Madison — Senate Republicans Tuesday narrowly passed Gov. Scott Walker’s $541 million tax cut proposal in a vote that guaranteed the cuts will become law.
The tax decreases — the third round of cuts by Republicans in less than a year — passed 17-15 with GOP Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center joining all Democrats in voting against the proposal. The proposal now goes to the Assembly, which passed a different version of the tax cuts last month with two Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting it.
With growing tax collections now expected to give the state a $1billion budget surplus in June 2015, Walker’s bill will cut property and income taxes for families and businesses, and zero out all income taxes for manufacturers in the state.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said his party was delivering on a promise to hold down taxes for the people of the state.
“The bottom line is what a great day for the state of Wisconsin — to finally be out of what was a dark time for Wisconsin,” Fitzgerald said, referring to the recent recession.
GOP lawmakers and Walker will use the unexpected windfall for the state as an occasion to trim overall state spending slightly for the next three years rather than increase it.
The votes on the tax cuts, which have split almost entirely along partisan lines in the Legislature, highlight the growing split between the two parties’ visions for the state.
Walker’s initial tax cut proposal would have drawn down the expected surplus and left the state budget in somewhat worse financial position in the future as measured by one commonly used method. To win over a holdout GOP senator concerned about the state’s finances, Walker agreed last month to cut state spending by $38 million to help offset the tax cuts.
Also Tuesday, the Senate voted unanimously to pass a second bill to increase spending on worker training by $35.4 million through June 2015.
Walker’s plan for the surplus prioritizes the tax cuts and a roughly $320 million overhaul of income tax withholding over calls from Democrats to decrease more than $1 billion in borrowing, strengthen the state budget and offset past cuts to schools. Democrats said that was a better approach to running state government and boosting the state’s economy.
“The property tax burden absolutely weighs down the citizens of our state,” Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) said. “But you know what else weighs down the citizens of this state? Not having a job.”
Under Walker’s bill, the average income tax filer would receive a tax cut of $46 in April 2015 and the typical homeowner would save $131 over the existing law on this December’s bills, according to the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office.
Also, the governor has separately had his administration alter income tax withholding rates so workers have less taken out of each paycheck — about $520 a year for a married couple making a total of $80,000 a year — starting in April.
“The more money that we give back to the taxpayers, the more money they can spend or save as they wish and the more our economy will grow,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s budget committee.
The bill would also lower income taxes for factory and farm owners by $36.8 million over the current two-year budget and $91.3 million over the following two years.
GOP supporters of this manufacturing tax cut in the bill see it as fuel for one of the state’s main economic engines.
Democratic opponents see it as a giveaway with a dubious payback to some of the richest people in the state, averaging about $800 for roughly 30,000 tax filers in 2015.
The deal between Walker and GOP senators would also use what is essentially an accounting maneuver to keep a chunk of the surplus — more than $100 million — in the state’s main account rather than shifting it to a rainy day fund.
Mary Burke, a former state commerce secretary and bicycle company executive running against Walker, has said the state should use about half of the surplus to set aside more money in the rainy day fund and reduce the state’s $2billion in new borrowing through June 2015. She would use the remainder for property tax relief and worker training programs.
Burke’s plan for property tax relief and separate plans put forward by Assembly and Senate Democrats would all funnel more money toward a state credit for parcels with a home or business on them. That would ensure low- and middle-income homeowners see bigger tax cuts than they would under Walker’s plan.
Republicans have said this so-called first dollar tax credit provides no relief to those who own undeveloped land and could draw a legal challenge to the credit if it is increased again.
Senate Democrats Tuesday offered their own plan for the budget surplus that would:
■ Provide a one-time property tax cut of $500 million through the first dollar credit. That means homeowners wouldn’t get the tax decrease in future years.
■ Double the transfer of money to the state’s rainy day fund by adding $228.7 million.
■ Provide $100 million more to the Wisconsin Technical College System and additional funding for rural K-12 schools and special needs students to offset past cuts to those areas.
■ Not provide the tax cut to manufacturers and not cut down on the amount of extra income taxes that the state is withholding.
The proposal would cut the state’s budget deficit in the next two-year budget to zero, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
“It’s hard to look past the next election toward the long-term interests of the state,” Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said. “Let’s transcend the politics.”
“– The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) recently announced that Fox Valley Technical College has met all requirements to become an NKBA Accredited Program provider of AAS Interior Design – Kitchen and Bath Design, and Kitchen and Bath Certificate.
NKBA Accreditation serves the professional needs of the industry and ensures consistent, quality education for students who want to become kitchen or bathroom design professionals. The NKBA currently recognizes over 40 schools in North America whose kitchen and bath curriculum meet the educational standards established by the association.
