Cody Rye was certain his career path included a four-year college degree.
But shortly after arriving on the campus of Michigan Tech, Rye began to sense he may have taken the wrong fork in the road. He knew he wanted to work as an engineer, but he was no longer sure the traditional route was the one he should take. As he began looking at alternatives, one of his top concerns was graduating quickly with a degree that would get him into a job and earning a salary.
His search led him to Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, where he enrolled in the college’s utilities engineering program. Two years later, he graduated and was on the job with Wisconsin Public Service as an electrical substation designer.
“One of the first things I looked at was the placement rate,” Rye says of his decision to change schools and attend NWTC. “It’s really what made the decision for me.”
The utilities engineering technology program at NWTC has a 75 percent employment rate, with 100 percent of those who have secured jobs working in the industry. The median salary for a position with that degree is more than $59,000.
“It was a pretty easy decision once I saw the jobs that were available,” Rye says. “I like being in a situation where I am financially stable.”
Training job seekers with the skills needed by prospective employers has always been the core mission of NWTC and its companion schools in the Wisconsin Technical College system. Lately, they have been performing the task exceedingly well.
A recent survey of Wisconsin’s technical college graduates showed a placement rate of 92 percent securing a job within six months of graduation. Job placement rates for the schools has been above 86 percent for the past 16 years. The study further found that 88 percent of the technical college graduates were still working in Wisconsin, helping to keep the growing talent shortage in check.
“We have incredibly great relationships with local industries,” Susan May, president of Fox Valley Technical College, says to explain the high placement rates the technical colleges enjoy. “Our staff and faculty are very close to the industries they teach — many are in, or came from, those industries.”
In addition, many companies have representatives sitting on advisory panels that ensure the curriculum taught is aligned to the skills employers need.
Internships are also a key to the success of the technical colleges. Most programs require an internship where the students are expected to perform real work associated with the job they hope to land. The students get real world skills and the employer gets a chance to take a good look at prospective employees.
Rye spent eight months interning at WPS, then went to work for the company full time.
“It helped me learn what was really going on in the industry and how everything worked together,” Rye says. “It also helped me to get to know the people.”
For the technical colleges in the New North region, that has meant overall placement rates above the state averages in many cases.
At NWTC, the latest data on graduates shows an overall placement rate of 93 percent within six months of graduation, with 80 percent of those landing a job within their desired industry.
The latest data from FVTC shows its placement rate is 92 percent, up from 90 percent. The latest surveys also showed 49 programs offered by FVTC have a placement rate of 100 percent.
NWTC reported more than 40 programs with 100 percent placement rates.
“We are mirroring what is going on in the economy,” May says. “There is an incredible demand for workers with these skills. The challenge we still face is keeping up with the demand.”
It’s a gap that’s growing. Employers in Northeast Wisconsin — particularly in technical fields related to manufacturing and information technology — are reporting they cannot fill their current openings and the situation could get worse as the pace of baby boomer retirements begins to peak.
By 2021, more than 11,600 jobs will go unfilled in the regional economy because of the skills gap between graduates and what employers need.
Given employer demands, and the technical college’s ability to place students, the timing is right for students looking to jump start a career, May says. In many cases, a graduate from the technical schools can not only launch a career quickly and with low debt, but will find that employers are willing to pay for the completion of a four-year or advanced degree.
“It’ a huge selling point for us: You can come here, do well and in two years or less we can pretty much guarantee you a job,” May says. “It’s a great way to get into the workforce quickly.”