Legislators bring technical colleges into tax relief discussion
January 17, 2014
By Scott Bauer -Wisconsin’s budget surplus was projected Thursday to reach nearly $1 billion, money that Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders are eyeing for income and property tax cuts.
But news of the $977 million surplus, which was expected for weeks but larger than many anticipated, set off a feeding frenzy in the Capitol among lobbyists, special interest groups and lawmakers.
“Everybody and their cousins from other states will be coming home to get a piece of the money,” said Republican Senate President Mike Ellis, who has served through several budget booms and busts since he took office in 1971.
Walker and Republican leaders tried to dampen expectations for more spending, saying the money generated mostly through higher-than-anticipated tax collections should be returned to taxpayers. But Democrats and other liberal advocacy groups said it should be used for everything from aid to public schools and higher education, Medicaid and worker training grants.
“The additional revenue should be returned to taxpayers because it’s their money, and my administration will work with the Legislature to determine the most prudent course of action,” Walker said in a statement.
Walker has been talking with Republicans who lead the Senate and Assembly about tax cut proposals he plans to release in his State of the State speech next Wednesday. Walker’s spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said the governor wants to adjust income tax withholding tables to put more money in taxpayers’ pockets immediately and is also eyeing income and property tax reductions.
The question will be how any tax cuts are structured.
Walker’s getting pressure from Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to use the surplus to reduce property taxes levied and collected by technical colleges in Wisconsin. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he wasn’t convinced that was the only approach that could be taken. Fitzgerald said some in his caucus will want to save a portion of the surplus to be used for ongoing spending commitments.
Still, the pressure to send some of the surplus back to taxpayers will be strong.
“My members wouldn’t sit still for doing nothing,” Fitzgerald said.
Meanwhile, Walker isn’t saying much about what he will propose.
“The governor is focused on property and income tax relief and not necessarily other broad policy decisions at this point,” Webster said.
Democrats called for using the money to spur job creation and programs like worker training that would help the middle class.
“Taxpayers need a balanced approach that rebuilds the rungs on the ladder of success, provides tax relief directed to the middle class and long-term financial security,” said Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca.
The net total surplus of $977 million was fueled by $893 million in tax collections above earlier projections, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported. Net tax collections are projected to increase by 2.2 percent by July and another 4.3 percent by mid-2015.
Vos is pushing for replacing the technical college property tax levy with general state tax dollars.
The 16 technical college districts in Wisconsin cover the entire state, so supplanting property tax revenue with state money would lower property tax bills for homeowners statewide. The average property tax levy this year was $1.76 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Depending on how it’s structured the amount any individual homeowner would save would vary based on the value of their home and the amount of the local technical college district levy.
“I want to make sure we do something that everybody in Wisconsin feels,” Vos said.
Replacing a portion of the technical college property tax levy with state money is the most equitable way to provide property tax relief statewide, Vos said. Technical colleges levied about $796 million in property taxes this fiscal year. That is the fourth most behind school districts at $4.8 billion, municipalities at $2.6 billion and counties at $2 billion.
Conor Smyth, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Technical College System, had no comment on Vos’s idea.
“We’re looking forward to learning more about what the proposal is,” Smyth said.
Vos said he did not know if Walker would be proposing an income tax rate reduction in addition to changing income tax withholding tables. Changing withholding tables would result in taxpayers getting more money back in their paychecks immediately, instead of receiving a larger income tax refund. The tables have not been updated since 2009.
LTC helps students find career path
January 14, 2014
CLEVELAND — Although the halls of Lakeshore Technical College are bare of college students this week, the classrooms are alive with the sound of high school students as sophomores forge paths toward careers after graduation.
Approximately 1,000 sophomores from highs schools across the county participated in a two-day Career Expo at Lakeshore Technical College. The career exploration program, which also continues today, was separated into three sections aimed at helping students find a career path suited to their interests.
“Today is a day that opens their horizons to look at many different facets of possible career choices,” Karen Szyman, executive director of The Chamber of Manitowoc County, said. “Hopefully it will get them on the path of thinking and choosing classes that are associated with those careers.”
