determine emerging and growing workforce training needs, yet local employer feedback is essential when investigating a new offering. By staying in contact with employers and employees in the industry, the DWD, and many other sources, MSTC is able to offer relevant, in-demand, and up-to-date education and training.

For more information about these or any of the exciting educational opportunities available at MSTC, go to www.mstc.edu or visit your local technical college campus.

Read more: From marchfieldnewsherald.com: "Column: Local feedback is essential to providing relevant MSTC programming"

As trades rebound, demand for apprentices grows

By Dennis Punzel – If Donald Trump hosted “Apprentice Wisconsin,” he’d have to change his catchphrase from “You’re fired” to “You’re hired.”

As the economy slowly pulls out of its funk, the dormant construction industry is starting to experience a revival. And as construction cranes sprout up in the skyline, the demand for skilled workers across the spectrum of construction trades also is ascending.

“The problem the last several years has been a shortage of work for contractors in the construction industry,” said Wayne Belanger of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin. “Now, it’s a shortage of workers. It’s critical.”

And when construction companies need skilled workers, they turn to the state’s venerable apprenticeship program to fill the void.

Wisconsin’s apprenticeship program, founded in 1911, was the first of its kind in the nation and led to the creation of the state’s technical school system.

“Wisconsin apprenticeship is still considered the leading model in the country,” said Jim Cook, apprenticeship manager at Madison Area Technical College. “In Wisconsin, everybody is at the table — employers, colleges, state government, labor organizations, employer associations.

“Apprenticeship here has survived all the economic and social upheavals of the last century. And because it’s done that, it’s going to survive for a long time.”

The most recent economic downturn, however, did take a toll on the system. As construction projects dried up, many firms had trouble finding jobs for their established journeyman workers and had no need to take on apprentices.

ABC’s apprentice numbers around the state plummeted from around 1,200 in 2006 to just a few hundred. The group sponsors apprenticeships in 12 trades, including electrical, carpentry, plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning).

“I don’t want to even think about how low it was,” Belanger said. “We’re back to 850 now. We’re on the rebound. It seems like there’s a pent-up demand, and people are putting projects together again.

“The trouble is that a lot of people in the trades have either retired or gone on to something else, and they’re not coming back. That leaves a huge void pretty much at all levels because they haven’t hired new people in the last five years.”

Statewide, the number of apprentices in all trades has dropped from 15,767 in 2001 to 9,793 in 2013, according to the state Department of Workforce Development Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards (DWD-BAS). In the construction trades, the numbers have fallen from 8,890 in 2001 to 4,843 last year.

Belanger said the recovery has yet to hit many parts of the state, but that Madison is booming and the Fox Valley and Milwaukee are showing signs of life.

“In Dane County, there’s going to be a construction boom this year,” said Cook, noting that apprenticeships are up about 10 percent with 600 in the program at MATC. “The drive right now for economic development is fever pitch. The only other time we’ve seen this was around World War II, where you had this incredible need and a skilled worker shortage.”

One of the biggest challenges is convincing young people to look into apprenticeships after being pointed toward the four-year college route most of their lives.

“We do a lot of outreach to schools around the area and have more success at some than others,” said Mike Pohlman, president of Nickles Electric. “Some schools don’t seem to want to point kids to the trades.

“We certainly don’t dissuade kids from going to college. We always tell them the trades are another option after you graduate. We’re open to getting a kid into our program that has a four-year college degree.”

One who took that route is Pohlman’s son, Kaleb. After graduating from Marshall High School, he studied electrical engineering at UW-Milwaukee for two years before transferring to UW-Madison, where he earned a degree in civil engineering in 2009.

But with the job market dried up, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue an electrical apprenticeship. He’s finishing up the fifth year of the program and just took the state exam with the hope of gaining journeyman status.

“They’re both gratifying,” Kaleb Pohlman, 28, said of his dual accomplishments. “When I got done with college I was like, ‘Wow, I did it.’ It was a long time and a lot of hard work and when I got done I felt great. Learning this and getting through this apprenticeship is just as much, if not more gratifying.

