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Posted on Mar 10, 2016 :: Cover Story
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Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

EMT International President and Owner Paul Rauscher saw into the near future when an aging workforce would retire, leaving manufacturing
in the lurch. So he joined a board of local business executives and educators to try to build interest in manufacturing careers. But Rauscher had trouble breaking through the perception that manufacturing itself was on the way out.

Rauscher says that educators wondered, “‘Why would anyone want to get involved in manufacturing, you’re all just heading to China.’ So the image of manufacturing, to say the least, was pretty poor.”

Then Ann Franz met with Rauscher on behalf of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board to discuss ways to increase interest in welding programs. “I said, ‘Well, it’s a lot bigger than welding programs. It’s a real mess out there. We have to somehow get a better story out to the public.’”

What followed was the inception of the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, an organization that expanded from one company in 2006 to 176 members today. Its success has attracted attention from other organizations around the state as well as nationally and internationally who hope to emulate the alliance’s successful model.

“There’s one single goal here and that is to develop a pipeline of skilled manufacturing workers,” says Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board. “That’s ultimately what everybody wants to do, and all of the activities and the products that the alliance has produced have all been working toward that single goal.”

That focus has produced the following results: 

• Built engineering degree programs in the region, including working with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and UW-Stout on their partnership and developing the new engineering degree programs through UW-Oshkosh and UW-
Green Bay.

• Participated in the launch of the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference. In 2015, the conference expanded to a two-day event with 1,300 registered attendees and more than 500 high school students in attendance.

• Grew a scholarship program for students attending manufacturing-related programs at area colleges from $4,000 in 2009 to $35,000 in 2016.

• Increased enrollment in machine degree programs from 180 students in 2005 to 513 in 2014. For the same time span, welding programs increased from 193 students to 734.

• Garnered interest from groups hoping to create or improve their own alliances nationwide, including Texas, Nebraska, Florida as well as internationally in Italy.

Additionally, the alliance has had success in publicizing manufacturing, partnering with Insight Publications on the annual All Stars magazine, which features up-and-coming young manufacturers. The alliance also has been featured in publications such as USA Today, The Washington Post and Forbes.

Recipe for success

Mark Kaiser, president and CEO of Lindquist Machine, an early alliance member, agrees that the connections with educators have improved at a high level, allowing manufacturers to collaborate on student programs. The industry-led model of the alliance and its focus have lended to its success, Kaiser says.

It also needed someone like Franz at the helm.

“We have to have somebody who can ‘mow the grass,’” Kaiser says. “The business leaders and the business champions who are committed to this and passionate about this don’t have time to mow the grass. They aren’t going to get the day-to-day stuff done.”

Franz “does tremendous outreach” which has helped spread the word about the alliance and build its membership, Golembeski says. Franz’s role has evolved from 2005 when the workforce development board hired her to be a liaison with the business community.

“Having somebody in that
position at that time was really fortuitous,” Golembeski says. After connecting with Paul Rauscher, “it was just the right mix of chemicals at that point.”

Having the alliance formation driven by the politically neutral workforce development board also was an important component of its success, he says. “We had no
stake in this other than to help everybody win.”

Partnership and projects

During the past 10 years, the alliance has shifted the image and perception of what manufacturing is, Golembeski says.

“The other huge change is the amount and level of dialogue between the manufacturers and the school districts,” he says. “Turn the clock back 10 years, there was just not a lot of conversation going on.”

In the coming year, the alliance plans to continue that focus on education, Franz says. In 2017-18, the state will require schools to prepare academic and career plans for its students. That offers a strong opportunity to introduce the array of manufacturing careers to educators and for manufacturers to work more with schools on hands-on programs like Project G.R.I.L.L. and employability skills.

“Going back to what we said about 10 years ago, one of our vision statements was that we were going to be a world-class leader in manufacturing opportunities,” Franz says. “And we have really seen that come to fruition. We are considered a thought leader in developing a public-private partnership.”

Case in point: Franz was invited to speak at the Future Forum Conference in Udine, Italy in 2014, as well as to government and workforce leaders around the state and the U.S.

“There are lots of examples of really robust industry partnerships with education, where there’s a very specific alignment of curriculum with the exact industry needs,” says Susan Koehn, director of industry partnerships for Milwaukee 7, a seven-county regional economic development partnership in Southeast Wisconsin. “But they’re built on the presumption that there’s an existing talent pool out there waiting to enroll and to be trained in these programs.”

And with such a tight labor market, where the needs of manufacturing will continue to evolve rapidly as technology and automation change, the challenge becomes greater,
Koehn says.

“NEWMA’s strategy of growing the talent pool and pointing the pipeline of young people toward those careers that are booming is really simplistically brilliant, so that’s really the value proposition for us,” she says.

Model organization

David Skidmore of The Upper Mississippi Manufacturing Alliance (TUMMA), which officially formed in January, says that combination of NEWMA’s focus on talent development and its own leadership have made it a successful model.

“Ann Franz, Paul Rauscher and Mark Kaiser have all done such a wonderful job developing (the alliance) into a very, very successful program,” says Skidmore, who was a member of NEWMA when he worked for Green Bay’s Hudson-Sharp before moving to western Wisconsin. “So when we started talking about it, I just piped up and said, ‘It works, so let’s use their model.’”

TUMMA was developed through a Mississippi area equipment and metal manufacturing association, which wanted to broaden its membership. TUMMA now has an executive director, a 10-member board and is just starting its membership drive, Skidmore says.

Milwaukee 7 includes about
3,500 manufacturing companies, including those in The Water Council, the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium, and the Food and Beverage industry clusters. Those clusters have been focused on a broad array of goals, including innovation, supply chain and process improvement, Koehn says.

“I think what is so appealing and fresh about NEWMA and what makes it stand out is their laser focus on the talent piece of all that,” Koehn says. “I think that’s really what the missing piece of the puzzle was in
the Milwaukee 7 region.”

NEWMA’s key metric of increasing the number of enrollments and completions in manufacturing programs at the regional tech colleges has resulted in growth in critical programs like machining and welding, where other schools in other areas, including Milwaukee are seeing a decline, Koehn says.

“They’ve experienced success — they’ve moved the needle,” Koehn says. “And that is kind of unheard
of.” 
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