The first section, a traditional career expo, allowed students to interact with 22 different business leaders in the community to discuss employment opportunities. Business leaders discussed skills needed for specific jobs and highlighted lesser-known careers students might be interested in.
“I think they look at a nursing home and think, ‘I’d have to be a nurse,’” said Tracy Miller, human resources director at Shady Lane Nursing Care Center. “I have to convince them there are many other areas. There are more things happening behind the scenes than just caring for the residents.”
Variety of ambitions
The approximately 500 sophomores at LTC on Thursday were mixed on their career ambitions. Some, such as sophomore Vanessa Bautista of Two Rivers, focused on a career, such as health care, while others, such as Autumn Conjurski, were not so sure.
“I would like to help people. I just have an interest in that,” Bautista said. “I’d always wanted to be a doctor to help people who were injured.”
Conjurski, also of Two Rivers, said she was considering a career in graphic design, but was looking at other options, too.
“I plan to help other people with my disability, autism, or be an animator or video game designer,” she said. “My brother plays a lot of video games and always asks me to make something. I always say, ‘sure, whenever I get the right skills to do it.’”
Her friend, Sheryl VanGinkel, was set on pursuing a career in the psychology field.
“I love the human brain and how people react with certain things,” she said.
The career fair provides benefits to both types of students, Heidi Soodsma, the finance and program manager for the Chamber, noted.
“The importance is career exploration for students,” she said. “For some, it is there first exposure to different career opportunities. A lot of schools do career planning, but this is an opportunity for students to talk directly to the experts in their field.”
In addition to the traditional career fair, human resource professionals were on-hand to educate students on employability skills, such as creating resumes or going to job interviews.
“Present a winning impression,” RaeAnn Thomas of Seek Careers Staffing in Manitowoc, told a classroom of students. “You are not the only one for a job interview, and you want to stand out.”
In other classrooms throughout LTC, students met with, and asked questions of, employees within their desired field. In total, 90 volunteers from local businesses attended the fair.
Eric Haban, a machinist at LDI Industries in Manitowoc, said the discussions provided students with valuable career information, but also allowed businesses direct access to potential future employees.
“We get a big pipeline of potential candidates into the welding and manufacturing field from this program,” Haban said. “I got a call out of the blue last year from a parent who said their kid watched our presentation and wanted to know more about industrial maintenance.”
Haban, who said he found his calling at the Career Fair years ago, returns every year to talk with students.
“I think what attracts me to come back every year is I remember sitting out here in 10th grade and thinking about the career options that were out here,” he said. “I want the students to know that manufacturing is thriving and is not a dying career. There are good opportunities to make a decent living in the skills area.”
Haban met with students, such as sophomore Sam Oswald, who said he was looking into a career in electrical engineering
“My dad works at Manitowoc Company, so I was checking that out,” Oswald said.
Organizers said they hoped the program inspired students to begin thinking now about their future career plans.
“Apply yourself now,” Jon Shambeau, an engineer at Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, told a group of students. “Now is the time to do it, because other things will come at you way to fast. Today is the day.”
GREEN BAY — More and more people are looking to preventative and in-home care as the American population continues to age.
A new expansion at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is helping nursing students be better prepared for the changes.
The 13,000 sq. ft. expansion includes three new learning labs — a wellness lab, a caregiver learning center and a simulation lab.
Nursing student Chris Krzewina said the simulation lab is one of the best ways for NWTC students to get experience in patient care.
“It’s a really safe environment,” said Krzewina. “I mean, we don’t have to worry about anyone full-out crashing on us.”
In the lab, students can practice their skills on life-like mannequins that are controlled by instructors. The mannequins have a pulse, and can breathe and even talk to them.
“Now we’re just going to be taking your blood pressure on your arm, OK?” Krzewina asked the mannequin. “Ok, the instructor replied as the voice of the mannequin.
The technology allows instructors to help prepare students for any type of real-life scenario.
“We can use the rare conditions in simulation, something that the students would not typically experience and give them that experience as well,” said Jeff Matzke, a nursing instructor at NWTC.
Students studying in the new wellness lab will learn theory and practice patient coaching techniques that focus on preventative care, something educators say is becoming more popular in the U.S.
