By Rich Rovito, Industry Reporter, WMEP

In northeast Wisconsin, manufacturers are banding together to solve the skills shortage and improve the image of manufacturing careers. They do this through the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, a manufacturer-led organization working with K-12 and post-secondary educational institutions, workforce development boards, chambers of commerce, and economic development and governmental entities in 18 counties.

The Alliance was formed in June 2006 due after Paul Rauscher, president of EMT International, a Hobart manufacturer of equipment for the converting, paper, document processing, packaging and printing industries, became concerned about his company’s aging workforce and inability to find well-trained workers, concerns shared by multiple other companies.

“Manufacturers had to get involved. If we didn’t tell our story, no one would know,” Rauscher said.

It was critical that manufacturers worked closely with educators and the media to communicate the technical and employability skills needed in today’s advanced manufacturing environment.

What started out with 12 manufacturers now counts more than 130 members, mostly manufacturers. Speaking with one voice, manufacturers have made a tremendous impact on improving their industry’s image. For example, area technical colleges no longer cancel courses in manufacturing subjects due to low enrollments. Instead, they are opening additional sections of courses, even during the evening.

“My division is having record increases in enrollment,” said Mark Weber, dean of the Trades and Engineering division of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. “It is an exciting time, especially when one considers that, for example, in 2005 NWTC graduated 28 welders and now we have almost 200 people in the welding degree program.”

The Alliance is in its sixth year of publishing a manufacturing careers “All Stars” magazine that is distributed to schools and job centers throughout northeast Wisconsin. Individuals featured in the publication are 18 to 35 years of age who have demonstrated leadership skills, work accomplishments and commitment to their manufacturing careers. The Alliance also spotlights “All Star Mentors,” employees who have served as mentors both on the job and in their communities. Honorees in both categories represent diverse career fields that include mechanical engineers, sales managers, maintenance technicians, welders and others.

“One of the greatest strengths of northeast Wisconsin manufacturers is having so many talented people working for their companies,” said Alliance director Ann Franz.

An online version of the magazine can be viewed at the Alliance’s website (www.newmfgalliance.org) and features short video clips of the “All Stars” at their workplace, discussing and demonstrating their occupations.

The Alliance has spearheaded other initiatives targeted at K-12 students, such as the first ever “Excellence in Manufacturing/K-12 Partnerships Awards” dinner in 2012. The event’s primary goal is to bring manufacturers and educators together to develop professional relationships and learn best practices from collaborations already taking place in the region.

Building these relationships is long overdue, said Mark Kaiser, president of Lindquist Machine, a Green Bay custom machine builder.

“Manufacturers in the past have worked in ‘silos’ and have not been engaged with our local schools, a mistake that the Alliance is attempting to change,” Kaiser said. The annual event also features an auction to raise money for two- and four-year college scholarships for high school seniors, which raised more than $6,000 last year.

Other initiatives include the annual Manufacturing First Expo & Conference held in Green Bay. Last year, more than 1,000 people attended, including 200 high school students exploring the manufacturing field. The organization just launched a social media campaign targeted at 19 to 29 year olds. In just two months, more than three million people have seen the Alliance’s manufacturing careers ad on Facebook. In addition, the organization developed a Leadership Academy for Front-Line Production Workers, an incumbent worker training program focusing on employability skills such as working on high-performing teams, peer leadership, conflict resolution, problem solving, lean manufacturing and behavioral safety.

“Leadership Academy is a fantastic program that encourages the behaviors needed to be an effective role model who strives for an efficient and safe working environment,” said Doug Fabian, training and development coordinator from Masters Gallery Foods, a Plymouth-based national cheese supplier.

For more information about the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, contact Ann Franz at 920-498-5587 or [email protected].