Made to order

Talent shortage drives custom training options for area employers

Posted on Dec 1, 2016 :: Insight On , Workforce Education
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Wanted: drivers who can handle a 73,000-pound vehicle and understand the chemistry of concrete. Punctuality a must.

It might not be a word-for-word job description, but that’s essentially what Appleton-based MCC, Inc. found itself looking for as the ongoing labor crunch in the construction industry tightened its grip on the company’s workforce.

As the company’s older drivers retired, MCC struggled to find younger drivers who could step into the role of driving one of the company’s mixer trucks and delivering concrete to the job site. It was tough enough finding people to fill jobs in the concrete division, but the combination of commercial driver’s license (CDL) and understanding the nature of concrete was a near impossible combination.

“It’s not just having the CDL,” says Adam Tegelman, director of operations for MCC Inc. “There is also understanding the components of Redi-Mix — making sure the right mix gets loaded, it arrives at the job site with the right specs and then you have to place it.”

Suddenly, the job description doesn’t seem so simple.

The labor challenge is further complicated by the escalating pace of retirement for baby boomers. The result was that concrete companies were stuck in a cycle of hiring drivers away from one another without addressing the overall labor need.

To break the cycle, MCC needed to get more employees into the pipeline. While the company does its own training, it did not have the capacity, or time, to train the numbers necessary. Fortunately, there was a solution just down the road at Fox Valley Technical College, which worked with the company to create a customized training module students enrolled in the commercial driving program could add to their studies.

“It gave us a great outlet where we could send our people,” Tegelman says. “Now, we would like to see even more people from the CDL program choose it as well.”

While the initial surge of interest has slowed — FVTC is still providing the initial CDL training for MCC — the customized training for concrete mixer drivers is just one example of the myriad of specialized programs the technical schools can offer employers, says John Mueller, chairman of FVTC’s truck driving education program.

“It’s all part of the partnership we want to have with area employers,” Mueller says. “That one had some unique qualities to it, and we are still helping them, but we will do custom training to meet any company’s needs.”

Indeed, providing specialized training for area employers is a critical part of the mission for Wisconsin’s technical colleges.

“That part of our services is gaining steam,” says Dean Stewart, dean of Corporate Training and Economic Development at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. “Often it’s not the skills of a specific course, but a methodology for a process or a job. If we can get them the credential, the company can then move those employees on to other jobs.”

Each year, the technical schools work with thousands of companies in the region to provide that specific training for the workforce in classes. In most cases, it’s less expensive and time consuming for companies to train the existing workforce than hire new employees.

In some industries, there is a need for both. In trucking, regardless of any specific application, it is estimated the industry is already short 48,000 drivers, a number that is anticipated to increase the next several years. With technical schools such as FVTC producing about 700 new drivers a year, training your own through a customized training program begins to look like the better option.

Overall, Wisconsin’s technical colleges provided customized training to roughly 4,000 businesses and more than 96,000 students statewide, generating almost $36 million in revenue for the system, according to data for the 2014-15 school year, the latest published data available.   

In Northeast Wisconsin, the four technical colleges — FVTC, NWTC, Lakeshore Technical and Moraine Park — executed 2,133 contracts for customized training in the 2014-15 school year, serving more than 47,000 students. The contracts earned the schools a collective $15 million in revenue.

Tegelman would like to see the program MCC developed with FVTC spread across the state to help other concrete companies meet the need for skilled drivers as well. He’s begun his own effort to reach out to state associations, technical colleges and even high schools about how this specialized training can provide a lucrative career path, getting employees into the workforce without racking up school debts.

“You can come in as an 18-year-old and make pretty good money with these skills,” Tegelman says. “The people who run this company today started on a concrete crew, so it can lead to a lot of good things.”