IT WAS A COMMON CHALLENGE Peter Willis kept hearing over and over again: manufacturers had trouble filling their open jobs.
After talking with local manufacturers, Willis, executive director of Progress Lakeshore, Manitowoc County’s economic development corporation, estimated there were about 250 unfilled manufacturing positions. With an unemployment rate of more than 6 percent in the county, Willis says it was clear “there are jobs out there, but people don’t have the training they need to get them.”
To help prospective employees get that training, Progress Lakeshore launched an intensive six-week training program, Manitowoc County Production Technician Boot Camp. The boot camp combines a traditional classroom experience and hands-on training in a mobile lab. Lakeshore Technical College faculty members and staff provide the training at its campus at the Manitowoc Job Center.
Students attended class from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., four days a week for six weeks. When finished, they received a Certified Production Technician credential and six college credits. More importantly, they’re qualified for jobs that typically pay between $10 and $14 an hour.
When the first class finished in August, seven local employers lined up to interview the graduating students to see if they were a good fit for their open positions, Willis says.
“There are another 10 to 12 employers who are interested in the program and wanting to learn more about it,” he says.
LTC received a Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Fast Forward Grant that pays for the majority of the program. Students pay $300 in tuition and companies contribute $850 towards the program if they hire a program graduate.
“We realized we could help train workers quickly for these jobs that are in demand,” says LTC Training Director Jill Hennessey. “Beyond the classroom instruction and hands-on work, we also worked with the students on resumé writing and interview skills. We took advantage of all the different resources offered by the Job Center. It’s definitely been a collaborative effort.”
Greg Jagemann, a production control manager with Jagemann Stamping, says it was natural for the company to support the program.
“Not only do we have manufacturing careers here for people, but as a company we are a strong supporter of educational programs,” he says. “This program really helps educate people about the workplace and the manufacturing process.”
Hennessey says LTC was able to take current courses and make them work for this program — although in a condensed timeframe. “We had the resources. We just had to get it done,” she says.
Willis says the program will help raise awareness about the careers available in manufacturing and that it’s not a “dirty” job. “That couldn’t be further from the truth,” he says. “Our manufacturers have clean, modern facilities. Part of the program includes going out to different job sites.”
Jagemann says having the students at the business was a plus. “They could see firsthand what we were doing and see in action the things they were learning in the classroom,” he says. “The program also helps them understand what a career in manufacturing is like. It’s a good option for those new to manufacturing whether they are entering right out of high school or did something else first.”
In addition to Jagemann, other manufacturers involved in the program include Beamaco, Cawley Company, Federal Mogul, Kaysun Company, Lakeside Foods, LDI Industries, Masonite, Manitowoc Co. and Northern Labs Inc.
Having companies host the students was an important part of the program’s success, Willis says. “We started this program in response to our local companies and their needs and we continue to work with them to make sure we’re doing what we can to help them.”
Unlike other fast-track training programs where technical colleges or workforce boards took the lead, in Manitowoc it is an economic development organization running the program. Willis says that’s an important distinction.
“We wanted to become more involved with the program. We did a strategic review a few months ago and talked about how we can help our employers meet their needs so they can grow,” he says. “This is one way we can directly do this and meet employers’ needs.”
The initial boot camp had six students and Willis says plans are underway to boost that number in the future.
“We’re looking at possibly offering the program on a part-time basis so students can still work and we’ll definitely be getting out the word on the next offering of the summer program much earlier,” he says. “This year’s program came together rather quickly and there wasn’t as much time to get out into the high schools and promote it. This year, we’ll have more lead time and be able to get out and talk up the program more.”