If you want to fill the pipeline, sometimes you have to prime the pump.
An initiative launched recently by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh should do just that and then some as a planned $10 million fundraising effort will help deliver a torrent of talent for a region thirsting for workers with technical and engineering skills.
Known as Campaign Engineering Technology, the initiative will provide scholarships, internships, K-12 outreach and equipment needs to support the three bachelor’s degrees in engineering technology — electrical engineering techology, environmental engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology — offered at UW-Oshkosh.
“We have a critical need in the region for these skills,” says Mark Kaiser, president and CEO of Lindquist Machine Corp. “We are losing one generation — baby boomers — at the same time the industry is expanding rapidly.”
The campaign builds on the partnership developed between the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance and the Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance, which resulted in UW-Oshkosh creating the three engineering technology degrees in 2014. As part of the program, students can start working on the degree at any of the NEW ERA schools — such as UW-Fox Valley or Northeast Wisconsin Technical College — then finish the final two years of the bachelor’s degree at UW-Oshkosh or UW-Green Bay.
“I am increasingly impressed with the innovation at work between education and business here in Oshkosh,” UW-Chancellor Andrew Leavitt says. “UW-Oshkosh and our local manufacturers are partnering in a way that’s never been done before — to impact workforce development in a way that’s good for our students, companies and our community.”
Of the $10 million fundraising effort, about $7 million is expected to be used for student scholarships at UW-Oshkosh. For the remainder, about $2 million is earmarked for K-12 outreach, another $500,000 will support student internships and the remaining $500,000 is budgeted for equipment needs.
The engineering technology campaign will support the degree programs at UW-Oshkosh.
The program has helped increase the skilled labor pool for the region, but also provided a flexible and affordable option for both students pursuing the degree and the companies that may be paying for them to do so as a benefit.
“What are the hardest occupations to fill in Northeast Wisconsin? Every year, for the last five years, based on our surveys and research with manufacturers, engineering technology is in the top five hardest to fill,” says Ann Franz, NEW Manufacturing Alliance director.
In addition to helping supply new technical talent for the region, the program also helps companies develop existing talent within their workforce. That’s a win for both the employer and the employee, who can achieve the credentials without taking on the debt of a traditional college education.
Lindquist currently has three employees enrolled in one of the programs, Kaiser says. They work four, 10-hour shifts during the week and then attend classes on their day off. The company is paying for their education, and the employees will be able to take on more responsibilities as they earn their degrees.
“In order to move our employees down their career path, they need this education,” Kaiser says, noting that traditional engineering students have to leave the area to get their degrees. “With this, we can develop the people we have. We can have them here and have them stay here.”
In addition to the fundraising side of the campaign, university leaders seek continued partnerships and collaborative opportunities enabling students in the engineering technology program to earn hands-on education and real-world experience simultaneously — making students familiar with the industry prior to entering the workforce.
The engineering technology program also provides unique possibilities for nontraditional students who might be working full time as applied engineers with two-year degrees. As employees look to grow in their careers, earning a bachelor’s degree can be a benefit for employees and employers.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) recently awarded approximately $140,000 in the form of a Fast Forward grant to UW-Oshkosh so a group of engineering technology students could complete their degrees. Each of the 33 students, representing 10 regional businesses, receives a customized approach to degree completion based on industry background and experience.
Eighty percent of UW-Oshkosh engineering technology students receive some type of financial assistance. Providing scholarships extends beyond helping the individual student, but also directly benefits the local business and local economy.
In addition to Matheson, John Koker, dean of the UW-Oshkosh College of Letters and Science, will serve as campaign co-chair. The UW-Oshkosh Foundation will manage the campaign funds.
“This is one of the most relevant and timely degree programs ever offered by UW-Oshkosh,” Arthur Rathjen, president of the UW-Oshkosh Foundation, says. “It links the needs of our region with the creation of future talent, which will result in a powerful economic impact.”