“I feel like I can do almost anything in the electrical trade. I can bend that conduit, I can run that wire, I can put that piece of switch gear up. You start feeling like you can do anything.”

Kaleb Pohlman’s goal is to use both parts of his education by working about five years in the field and then moving into project management.

“I went to school for a reason, and I did this for a reason,” he said. “I’ve put myself in a pretty unique situation that I think makes me a little more valuable.

“There’s a need for people who can do this stuff. In the next couple years as the baby boomers start retiring, the workforce is going to drop like crazy. There’s not as many people who do trades. That should bode well for people of my generation. If people want to do this, there should be a future in it.”

Apprenticeships, of course, are nothing new, as they date back to the middle ages. Ben Franklin was a printing apprentice; Henry Ford a machinist apprentice.

The state program offers apprenticeships in three broadly defined areas — construction trades, industrial/manufacturing trades and service trades.

Unlike their college-bound brethren, who frequently build up huge debts going to school, apprentices earn while they learn. Employer sponsors are required to pay their apprentices, starting at half the journeyman worker rate for that trade, with scheduled raises as they continue through the program.

Apprenticeships last three to five years with apprentices spending about 90 percent of the time on the job and 10 percent in the classroom. In addition to paying apprentices, many sponsors will also pick up all or part of the costs of tuition and books for the classroom part of the deal.

Upon completion of the apprenticeship and any licensing requirements, the apprentice receives a state certificate and a journeyman license and goes to work for the sponsoring firm. The construction trades tend to pay the highest, with the base pay for a construction worker at just under $33 per hour.

“It’s a great program,” said Greg Jones, CEO of Dave Jones Inc. “As a plumber, after a five-year program you can be making $70,000 a year with no student debt.”

Jones, 32, completed his apprenticeship in 2004. His father, Dave Jones, also went through the apprenticeship program and founded the company in 1977. The company now has 220 employees and 34 apprentices.

Phil Klahn, 23, got a head start on the five-year apprenticeship he is now finishing up when he started working at Dave Jones Plumbing part-time through a school-work program at Oregon High School.

“The trades were something I was always looking into,” Klahn said. “I wanted to work with my hands. I didn’t really think I could sit behind a desk my entire life.”

Klahn said that, like most high school graduates, he felt the pressure to go to college, but the work-study program opened his eyes to other options. And unlike many of his former classmates, he’s finishing his education with no student loans.

“I was lucky because I knew right away this was what I wanted to do,” said Klahn, who hopes to someday become a project manager or field superintendent. “Everybody thinks that plumbing is backed-up sewers and leaky faucets and leaky pipes. There is a service end to it, but right now I’m working on a 12-story apartment building in downtown Madison. There’s a lot more to it than people understand.”

Klahn’s advice to young people pondering their future?

“I just say keep your mind open to the apprenticeship program,” he said. “It might not be for everybody, but I tell people to at least look into it.”

Mike Pohlman of Nickles Electric thinks that message is spreading, and he emphasizes that the trades are actively recruiting a diverse workforce.

“This whole industry is changing,” said Pohlman, who began his apprenticeship in 1979 and rose through the ranks to become company president. “People are understanding that the trades are a pretty good option these days.

“Our city’s going to keep growing, and we’re going to need people to build it.”

Read more: From madison.com: "As trades rebound, demand for apprentices grows"

CVTC simulation lab brings medical reality

When nursing students at Chippewa Valley Technical College in River Falls work on a training scenario with one of the school’s high-tech simulation mannequins, they can rely only on their own knowledge and instincts.

There’s no glancing over at an instructor in search of a nod of approval for a chosen course of action.

The instructor watches from a separate room, behind glass that students cannot see through. She listens, observes, and controls the simulator to react accordingly to what the students do — good or bad.

“This is more realistic than it was before,” said student Anna Hinde, originally from Barron. “We are able to have some hands-on, real-life experiences.”

Added Colin McConville of Hudson: “We have a lot more space, there are more mannequins, and we’ve got a new teaching lab.”