These established standards include the knowledge and skills necessary for competent practice in the profession, divided into four categories: Planning and Design, Construction/Mechanical Systems, Business Management, and Products/Materials. Each school seeking accreditation must adequately meet stringent NKBA standards in each of these areas.
These schools submit a self-study and an analysis of competencies as related to these areas of study. An onsite evaluation is conducted, consisting of classroom observations; a curriculum-review meeting with faculty; a presentation of projects; and interviews with students, faculty and administration. The educational institution must have accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or a provincial ministry of education in Canada.
NKBA Accredited Programs are evaluated with respect to mission, administration, curriculum, faculty, and resources to determine eligibility and the students’ aptitude toward fulfilling the Association’s required competencies. Industry professionals evaluate student work samples as a subjective measure of the program. Programs that meet the qualifications for accreditation or a preliminary status of supported are published in print and on the NKBA website.
Each year, the Association monitors the progress of these schools with the submission of student work samples, based on the NKBA Student Design Competition. This process provides an outcome-based assessment to the schools. Accredited Programs have a reevaluation period of seven years.
Fox Valley Technical College earned NKBA Accreditation by demonstrating that it meets these requirements, which represent the basis of a program the NKBA considers essential for quality education. Each student must complete classroom work as well as internships that enhance and extend the classroom experiences. These internships are monitored by the educational institution, which makes certain that they meet the NKBA’s required student competencies. Programs accredited by the National Kitchen & Bath Association must have an NKBA Certified advisor or faculty member.
NTC students get a jump on 4-year degree, save cash
February 28, 2014
Antigo area residents are getting a jump on a four-year college degree—and saving some big cash in the process—at Northcentral Technical College.
Next fall, three students from Antigo will become the first to take advantage of an agreement between NTC and Michigan Technological University that will not only help them earn their bachelor’s degrees in two years, but will save them more than $100,000 each in the process.
Ted Wierzba is one of the students transferring to Michigan Tech in the fall to receive his bachelor of science in electrical engineering. He says with the reputation of the engineering program at Michigan Tech he saw no reason to look anywhere else, plus he says, “The cost savings is crazy!”
Wierzba, Chris Lord and Loryn Becker are all transferring their electromechanical technology associate degree from NTC into the electrical engineering program at Michigan Tech as juniors.
Antigo campus dean Larry Kind said that NTC’s one-year industrial electrical maintenance program serves as the first year of the associate degree electromechanical program.
An additional agreement offers eligible NTC students scholarships that equals the difference between non-resident and resident tuition, saving them $100,280 by starting locally.
“The best part is being able to further my education without taking any steps back from what I’ve already done at NTC,” Lord said. “I didn’t think it would be this easy.”
All three men say with the help of NTC’s Transfer & Placement Office this has been a very simple step for them.
“They walked us through the whole thing. It was so easy,” Becker, who hopes to specialize in robotics and someday work for NASA, said. “It flowed perfectly.”
According to Jeffrey Chamberlin, who instructs the industrial maintenance classes at NTC in Antigo, the one-year program in Antigo allows students to gauge their interest in the career.
“It’s a nice step process,” Chamberlin said. “They can see how they like it, plus they can do it right here at home.”
Greg Neuman, who is currently enrolled in the one-year program in Antigo, said he is considering more training.
“I’ve thought about it,” he said. “I’m not quite that far along yet.”
Brandon Ingram, also enrolled at Antigo, agreed that studying here is a big money-saver.
The electromechanical technology associate degree program is just one of four programs with transfer agreements to Michigan Tech. NTC’s architectural design and technology associate degree transfers into the bachelor of science in construction management at Michigan Tech while the IT – network specialist associate degree transfers into the bachelor of science in computer network and system administration program.
Finally, NTC’s mechanical design engineering technology associate degree transfers to the bachelor of science in mechanical engineering technology at Michigan Tech.
NTC has a series of articulation agreements with public and private universities, allowing students to complete much of their education locally, at a far lower cost.
Examples include accounting, applied engineering, business management, criminal justice, human services, machine tool, marketing, nursing, sustainable architecture and woods.
Agreements are in place across the University of Wisconsin system as well as schools such as Minnesota State, Northland College, Viterbo University and others.
WMC visits Western Technical College to discuss 20-year plan for Wisconsin
February 27, 2014
Skilled workers may be hard to come by in the state of Wisconsin over the next 20 years. The Wisconsin Manufacturing Commerce Foundation was in La Crosse Tuesday to highlight its 20-year plan to combat the issue.