“When we talk about cost of health care, which is on a lot of people’s minds these days, prevention is really the best cost,” said Scott Anderson, associate dean of Health Sciences at NWTC. “So how do we keep people out of the health care system? We do that through behavior change and lifestyle change.”
As the population continues to age, student will have to be prepared for another growing trend, in-home care.
“We have our whole kitchen here, or our whole apartment set up here, so that our students will incur some barriers because then we can teach them here in the classroom how to work with those barriers,” said Cindy Theys, associate dean of Health Sciences. “So by the time they get out to someone’s home, they’re going to have tips and tricks to know how to better care for those people in their home.”
No matter kind of patient care students choose to focus on, educators and students said the new learning labs helps give them the hands-on experience they’ll need to succeed.
The total cost for the new expansion was $3.5 million. Gifts from donors covered about $1.1 million.
Madison College works to close job training gap
January 9, 2014
A survey of 341 Wisconsin CEOs reveals a growing concern about finding enough skilled employees to fill job vacancies and facilitate growth.
I hope you had a joyful holiday season and wish you a happy New Year. This time of year is a culmination of sorts for many Mid-State Technical College students. An impressive class of 142 graduates gathered Dec. 19 for fall semester commencement ceremonies to celebrate a transition from their MSTC hands-on college education to new beginnings and enhanced opportunities in the workforce.
The solid reputation of this college and the impressive skill set of MSTC graduates are well documented. Nearly nine out of 10 MSTC graduates are employed within six months of graduation, and 95 percent of employers who hire MSTC graduates are satisfied or very satisfied with their education, training and skill set. These are some of the reasons why nearly 9,000 people make MSTC their preferred choice for education and training each year.
Yet statistics alone will not ease fear of the unknown. Anxiety sometimes can hinder our desire to achieve the skill set that enhances our career options. Fear ultimately “… holds us and binds us and keeps us from growing.”
However, success is often driven by a willingness to step out of our comfort zones and try something new. The following stories show how two students faced fear, made sacrifices, rolled up their sleeves and tackled the unknown.
Nancy, a 27-year-old mother of three from Stevens Point, was a small-business owner before undergoing an organ transplant, forcing her to give up her business to focus on her recovery. While taking classes on Stevens Point campus in spring 2012, she realized she wanted to pursue a career that empowered her to help others feel good about themselves; cosmetology was a natural fit. She graduated in December with a technical diploma in cosmetology and is currently readying to take her State Board licensing exam. Nancy isn’t going anywhere though; she plans to continue taking classes this semester in MSTC’s business management program.
Dan also stepped away from the status quo. While still a senior in high school, Dan completed paramedic technician program classes at MSTC. Dan since has finished his paramedic core courses, passed his National Registry exams and became licensed in Wisconsin as a paramedic — all before celebrating his 19th birthday. He subsequently was hired as a full-time paramedic, where he works today.
Maybe you know someone who needs encouragement overcoming a fear of trying something new, someone who will benefit from enriching skills they need to be successful in the local workforce. MSTC is the first stop on a path to a new or enhanced career. Our helpful and caring employees provide the custom support and assistance each person needs.
Ring in the New Year with small class sizes, hands-on instruction and engaging faculty with real-world experience. It’s not too late to register for MSTC’s spring semester — classes start Jan. 13. Stop by any of our four locations, call 888-575-MSTC (6782), or visit www.mstc.edu to learn more.
GREEN BAY – The future of training health care givers is looking a little brighter at an area college.
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College unveiled its 13,000 square foot expansion Monday to its Health Sciences Center.
The expansion includes three new learning labs, a wellness lab, a simulation center, and caregiver learning center.
NWTC’s health services dean says the addition means more learning for students.
“Now with this expansion we’re capable of providing more opportunities for our students,” said Kay Tupala.
“We have an incredible workforce, trained, motivated, interested in improving the care that we’re giving, working together very well with one another,” said George Kerwin, president and CEO of Bellin Health.
The expansion cost about $3.5 million. It was made possible through business partners and community support.