Use of computerized simulation mannequins — that breathe, react, and have vital signs like real patients — have been part of the CVTC Nursing program at River Falls for years. However, the new simulation lab, which opened in January, seems to be a vast improvement.

“Our environment here is more representative of an actual hospital room,” said Simulation Technician Cynthia Anderson, registered nurse. “The old lab was about half the size of one room in the new lab, and had a noisy air compressor in the room to run the mannequins. Our air compressor is now in another room.”

The mannequins were used to be placed on something like old hospital gurneys. Now there are real hospital beds for the mannequins and sometimes live people playing patients.

“We’re not tripping on cords anymore,” said Bethany Geske, a nursing student who lives in Menomonie, in reference to power cords to the equipment that used to be taped down but are now under the floor.

The lighting is far better, and includes a large window to provide natural light, but set high enough to prevent outside distractions and watchers.

Even small details, like the addition of an in-lab telephone, are important. Students sometimes have to call a doctor or pharmacist (played by an instructor) from the simulator bedside.

“They get the experience of calling the physician, and learning how to speak with the physician,” said Anderson, a registered nurse since 1990 with years of experience at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn.

An adjacent Learning Resource Center (LRC) for the nursing program is also an important addition.

The center is equipped with smaller artificial body parts like arms, hands and heads. Students practice skills such as making injections and inserting intravenous needles.

For CVTC Nursing students, doing homework involves more than reading a textbook.

“I’ve used it on occasion to practice skills like suctions and inserting catheters,” McConville said.

Another major addition to the program this term is “Noel,” a birth mother simulator. The mannequin actually simulates the birth of a little rubber baby newborn, with realistic vital signs and potential problems for the mother.

“The baby can be born breach, with a stuck shoulder, or with respiratory difficulty,” Anderson said, mentioning a few of the complications.

A newborn infant simulator, separate from the rubber birth baby, is also new. It shows vital signs and reacts like the adult models.

A newborn baby can have a bluish hue, which is normal and soon fades. The simulator is sophisticated enough for instructors to prolong the bluish tint and observe when students notice it as a matter of concern.

“We didn’t have the baby mannequin before this year,” said Natalie Miranda, a student from Lakeland, Minn. “We would have to drive to Eau Claire to do that.”

Read more: From riverfallsjournal.com: "For tech college students simulation lab brings medical reality"

NWTC helps high schools develop manufacturing programs

ALGOMA — Manufacturing has a home in Algoma. Precision Machine, Olson Fabrication, Algoma Hardwoods and WS Packaging Group are among companies that make things in the Kewaunee County community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working with their hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work has to be perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students ‘actually learning’

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

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

Other teachers are getting involved as well, Abel said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: From postcrescent.com: "Algoma Wolf Tech takes real life to the classroom"

MSTC responds to employer training needs

As the first baby boomers begin to retire, central Wisconsin health care providers, employers and educators are bracing for what some have termed the “silver tsunami.”

Wisconsin is expected to face worker shortages during the next 20 years as birth rates drop and older adults retire, according to a news release issued Thursday by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Statewide, 14.4 percent of the population is older than 65, compared to 13.7 percent of the national population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2012. By 2030, 24 percent of the state’s population will be older than 65, said Tom Walsh, state Department of Workforce Development labor market economist for north central Wisconsin.

Currently in Wood, Portage and Marathon counties, 52 percent of the population is working age, defined as 25 to 54 years old by WISTAX, but that number will drop to 44.4 percent by 2030, Walsh said. He said central Wisconsin has a slightly older population than the rest of the state, but he expected local workforce trends to closely follow state trends.

“One of the big sectors that will be impacted is health care,” Walsh said. Not only will many health care workers be retiring, but retirees also will require more health care services as they continue to age, he said.

“Certainly, throughout our service area, we have fewer workers for every person moving into Medicare,” said Dr. Brian Ewert, Marshfield Clinic president.

“It’s a very transformative time in medicine compared to the 1950s, where … more people (were) getting insured under their employers, and there were more workers and a very small group of retirees,” he said.

