Meeting Demands for Industry Needs

Posted on Aug 1, 2011 :: Industries
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy of Ace Marine

When the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh started an insurance education program a few years ago, the industry’s aging demographics were a driving force.

According to Scott Beyer, insurance professor and director of the program, which launched its first classes in the fall of 2009, the insurance industry expects about 50 percent of its operational workforce to retire in the next 10 years. That trend, along with the fact that insurance companies are major employers in the region, helped drive creation of the program, which offers a minor in insurance and risk management.

“The insurance industry is strong in Wisconsin,” Beyer says. “However, we need to develop new talent to help keep it strong.”

The program got its start with the help of a UW Growth Agenda grant, and has also obtained funding from the Griffith Foundation, an insurance industry non-profit focused on education, as well as from industry companies including Northwestern Mutual, The Holter Financial Group and The Blevons Group. Beyer says the program teaches specifics about underwriting and claims, but since UW-Oshkosh has a college of business, students also get a business and accounting foundation.
“When the students go out into industry, they understand the operational side of insurance,”
says Beyer.

UW-Oshkosh is but one of several higher education institutions in the region that have adapted programs to growth industries or specific business needs. Sectors and disciplines such as wind power, marine construction and corporate sustainability are all benefiting from this academic willingness to adapt.

For example, Lakeshore Technical College launched a wind energy program and recently began sharing programming with other schools. Doug Lindsey, dean of the college for Trade & Industry, Agriculture and Apprenticeship, says Lakeshore is partnering with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Moraine Park Technical College and Fox Valley Technical College.

The concept, says Lindsey, is for students at those colleges to learn the core technology locally, but take the turbine-specific courses at Lakeshore’s campus, which has four working wind turbines and all the proper safety systems. It also recently installed a demonstration turbine
on a 12-foot platform for added training capacity.

Lindsey says the shared approach allows students to stay “place-based” for much of the program, while also eliminating the need for partner schools to install turbines and safety systems. Not unlike industry alliances, the approach allows the partners to achieve more with less. “The thrust was to increase the graduate harvest available every year, using others’ technical labs,” Lindsey says.
Schools increasingly are reaching out to industry to shape programs. At NWTC, where a one-year marine construction program began in June, a two-year marine engineering technology program starts this month. Course content was shaped with the help of industry feedback from a design curriculum meeting held this past winter, says Robert Egger, maritime coordinator and instructor for NWTC. The three-day focus group involved about a half-dozen technical experts from regional shipbuilders.

“We sat down and basically picked their brains on the skills they needed in maritime construction,” says Egger. “We got their advice not only on the hard skills, but also on soft skills like team building, problem solving and knowledge of lean manufacturing techniques.”

Student needs also influence the program. Egger notes the one-year program in marine construction can now be started in August, in addition to a June-to-June time frame, which appeals to students who prefer a summer away from school before beginning the technical diploma program.
Regional schools also are directly getting involved with industry in the form of internships or unique services. UW-Green Bay’s Environmental Management and Business Institute’s certificate program features a business internship or co-op experience.

Recent interns have worked at companies such as Tosca Ltd., Green Bay, where they helped with beer barrel recycling, and the Green Bay Packers, where they assisted with a game-day recycling initiative, says John Katers, co-director of EMBI and an associate professor at the university.

“We are looking to grow the [internship] program, and know there are potential opportunities,” says Katers. “With any company, you can find clear links between sustainability and business benefits.”

At St. Norbert College, languages and international studies are a long-time focus, but more recently, the college’s Center for International Education expanded its translation services to meet industry needs, according to Joe Tullbane, center director and an associate dean.

When the service began about 12 years ago, he says, it used students and teachers, handled only four languages and the turnaround was slow. About eight years ago, the service began using subcontractors, and now can handle 59 languages, with a turnaround of 24 to 60 hours.

The focus is now on matching business needs to resources, and vetting agencies to ensure they can handle the projects that are in demand.

“It’s a genuine business,” says Tullbane.