$15 million in grants available to businesses
January 7, 2014
From biztimes.com: “State program to boost worker training: $15 million in grants available to businesses” – The need to improve worker training in Wisconsin is so significant that even Democrats and Republicans are in agreement. It’s a rare occurrence lately for the Wisconsin State Senate to pass a bill unanimously with bipartisan support. But the Wisconsin Fast Forward bill became that rare occurrence last March when all 33 Wisconsin senators and 94 of 98 state Assembly representatives voted to approve the workforce initiative.
Gov. Scott Walker and Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development Reggie Newson at a recent press event for Wisconsin Fast Forward at Northcentral Technical College.
The legislation was the first to pass in Gov. Walker’s $100 million workforce agenda over the 2013-15 biennial budget period, passing even before the budget did.
“(Wisconsin Fast Forward) is the cornerstone of the state’s workforce investment strategy,” said Reggie Newson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
“It’s the most proactive and most aggressive investment in worker training that I can remember,” said Bryan Albrecht, president of Gateway Technical College.
Wisconsin Fast Forward is a $15 million worker training grant program and it’s kicking into gear in 2014.
“The ultimate goal is to develop talent to fill existing jobs and create new ones,” Newson said.
Applications for the first round of worker training grants were due in mid-December, and DWD – and its new Office of Skills Development that was also created as a part of the Fast Forward initiative – is currently in the process of evaluating those grants, which are set to be announced in January.
The first round of grants amounts to $2.7 million, and focuses on worker training in three areas – manufacturing, construction and customer service.
Scott Jansen, director of the Office of Skills Development, said $400,000 of the grant money will go to customer service, $300,000 to small manufacturers (with less than 50 full-time employees), $1 million to manufacturers of any size and the remainder will go toward construction. The grants are set to be announced in late January, and the earliest training grant implementations could be up and running as soon as March 2014, Jansen said.
A key aspect of Wisconsin Fast Forward, Jansen said, is the program’s requirement to hire the employees being trained.
“We don’t just want to throw public money at additional training,” Jansen said. “We want (businesses) to be able to make the hire at the end of the program.”
Jansen said businesses applying for these grants must prove a commitment to hire.
Newson said that with this program using “demand-driven” requirements, it is focusing on “underemployed, unemployed and incumbent workers.”
The $12 million that remains after the first round will be allocated each quarter, as the DWD will announce a new round every three to four months until June 2015, Newson said.
The Office of Skills Development is currently analyzing which occupations and sectors to focus on for the program’s second round, which will be announced in late January, Jansen said.
Wisconsin Fast Forward is built to be an inclusive, collaborative process, Jansen said, with input and expertise from strategic partners, including the Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant Evaluation Committee, which includes panel members from the DWD, the Wisconsin Technical College System, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, as well as the employers applying for the grants.
“This whole process allows us to be nimble and flexible to be able to meet employers’ needs and incentivize and develop talent in high demand areas of the state,” Newson said. “It also does something impactful that goes along with what the governor wants to do, which is aligning education, workforce development and economic development to create an economic development outcome.”
Newson said the Wisconsin Fast Forward grant programs will be “employer-driven,” “demand-driven” and “customized based on their specific needs.”
In the grant applications themselves, Jansen said, “employers need to identify what the curriculum is, and they’re the ones writing the curriculum.”
“Wisconsin Fast Forward is based on models from other states – Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota – creating a demand-driven program that employers can access…to do customized worker training to be able to meet the skills gap,” Newson said.
Pat O’Brien, president of the Milwaukee Development Corporation and the Milwaukee 7, said there’s been a lot of discussion on the issue of the skills gap, noting that many companies complain that they can’t find employees while at the same time the unemployment rate is 7 to 8 percent, and higher for people of color. It is a challenge to the region, he said, with companies getting pickier to compete in a world economy and lower-skills jobs going to Mexico and overseas.
Albrecht said the issue of a “skills gap” is more of a moving target because of rapid changes in new technology.
“There is a skills gap, but there is probably a larger skills mismatch, where (current) skills may not align with new skills that are necessary,” he said, giving automated manufacturing and other computer-related skills as examples. “That second-tier skills training is where we see the gap. The effort now is to close a higher-level skills gap.”
“We need to make sure people are wired into the jobs of the future,” O’Brien said.
The Office of Skills Development was created as a part of this initiative to oversee the grants and programs and to be a collaborative, convening force to align the efforts of the state’s education, workforce development and economic development, Newson said.
