Sam Wesp of Hartford graduated from Fox Valley Technical College in 2012 and in 2011 interned for the college's diesel equipment and technology program, which has a high rate of placement for FVTC graduates. Wesp now is employed with Fabco in Milwaukee. / Submitted
Tough to fill
The 2013 Manufacturing Vitality Index, released by the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, said these manufacturing jobs are the most difficult to fill:
1. Computer numerical control machinist
2. Electrical engineers
3. Skilled trades
5. Machine operators
Go to postcrescent.com to hear Steve Straub, dean of manufacturing at Fox Valley Technical College in Grand Chute, talk about the jump-start initiative, which is designed to help students earn technical diplomas faster.
Educational and industry leaders are taking a proactive approach to ensure businesses have the skilled workers they need today and in the future.
From partnerships between technical colleges, K-12 education and business groups to efforts by private firms to groom employees for future leadership roles, numerous efforts are underway to keep workers’ skills current and ensure a steady stream of ready-to-employ people are available tomorrow.
Miller Electric Mfg. Co. in Appleton and its parent, Illinois Tool Works, have been internally discussing workforce needs for years but stepped up efforts the past two years, said Craig Treichel, group human resources manager for Miller.
“It wasn’t something that was just brought up in a memo one day and we started looking at it,” Treichel said.
It involved a cultural change within the company, which makes welding equipment, to get employees and leadership to begin thinking about the future, he said.
One area Miller has focused on is leadership development. Current employees, who are seen by management with leadership potential, are provided opportunities to work for different parts of the business and in different jobs at different locations.
The idea is to give those people exposure to as many aspects of the business as possible to give them an understanding of the entire operation, Treichel said.
“We’re trying to develop a well-thought-out plan to expose our people to different things,” he said. “Mobility also is an important quality as we become more global as a company.”
The nation is getting older and so are its workers.
The Census Bureau said in 2006 that 14.5 percent of the nation’s labor force consisted of people 65 and older. The bureau projected at that time the number could reach 19.7 percent by 2014.
The Government Accountability Office projects that by 2015, about one-fifth of the nation’s workforce would be made up of people 55 and older.
Higher costs for healthcare, longer life spans and lack of retirement savings are some of reasons cited by the government why people are working longer.
But eventually people do stop working and in some instances take decades of industry knowledge with them.
At Kiel-based Amerequip Corp., a maker of custom equipment for the lawn, landscape, agricultural and construction industries, the company has established partnerships with Fox Valley high schools and regional technical colleges to develop training programs to keep its workers up to date and to introduce teens to manufacturing.
Mike VanderZanden, CEO at Amerequip, said its boot camp, which partners with Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, is a 16-week program. It’s a combination of classroom work and onsite training, which gives students real-world experience and provides opportunities for employees to share their knowledge.
“(The students) are getting paid and getting credits at the same time,” he said. “They’re also getting real experience in a profession they want to get into.”
Partnerships between business and educators are essential to ensure students are learning skills that meet employers’ needs, said David Eckmann, economic development director for the Marathon County Economic Development Corp.
He pointed to Northcentral Technical College in Wausau’s centers for excellence, which addresses workforce issues in advanced manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and wood technology.
“The centers do more to train the incumbent workforce to keep their skills current,” Eckmann said.
Another Marathon County initiative, “The Heavy Metal Bus Tour,” targets high school students who may be interested in manufacturing careers.
It’s not just a field trip for students to visit businesses, Eckmann said.
“For the companies who participate, they spend time with the students, explain to them the skills needed for specific jobs and what the potential salary could be,” he said. “It gives manufacturers the opportunity to show students what they are about.”
The program has had participants from 10 school districts in the Marathon County area since it launched about two years ago, Eckmann said.
Across the board needs
Chris Matheny, vice president for instructional services at Fox Valley Technical College in Grand Chute, said industries including health care and advanced manufacturing, are in a constant cycle of shortages and hiring booms.
About five years ago more conversation emerged about need for skilled workers and challenges to fill available positions, Matheny said.
“Even during the recession, students from some of our programs still were seeing high rates of placement (after graduation) in the 80 to 90 percent range,” Matheny said.
On FVTC’s website, www.fvtc.edu/fall2013, the college details program openings for its upcoming fall and spring terms, which have strong employment outlook. In the college’s latest annual graduate employment research report, it shows 89 percent of its graduates find jobs within six months of graduating.
Some of FVTCs high placement programs include automotive and diesel technology, electrical technology, engineering electronics design and manufacturing, truck driving and emergency medical technician.
Matheny said programs offered at the college are based on input from advisory panels, which include business and community leaders. These relationships are important to keep curriculums current and ensure what students are learning meets employers needs, he said.
“Employers come to us say they need skilled workers and students come to us saying they want to know where the jobs are so they can get to work quickly after they graduate,” he said. “It’s been a good way for us to connect (our graduates) with high-demand careers.”
— Larry Avila: 920-993-1000, ext. 292, or email@example.com; on Twitter @LarryAvila