The No. 1 challenge facing many businesses today is a lack of workers. Helping organizations find a solution to that problem — along with other workforce-related issues — is something Meridith Jaeger does daily. As dean of Corporate Training and Economic Development at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, she leads a department that provides training for businesses that need employees to learn new skills, whether they are technical or leadership related. The department also provides guidance to businesses looking to get off the ground and is involved in the new Startup Hub, designed to be a one-stop spot for entrepreneurs in the Green Bay area.
After working at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for 17 years in a variety of business assistance positions, Jaeger joined NWTC last July. She talked with Insight about the changing needs of employers and how technology and innovative thinking can help provide workers with the skills they need.
The department you lead includes the words “corporate training” and “economic development.” How do those two areas come together?
Meridith Jaeger: The team is focused on the incumbent workforce, whether it’s upskilling employees by providing additional training in an area, such as welding, or with developing leadership skills. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach, we can customize our training to fit an employer’s need. If businesses have a well-trained workforce, they will do better overall, which is good news for the region’s economy.
We also work on economic development through our small business initiatives such as boot camps and our involvement with the new Startup Hub. The (Greater Green Bay) Chamber runs the Startup Hub, but it’s housed on our campus, and we have a presence there to help with small business development, along with SCORE and the Small Business Development Center at UW-Green Bay.
The Startup Hub used to be known as the Advance Business & Manufacturing Center or just the business incubator. But now with the new name, it has a new mission — being a centralized starting point for businesses or entrepreneurs looking for some help. We’re focusing on being a one-stop shop for startups. We hope it really breathes new energy into the entrepreneurial community.
With economic development, we also try to take a step back and think what we can do as a college to cultivate an environment where businesses can grow, so we work closely with the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, the WEDC, the new construction alliance, New North and really anywhere we can help provide training to workers who need it.
NWTC covers nine counties, which is a large area. How do you serve businesses that are near the Michigan border or in Door County? We know Green Bay is not our entire district, so we take our training and workshops on the road. We go throughout the district. We also work with partners where we can, such as the North Coast Maritime Alliance, which is focused on the shipbuilding industry. NWTC has a location in Marinette where we can do a lot of training out of. We can tailor our training specifically for the shipbuilding industry, whether it’s project management or welding. Providing that kind of focus helps the marine industry to recruit and retain workers. Our mobile trainers also allow us to easily bring the training to workplaces.
What size of businesses do you usually work with? Our customer base ranges from machine shops with 10 to 20 employees to large publicly traded companies. Our sweet spot is businesses between 50 to 500 employees. With companies that size, we feel we can make a large impact.
How do you customize training for your customers? We work together as a team and build the curriculum around the goals that the company has for a session. We can do the training onsite, on campus here or at a third-party location if they want something different. Our mobile labs make it easy for us to take our training on the road for something like CNC training or with our mobile modular electro-mechanical trainers. Other training, such as for management or leadership, can also be taken right to the client. We also provide training for those on second shift so they’re getting the same access to knowledge that the first shift workers do. That’s something that’s often missed.
We work together as a team to build awareness in the community about our services. Our customers have to trust that we can come up with a solution that’s right for them. We work with employers and learn about their culture and needs as we put together a training program. As we learn more about the business, we also think about which instructor may be the best fit.
At NWTC, part of our mission is to develop a skilled workforce, and I love how what I do ties back to that mission.
In what areas do businesses request the most help? Right now, finding a skilled workforce is a huge challenge for all businesses. We work to help them to offer the right kinds of training that may help in recruiting and retaining employees.
I know one area that is coming soon and will require additional training: how to work with artificial intelligence and Industry 4.0. Those are areas manufacturers will need help in when it comes to training or even how to use those technologies. We hope we can help businesses better understand AI and think strategically about how the latest technologies can help them become more productive.