“It’s been a very good resource because it provides a communication network,” Albrecht said. “The Office of Skills Development pulled several offices together so it can have a greater impact on the dollars that are invested.”
O’Brien said Jansen, who’s most recent job before becoming the director of the Office of Skills Development was with the Greater Milwaukee Committee, is the right person to be leading this initiative, citing previous workforce development initiatives with the GMC.
“I have a lot of faith in Scott Jansen,” O’Brien said. “He’s been a cornerstone of this project. I really respect Reggie (Newson) for putting this together.”
Jansen said the office currently has four employees, and completes tasks like writing administration rules, designing the grant process, building the website (Wisconsinfastforward.com), marketing the initiative, managing the grant application process and auditing the training program.
It was through the new office’s efforts that DWD was able to identify construction, manufacturing and customer service as the fields for the first round of grants.
“We saw from our strategic partners, from technical colleges and from our employer inquiry that those three are in high demand right now,” Jansen said.
“This is all strategic,” Newson said. “At the Job Center of Wisconsin website, there is somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 available jobs listed at any given time. At any one point in time, there’s between 100,000 and 150,000 jobs going unfilled in the state of Wisconsin. These programs will help us fill those jobs.”
Jansen said that 1,200 to 1,400 customer service jobs are available on the Job Center’s website on a weekly basis.
“Customer service is the number one requested job position in the state,” Newson said.
Any specific connections from this program to the Milwaukee area remain to be seen, but Jansen said there have been many applicants within the Milwaukee area for Fast Forward grants, and that there will be a regional focus.
“You’ll see in grant program announcements that employers will validate request with places like the M7,” said Jansen. “(They) need to validate that those are legitimate skill needs.”
Jansen said one area in Milwaukee where a need for skills development has been identified is in automated manufacturing.
“Population-wise, we’re 36 percent of the state in the M7 region, and we’re 38 to 40 percent of the state’s gross product,” O’Brien said. “On any measure, we’re 35-40 percent of the state’s economy. Any program the state does that’s statewide has a big impact on us. On average, (the Milwaukee 7 region) should get 35 to 40 percent of those dollars.”
Albrecht said his greatest hope for the program is for it to put people back to work.
“In southeastern Wisconsin, with new job areas coming to be available – like the 2,100 new jobs in Kenosha County – we’re going to have to find a way to invest in training to meet that demand,” he said.
Career Expo, hosted at Lakeshore Technical College, will be assisting more than 1,000 Manitowoc County high school sophomores in exploring future career interests while promoting the development of our future workforce.
This event is held in cooperation with the Manitowoc County public and private high schools, University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc, Lakeshore Technical College, Lakeland College and Silver Lake College of the Holy Family.
The high school sophomores will be involved in the following events:
• Career Exploration in 16 various Career Clusters
• Career Fair representing area Manitowoc County businesses
• Employability Skills Session
• Career Mapping Session
• Career Activities with their high school guidance counselors
Over 95 volunteers from across Manitowoc County will speak to students about their respective careers and opportunities for the future. The day program includes career presentations, employability workshops and a Career Fair.
At the Career Fair the students will be instructed to interview three representatives from the 22 businesses showcasing their career opportunities. The students will discuss potential careers, skills required in the field and the advantages and disadvantages of the careers.
The third workshop entitled “You, You, You” will focus on employability skills.
2014 Career Expo is being held Thursday and Friday beginning each day at 9 a.m. and concluding at 11:30 a.m.
It will be held at Lakeshore Technical College, 1290 North Ave., Cleveland. Career Expo will host Two Rivers, McKinley, Reedsville, Brillion, Kiel, Lutheran and Valders students on Thursday and Lincoln, Hilbert and Mishicot students on Friday.
MATC pastry instructor learned from one of the best
January 6, 2014
World renowned pastry chef Jacquey Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School and author of the new book “The Art of French Pastry,” has won countless accolades for his tireless pursuit of perfection in pastry.
He has also been recognized for his exceptional mentorship, which he has extended to dozens of pastry students from Wisconsin. Some, like Chef Kurt Fogle of SURG Restaurant Group, who Pfeiffer mentions by name as a star pupil, have gone on to make their own marks on the world of pastry.
