Responding to employer training needs like hitting a moving target

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Planning new occupational programs for Wisconsin’s technical colleges is part prophetic, part research and part collaboration. In order to have skilled workers ready for employment just as the labor market needs them, college administrators have to look into the future with the help of employers.

Recent improvements to the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) program approval process will give colleges flexibility and responsiveness as they respond to the evolving needs for specific skills and knowledge in Wisconsin’s workplaces.  Ideally, program approval and implementation end at the beginning of the new labor market.


The ideal situation involves creating the educational program and getting students through the instruction in time to meet the new labor market demand.


In the past five years the WTCS Board has approved 131 new programs and discontinued 115 programs. Occupational programs include a full set of courses leading to a credential such as a diploma or degree. Individual short-term certificate courses can be developed and approved on a local basis.

“It takes time to build a pipeline of new team members and the fastest way to accomplish this is by building a relationship with the programs that address your skills needs,” said Mark Tyler, president OEM Fabricators and member of the WTCS Board.

When developing new courses of study colleges undertake a rigorous process of collecting data, developing a description of duties and tasks involved, creating curriculum and defining competencies or measures of student success.

In the summer of 2012 Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) surveyed employers in that district and discovered the need for 733 quality and production workers in the food manufacturing industry over the next four years. LTC followed up the survey with focus groups, research and a concept review.

“We proposed a 43-credit technical diploma on a trimester schedule allowing students to complete the diploma in one year,” explained Mike Thompson, former LTC dean for apprenticeship and transportation. “The program will attract currently employed and future workers because inside large manufacturing firms people want to move up.”

The LTC board approved the new diploma program and the WTCS Board gave final approval in May.  WTCS Board members study new program proposals looking for consistency with the mission of the system, need for the program, replication not duplication, feasibility of offering the program and access to a career pathway.

In the mean time, LTC started offering a one-credit packaging class that will fit into the technical diploma requirements. In March, 10 students began taking classes for a 12-credit local certificate in food manufacturing production. These credits are the beginning of the technical diploma.

Companies like Sargento, Johnsonville and Masters Gallery will hire these graduates and recommend the diploma program to current employees.