By Rich Rovito, Industry Reporter, WMEP

Programs, organizations and governmental entities alike are working to connect students and other job seekers with careers in manufacturing. Aggressive efforts have been launched to position manufacturing in a more positive light, thus dispelling long-outdated beliefs that industrial jobs are dirty, dangerous and low-paying.

One such program is “Dream It. Do it,” a national recruitment strategy sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers designed to highlight manufacturing as an industry that provides high-quality careers with family-supporting wages.

Waukesha County Technical College secured funding for the “Dream It. Do It” program through a grant provided by the Wisconsin Technical College System. Initial executive oversight is being provided by Waukesha County Business Alliance’s Manufacturing Alliance Steering Committee. The implementation team includes representatives from the Milwaukee 7 Regional Workforce Development Centers, as well as from the Milwaukee Area Technical College, Waukesha County Technical College, Gateway Technical College and the Waukesha School District.

Wisconsin is the 20th state to implement the program, which aims to create a single, powerful brand for manufacturing careers in support of local workforce development efforts. Plans are to ultimately take the program statewide.

Also working attract more employees to the industrial sector is the Manufacturing Careers Partnership, a growing coalition of manufacturers committed to coordinating efforts with educators and workforce development to ensure a pipeline of manufacturing talent and career pathways to meet industry needs.

WMEP LogoExamples abound of high school students exhibiting a growing interest in manufacturing careers. At the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s annual Manufacturing Matters! conference, a group of students spoke of their desire for careers in the industrial sector.

Ryan Rasmussen has participated in a youth apprenticeship program that has allowed him to gain experience in welding and machine shop operations.

Rasmussen, a student at Green Bay West High School, believed the apprenticeship program would give him the hands-on experience he wanted in the welding field. He has taken classes at his high school and at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, which has allowed him to meet his academic requirements while developing other skills such as welding and blueprint reading classes.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.36.34 AM“I learned tons of stuff and it was super important for me to have in-shop experience at a young age,” Rasmussen said. “I’m growing my welding skills. Hopefully in the next couple of years I’ll earn my degree and have new adventures in the welding field that will take me places.”

Nick Preston, a senior at New Holstein High School, has taken part in a youth apprenticeship program that has allowed him to gain experience working as a quality control assistant at Kiel-based Amerequip Corp.

“I am never afraid of a challenge that will benefit my life,” Preston said. 

“When sophomore year came around, I had no interest in manufacturing. I was thinking about it as the 1950s with dirty, smoky buildings,” Preston said.

A mentor convinced him he could make a career in manufacturing, however.

“Now I have a job in manufacturing and, honestly, I’d like to continue my career in manufacturing. It’s a very fun field. Every day I go into work and I never do the same job twice.”

Kathryn Lieffrig, a junior at Elkhorn Area High School, developed a passion for engineering, a field she learned has strong connections to manufacturing.

Lieffrig has participated in Project Lead the Way courses at her school and also has taken part in engineering camps, including Engineering Tomorrow’s Careers and Camp Badger.

Organized excursions to various manufacturing plants allowed her to witness engineering applications in action in an industrial setting.

Leiffrig’s passion runs especially deep for product innovation and computer-aided design (CAD) systems.

Also working to develop innovative and dynamic approaches toward developing Wisconsin’s workforce is the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, a federally-mandated entity under the Workforce Investment Act. The Council is charged with aiding Wisconsin employers in finding the workers they need while providing resources to enable workers to access training for in-demand careers.

Members include a majority of business leaders, as well as state legislators and local elected officials, representatives from educational institutions, community-based organizations, and labor representatives from throughout the state.

Another unique approach to drawing more students to careers in manufacturing has been implemented by GPS Education Partners, which creates partnerships between local businesses and education to meet the needs of non-traditional high school learners. These partnerships offer educational programs that provide students with an opportunity to earn their high school diplomas through an integrated learning experience linking academic standards with real-world applications.