On January 12, Fogle and a team of some of the city’s finest culinary talent – including Chefs Justin Carlisle of Ardent, Matt Haase of Rocket Baby Bakery, Andrew Miller of Hom Woodfired Grill and Jarvis Williams of Carnevor — will host a dinner honoring Pfeiffer. The five course dinner will serve as a celebration of his life, his work, and his new book.
The menu is being kept under wraps, but Fogle says each chef will be pulling out the stops in an effort to pay homage to Pfeiffer.
“We all work together, and we’re all a little competitive,” Fogle remarks, “So, you know everyone is bringing their A-game. There’s something–without trying to sound like too much of a weirdo — about watching five guys really going for it. To be a person in the room experiencing those dishes.”
Fogle has a particular investment in the dinner, since Pfeiffer was a key influencer in setting the direction of his career.
During his tenure with Pfeiffer, Fogle was one of very few Americans who had the privilege of taking part in the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition (Best Craftsmen in France), a competition captured in the documentary, “Kings of Pastry.”
NPR’s Ella Taylor remarked, “Kings of Pastry is about the craft, the teaching and learning, the collaborative work, the tedium, the heartbreak and emotional backbone it takes to make something lovely, even if that something is destined to disappear down a gullet in seconds — and even if the maker ends up a noble failure.”
“The whole damn experience was indelible,” Fogle says. “Working with Pfeiffer was two years of just having my mind blown day after day. And it was exhausting. Nothing will ever be harder than that. Nothing. I’m going to continue to challenge and push myself, but that’s the highest level.”
Working together created a professional and personal bond between the two chefs. Fogle says Pfieffer continued to be his mentor even after he left Chicago. In fact, it was Pfieffer who encouraged Fogle to move back to his home state of Wisconsin after completion of the competition.
“Since I was 15 working at O&H Danish Bakery in Racine, I had a passion for this part of the culinary world, and Pfeiffer encouraged me to come back and see where I could enhance pastry here,” he says.
He credits Pfeiffer with launching his career, as well as setting the direction for his art.
“To sum it up,” Fogle tells me, “He’s one of the best pastry chefs on the planet, and in turn I’m one of the luckiest apprentices to walk the planet.”
He went on to talk about some of the things he took away from his experience.
“I don’t want to say I didn’t learn to cook from him,” Fogle explains. “But what I really learned is how to think, how to be organized. He didn’t teach me how to bake, he taught me how to think.”
And for Fogle, part of that experience was learning that he could do anything to which he set his mind.
“One of the first things you learn from him is that anything is possible, because if it’s impossible we’re just going to create a technique or a tool or a trick to make it happen,” he tells me. “It wasn’t how to hold a spatula and fold mousse. It was the commitment and philosophical aspect I gained – learning to be tenacious and resourceful so that when I get out into the real world… when I don’t have a proofer or a sheeter– and I have an oven with hotspots hotter than Mercury — that I could still put out a great croissant.”
Fogle, who has known Pfeiffer since 2006, says he’s more than just a great teacher and pastry chef.
“He’s really really good at foozeball and ping-pong,” Fogle goes on. “Like he makes me feel bad about even playing against him.”
But, Fogle says his gentle disposition is what really makes Pfeiffer exceptional.
“In all the time I’ve known him, he’s never raised his voice,” he explains. “He’s the sort of guy who just makes you want to do things better – whether it’s pastry or what it is… he just never loses any steam. He’s ok going back and back and back and making things better and better. That’s really what rubbed off the most.”
Fogle, who teaches part-time at MATC in their culinary department, says he learned a great deal about teaching from Pfeiffer.
“I think the most important thing that I learned from him is that you have to be patient, and you have to let people struggle through it… a good example is that he was trying to teach me how to pipe something. I was struggling with holding the bag and not moving it. A couple of years later I realized I was doing it properly. But, I don’t know when it happened. He instilled in the idea that you just need to do it and do it again.”
So, when he teaches, Fogle says he always keeps that in mind.
“The fact is, I can’t talk you into being a good pastry chef, and I can’t make you into a great chef. But, I can be there for you and work with you and help you get there.”