Ewert said retirees will consume more health care resources in the coming years, while at the same time, providers are being charged with reducing health care costs.

One model that health care providers have found that benefits patients and saves resources is the patient-centered medical home, in which patients are assigned a primary care team consisting of a physician, nurse practitioner, registered nurse and medical assistant.

The patient-centered medical home, along with other nurse-coordinated services like nurse lines, reduce hospital admissions and re-admissions and allow physicians to spend more time on tasks that require a higher level of licensure, Ewert said.

The model of care allows hospitals to do more with fewer resources, a trend Walsh said he has seen in many other industries.

To address possible physician shortages, Marshfield Clinic has partnered with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine to offer the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine program, or WARM, which allows third- and fourth-year medical students to complete their clinical training at Marshfield Clinic sites with the goal of encouraging students to practice medicine in rural areas of the state.

The WARM program last year included six medical students, two of whom chose to complete their medical training at Marshfield Clinic residency programs. This year, 10 students are participating in the WARM program, Ewert said.

Connie Willfahrt, vice president of academic affairs at Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids, said employers in the manufacturing, transportation and information technology industries have expressed a need for more skilled workers and fear of worker shortages in the future, due in part to the number of expected retirements.

Willfahrt said representatives from the college share information about employer needs at community job fairs, but students are encouraged to develop skills and knowledge in their areas of interest that will allow them to be competitive in the workforce.

Still, MSTC has added sections and expanded its automotive technician, diesel mechanic and welding programs due to employer demand.

“Our mission is to work closely with the employers we serve … to really understand what current and future training looks like to them and how we can align our programs and coursework to prepare graduates to be ready for those occupations,” she said.

“We can’t afford to let high school graduates languish without workforce training or higher education,” WISTAX president Todd Berry said in Thursday’s news release.

Besides training workers to fill open positions, MSTC trains individuals already in the workforce so they’re prepared for promotions or new responsibilities in their existing roles.

“We’re really looking to plant the seed of lifelong learning,” Willfahrt said. “You’re probably not going to have the same position for the rest of your life, and if you are, it’s going to be using different tools and different technology.”

Read more: From stevenspointjournal.com: "Central Wisconsin prepares for baby boomer retirements"

Fox Valley Tech, NWTC host job fairs this week

My centerpiece story on this page talks about attracting and training manufacturing workers, who are in demand throughout Northeastern Wisconsin.

As evidence of the demand, Fox Valley Technical College and the North Coast Marine Manufacturing Alliance are hosting job fairs this week seeking hundreds of workers.

Fox Valley Tech’s Manufacturing Job Fair on Tuesday had no trouble filling its available space with employers, and then some. About 70 companies, including a number from the Green Bay area, signed up for the event to recruit workers in applied engineering, electro-mechanical technology, machine tools, industrial welding, wind-energy technology, wood manufacturing technology and many more. After filling its allotted space, the college designated hallways for additional employer booths.

The event will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday on the FVTC campus at 1825 N. Bluemound Drive, Grand Chute.

The marine alliance has fewer companies, but is recruiting for more than 300 positions during its fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday in the Corporate Conference Center at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.

Bay Shipbuilding of Sturgeon Bay, Marinette Marine, Marquis Yachts of Pulaski and Palmer Johnson Yachts of Sturgeon Bay will be offering jobs in quality control, naval architecture, drafting, electrical, engineering, pipefitting, machining, welding and more.

In each case, potential applicants should bring a resume if they have one and some identification.

Read more: From greenbaypressgazette.com: "Many manufacturing jobs on display this week in Wisconsin"

Interior design students compete at home improvement show

For the 8th consecutive year, the Interior Design Contest between students from local colleges is a prominent feature of the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Show.

Sponsored by Nehmey Construction, the contest pits students from Gateway Technical College, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Mount Mary University and Waukesha County Technical College in a competition to design and construct a 12-foot-by-12-foot room display with a 2014 theme of “Bring the Outside In.”

