A few months ago, Cortnie Bryan of Greenville was working full time as a farm hand — milking cows, driving tractors and the like. Today, the 21-year-old is hoping that the hard-knock life of living paycheck to paycheck is behind her — and it may be, thanks to a new collaboration between Pierce Manufacturing and Fox Valley Technical College.
Through a Fast Forward grant awarded by the State of Wisconsin, Pierce and FVTC created a GED-to-Work program. While enrolled in the 12-week program, candidates pursuing their GED can work up to 20 hours a week (at $15 per hour) at Pierce while receiving 15 hours of instruction.
Upon completion of their GED, students will be offered full-time employment and a signing bonus at the leading manufacturer of fire apparatus and vehicles.
Pierce’s Senior Human Resources Manager Shane Backhaus says the company, which employs about 1,800 production workers, was experiencing a high number of open positions and a skilled labor shortage.
“We’re continuing to see it be more and more of an issue; we have an aging workforce,” Backhaus says. “It’s just really the nature of the manufacturing space.”
While candidates were approaching Pierce for jobs, many didn’t have GEDs. Backhaus says the company reached out to FVTC to help bridge the gap.
“In my memory, we’ve never done anything quite like this before,” says Colette Kolb, associate dean of general studies at FVTC. “Companies are really having to look for employees, (and) it’s giving students who we know need more schooling a toe in the door at a company that is going to treat them very well.”
Candidates ages 18 and older can apply for the program. “We are recruiting in the community,” Backhaus says, but people nationwide are welcome to apply.
Prospective participants go through an interview and vetting process, Backhaus says, to ensure the program is a proper fit for both parties. “Long-term, we want to turn them into full-time employees.”
The $242,000 grant will fund 60 students in the next two years. The first cohort of applicants just ended with four successful completers, including Bryan.
“I got involved with the program so that when I finished and got my diploma, I would have a high-income job,” says Bryan. “This program helped me do things that I struggled to do for a long time. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing that I have a full-time job with benefits waiting for me when I’m done, I’m really grateful.”
While the grant will only fund the program for two years, Backhaus says Pierce hopes to continue it past that date.
“There’s a community aspect to this as well. We want to build momentum with this,” he says. “We want to be the trendsetters here.”
And FVTC is equally supportive of this pilot program.
“I am always open to more conversations with more employers,” Kolb says. “I think the outcome of it is definitely a good one; this was really a good fit.”