Sounds like the sort of teacher we’d all love to have had.
FVTC students learn precision in wood manufacturing
January 6, 2014
With each lesson in the Wood Manufacturing Technology Program at Fox Valley Technical College, students routinely pull out calipers to check their work.
The goal: “To develop their sense of precision,” says instructor Mark Lorge. By the end of the full-time, year-long program, “The students are not finished products,” Lorge says, but they are “conversant in the language of the industry.” They finish the program with a .003″ sense of precision. While they are not expert cabinetmakers, Lorge adds, “If given a task, they should be able to do it.”
This sense of precision, paired with the students’ broad understanding of secondary wood processing, creates a well-rounded knowledge base, which Lorge believes is essential for a career in the industry. An alumnus of the program himself, Lorge graduated in 1983 and went on to work with production and millwork companies such as Morgan Products Ltd., Elipticon Wood Products, and Valley Planing Mill. In 2013, Lorge celebrated his 20th year of instruction at Fox Valley Technical College.
Associate instructor Glenn Koerner leads the program with Lorge. Also a grad of the course, Koerner returned to Fox Valley Technical College after more than 14,000 hours of working wood industry experience. He has been teaching with Lorge for seven years.
Lorge and Koerner work with approximately 20 students each year, guiding them through five nine-week units of instruction.
“Some students come in with no prior understanding,” Lorge says. During the first nine weeks, they are introduced to the groundwork of every project—planning. They learn to read blueprints before preparing a parts list and production estimate. They also get acquainted with basic machining and wood identification.
The second block further develops students’ understanding of material, terminology, hand tools, portable and stationary power tools, and processes in the woodworking industry through a variety of curriculum methods. Through these methods, they develop the habits required to safely and efficiently perform machining tasks. They are introduced to an advanced level of setup and operation on machines, and they demonstrate their psychomotor and cognitive competency of the process through a series of operation exercises.
During the third nine-week block, students become familiar with the process of cabinetry. Though the instruction does not include formal certification (such as Woodwork Career Alliance, the Carpenters Union apprenticeships, or Cabinet Makers Association certification), it does help students develop the knowledge needed to design and build face-frame cabinetry. They design doors and drawers, they build jigs and fixtures, and they process materials to create laminate countertops. Cabinets completed in the course have been donated to Habitat for Humanity for use in homes built by the organization and its partner families.
After approximately 36 weeks, students learn the principles of veneering, advanced machine joinery, and CNC routing.
Through a partnership with Komo Machinery, the Wood Manufacturing Technology Program at Fox Valley Technical College has been provided with a VR510 Mach 1 S router, software for 21 seats and upgrades of RouterCIM and two seats of AutoNEST applications to operate the machinery. Fox Valley Technical College maintains and insures the CNC equipment while using it to instruct students about current machining technology.
“Most students embrace the CNC technology with enthusiasm,” Lorge says. The program language can be intimidating to students with little experience in computerized equipment, he adds, but they generally do well once they become familiar with the software. By writing G-code, programming the router, setting tools, developing multiple tool programs, and creating a gasketed fixture, students gain an understanding of the machine and its capabilities.
According to Lorge, Komo leads the industry in CNC technology and the partnership is not only beneficial for Fox Valley Technical College and its students, but also for Komo and for local manufacturing companies as well. After graduating from the program, students go on to work in these facilities, where they recommend Komo routers.
The most recent hiring rate for students is “100%,” Lorge says, with the program consistently seeing more than 90% of its graduates landing careers throughout the years. Some graduates even go on to start their own businesses, whereupon they hire more graduates from the Wood Manufacturing Technology Program.
“Fox Valley Technical College is successful because of the feedback it gets from the industry,” says Len Riebau, owner of wood finishing firm WDL of Wisconsin, and a member of the advisory board for Fox Valley Tech. “A company needs employees who possess technical ability and a good work ethic, and good training is one of the keys to success.”
Lorge, who has seen the program develop since he began his first planning lesson in 1983, continuously looks ahead for ways in which it can continue to grow. He and Koerner have been revising the curriculum for web-based delivery and they are currently working to require tablet access for each student by August of 2014.