The participating schools, who will each receive $1,000 for the school’s interior design program from the Milwaukee/NARI Foundation, created and built the following designs:

  • Gateway Technical College: A dining room uses elements inspired by the outdoors with warm, neutral tones and earthy prints that creates a classic and informal space. A unique room selection is a dining table created from a reclaimed section of fence that was painted and distressed. The walls have salvaged window shutters, exterior lanterns and a mirrored window, while birdcages function as artistic light fixtures.
  • Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC): A child’s playroom has an urban concept of the outdoors, utilizing bold colors and kid-friendly furniture selections.
  • Mount Mary University: A rustic and feminine-style home den includes natural wood textures combined with light and airy colors. This design also focuses on the use of sustainable and reclaimed products.
  • Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC): A pergola includes rockers, a table and chairs, a screen door and siding.

Gateway, participating for the 4th consecutive year and the 2013 contest winner, has six students that are part of its team. “Students in last fall’s Residential Design Studio course competed against each other to determine the space design,” said Rita Serpe, interior design instructor at Gateway. “Once design was selected, the Commercial Design Studio students work together to install and complete the display.”

MATC returned to the competition after a one-year absence, as six student members of the American Society of Interior Design were actively involved in the design process, with several other students assisting in the procurement of materials and products plus construction. “The work, from concept development through build out and show staffing, is accomplished on a volunteer basis,” said Mary Walgren, MATC interior design instructor. “Students are able to use classroom facilities, equipment, and resources to plan and meet on the design. In addition, any open lab time can be used toward their work on the project.”

At Mount Mary, the 14 students that are part of the competition are from two classes. “The freshmen class focused on project design and development, while the sophomore/junior class worked on project management skills and mentored the freshmen in the design development process,” said Leona Knobloch-Nelson, associate professor and Interior Design Student Chapter faculty advisor. “The students learn collaboration and team participation.”

WCTC has been part of the contest since its inception. This year, eight students that are members of the school’s Interior Design Club have worked on the plan. “Typically we meet over the holiday break to come up with the final plan and start working on construction,” said Brooks Eberlein, WCTC interior design instructor and club advisor. “The week prior to the show is a hustle to get everything ready for a smooth installation, and the week of the show are long hours of prepping the space and getting everything in its proper place.”

The instructors see a variety of benefits for the students, including the opportunity to network with other students, connecting with the business community for resources, and project and time management skills.

“This type of hands-on projects gives students a practical experience that simply cannot be found in a textbook or a classroom,” Walgren said. “They get real-world exposure to deadlines and are able to grow their network of professionals and vendors as they work through the product procurement process. Time management, collaborative design and team projects are standard practice for our industry and this experience exposes students to those concepts.”

“The students have fun because they get the gratification of seeing the completion of their design,” Knobloch-Nelson said.

Serpe explained that students benefit from multitasking schoolwork along with a real-world project. “Plus, they need to be creative working with a small budget,” she said.

“For many, this is a first-time hands-on experience that involves carpentry and construction,” Eberlein said. “These experiences enrich learning and also give students inside knowledge that they may share with clients at a later time. Not only do students get hands-on experience, they take great pride in their efforts. Students have also been able to network with NARI exhibitors. In some cases, this networking has led to internships and jobs. The overall experience is win-win.”

Show attendees have had the opportunity to vote on their favorite room design. The winning school will be announced after votes are tabulated at the conclusion of the show, and the school will receive a plaque.

Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Show hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16. Admission is $8 at the door. Tickets for those 60 and older are $5. Children 16 and younger and all military personnel with a military photo ID card are admitted free.

Read more: From jsonline.com: "Home improvement show serves as teaching tool"

Column: 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 cindyz@tomah.k12.wi.us or 374-7002.

Cindy Zahrte is superintendent of the Tomah School District.

Read more: From tomahjournal.com: "The School Bell: Filling the skills gap--a Tomah tradition"

Cooper Power Systems partners with WCTC for employee training

Every time someone turns on a light or fires up their office computer, there’s a good chance that a Cooper Power Systems electrical transformer or another of the company’s products was part of the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: From jsonline.com: "Eaton expanding, upgrading its Cooper Power Systems plants in Waukesha"

New CVTC simulation lab boosts medial realism

When nursing students at Chippewa Valley Technical College’s (CVTC’s) River Falls campus are working on a training scenario with one of the college’s high-tech simulation mannequins, they can rely only on their own knowledge and instincts. There’s no glancing over at an instructor in search of a nod of approval for a chosen course of action.