Western Technical College is one of 16 stops the Manufacturing Commerce Foundation is making in Wisconsin. Technical colleges play a big role in giving students the education needed to become skilled employees in manufacturing.
With the baby-boomer generation coming to retirement age, there could be a higher number of job openings in Wisconsin.
“Well this is an aging state. We expect about 800,000 additional people in this state over the next 30 years but 95 percent of those are going to be over the age of 65,” Wisconsin Manufacturing Commerce Foundation President, Jim Morgan said.
According to the Wisconsin Manufacturing Commerce Foundation, skilled laborers are a dying breed.
“We’ve got some challenges coming down the road around talent attraction, around business competitiveness, that we’ve really got to start that conversation right now,” Morgan said.
The WMC Foundation wants to establish a 20-year plan called Future Wisconsin.
“The things that were outlined here today are trying to get people to think more about manufacturing careers as viable options,” Western Technical College President Lee Rasch said.
Schools like Western Technical College are big contributors to the plan.
“We’re key players because we do a couple things. We work very closely with area manufacturers, we have an existing network, we provide a lot of education and training for the next generation of the workforce in manufacturing and we also represent this region,” Rasch said.
Training the next generation may be tough. The WMC Foundation says keeping that age group in Wisconsin is not easy.
“Unless we do something to keep our young people here and figure out a way to attract more people here we’re not going to have the people available for the jobs that we’re going to have,” Morgan said.
The president of Western said he was glad that the foundation stopped in La Crosse. It allowed for more of the manufacturers in our area to take part in the discussion.
The Wisconsin Manufacturing Commerce Foundation will be working with colleges and universities throughout the year.
WMC Foundation looks into 20-year strategic plan for Wisconsin
February 26, 2014
LA CROSSE – With the baby boomers retiring, Wisconsin will soon lose it’s largest group of workers.
The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation is looking for ways to replace them.
WMC Foundation President Jim Morgan traveled to Western Technical College Tuesday to find out where there is a job shortage in La Crosse, and discuss ways to train students to fill those positions.
The foundation will use that information to create a 20-year strategic plan for the state, called “Future Wisconsin.”
“And we’re trying to look at a couple of key areas like talent attraction, business competitiveness, globalization, entrepreneurship. The types of things that I think if we’re going to be successful in 20 years, we’ve got to start planning for now,” Morgan said.
There’s already a need for welders and machinists, he added.
The WMC Foundation will be meeting with 16 technical colleges, along with other schools, businesses and commerce associations for input.
Increasing demand for apprenticeships as aging workers retire
February 25, 2014
Want to get paid to go to school? With an apprenticeship — you can do just that! Through an apprenticeship, an individual has access to on-the-job training and related classroom instruction. A participating employer teaches the skills of the trade on the job. The classroom instruction is theoretical and practical knowledge pertaining to the given trade. It’s an option more and more students in Wisconsin are taking — with the growing need for skilled manufacturing workers in the state.
“The student works 32 hours a week and goes to class eight hours a week, but they’re paid for 40 hours a week,” Debbie Davidson with Gateway Technical College said.
In a nutshell, that’s how an apprenticeship works. Students get hands-on and in-classroom training in a service, construction or industrial field. Typically, the programs run anywhere from three to five years.
“Apprenticeship is really unique in that you start with an employer with a need and match them with an individual to go through the training,” Davidson said.
Officials with Gateway Technical College say the demand for apprenticeship opportunities has grown, as has the number of students enrolling in programs at the school.
“In 2012, we had a total of 49 apprentices. Then, a year later, we had 80 apprentices. Now we have 140,” Davidson said.
“We’ve already started plans on four brand new programs coming up and we know that we’re going to be doubling our numbers within a very short time,” Wisconsin Apprentice Training Representative Sandy Briezman said.
So what’s driving the renewed interest in apprenticeships? We’re told it’s a skills gap, fueled at least in part by soon-to-retire workers.
“The skills gap that we’re seeing now is what was projected even before the downturn in 2009 because people were planning to retire at that point. They stayed a little bit longer, but they kept aging, so now we’re seeing people are actually at that point of retirement and companies are seeing that we need to fill that gap — and before our people leave and retire how can we utilize them to train that next generation of worker?” Davidson said.
Davidson says the late 90s were really kind of the high point for apprenticeship programs.
The Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards says statewide, there were more than 15,000 apprentices in 2001. By 2012, they had dropped to about 9,700.
Column: Local employer feedback essential to providing relevant programming
February 25, 2014
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.
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.”
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.”
NWTC helps high schools develop manufacturing programs
February 17, 2014
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.”