The instructor is watching from a separate room, behind glass that students cannot see through. She listens, observes and controls the simulator to react accordingly to what the students do — good or bad.

“This is more realistic than it was before,” said student Anna Hinde, originally from Barron. “We are able to have some hands-on, real-life experiences.”

“We have a lot more space, there are more mannequins, and we’ve got a new teaching lab,” added Colin McConville of Hudson.

Use of computerized simulation mannequins — which breathe, react, and have vital signs like real patients — has been part of the CVTC Nursing program at River Falls for years. However, the new simulation lab that opened in January is a vast improvement over the previous facility.

“Our environment here is more representative of an actual hospital room,” said Simulation Technician Cynthia Anderson, R.N. “The old lab was about half the size of one room in the new lab and had a noisy air compressor in the room to run the mannequins. Our air compressor is now in another room.”

The mannequins were previously placed on something like old hospital gurneys. Now there are real hospital beds for the mannequins and sometimes live people playing patients.

“We’re not tripping on cords anymore,” said Bethany Geske, a Nursing student who lives in Menomonie, in reference to the power cords to the equipment that used to be taped down and are now under the floor.

The lighting is far better and includes a large window to provide natural light, but set high enough to prevent outside distractions and watchers.

Even small details, like the addition of an in-lab telephone, are important. Students sometimes have to call a doctor or pharmacist (played by an instructor) from the simulator bedside. “They get the experience of calling the physician, and learning how to speak with the physician,” said Anderson, an RN since 1990 with years of experience at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn.

An adjacent Learning Resource Center (LRC) for the Nursing program is also an important addition. The center is equipped with smaller artificial body parts like arms, hands and heads. Students practice skills such as making injections and inserting intravenous needles. For CVTC Nursing students, doing homework involves more reading a textbook.

“I’ve used it on occasion to practice skills like suctions and inserting catheters,” McConville said.

Mother and child

Another major addition to the program this term is “Noel,” a birth mother simulator. The mannequin actually simulates the birth of a little rubber baby newborn, with realistic vital signs and potential problems for the mother.

“The baby can be born breach, with a stuck shoulder, or with respiratory difficulty,” Anderson said, mentioning just some of the complications.

A newborn infant simulator, separate from the rubber birth baby, is also new. It shows vital signs and reacts like the adult models. A newborn baby can have a bluish hue, which is normal and soon fades. The simulator is sophisticated enough for instructors to prolong the bluish tint and observe when students notice it as a matter of concern.

“We didn’t have the baby mannequin before this year,” said Natalie Miranda, a student from Lakeland, Minn. “We would have to drive to Eau Claire to do that.”

Sometimes a birth mother and baby were brought from Eau Claire, but transportation and set-up are cumbersome, Anderson said.

Nursing students go out into the field to do “clinical” studies at hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, but the simulation lab work is an essential part of the training.

“It allows them to experience things differently,” said Jennifer Buekema, a CVTC Nursing instructor. “In a clinical situation, we of course don’t let students harm patients. Here, we can let the students make mistakes in the lab.”

“They set up scenarios that we may not see in the real-life clinical settings, but can see later in our professional lives,” said Miranda.

The instructor from the observation room can demonstrate with the mannequin the consequences, through a sudden change in vital signs, evidence of pain, and even a “code blue” cardiac arrest.

“A couple of weeks ago, we were in a code blue, when we had to do CPR,” Geske said.

The students say this kind of hands-on experience is one of the reasons they chose to attend CVTC. It allows them to be ready to enter the workforce right away, even if their plans include further education.

Geske, McConville and Hinde plan on getting nursing jobs after their May graduation, but going back to school to seek four-year or advanced degrees gaining experience as they complete their education.

Read more: From chippewa.com: "CVTC working with line workers on safety"

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