Biz Alliance ready to take on skills gap
Dream It Do It, Schools2Skills chips away at gap
"We've got to stop talking about the skills gap and actually start doing something," said Suzanne Kelley, President of Waukesha County Business Alliance.
The WCBA's Manufacturing Steering Committee spearheaded a number of projects last year to combat the manufacturing skills gap. They've adopted the national campaign Dream It Do It and they've also worked with local educators in the Schools2Skills program.
"We do have the highest concentration of manufacturing in the United States within a 90-mile radius of Waukesha County," Kelley said.
"We are a manufacturing hub for this country and so, obviously, our economy is driven a lot by the ability of our manufacturers to find the talent they need. Whether it's production workers or engineers, finance managers or great human resource specialists," she added.
While they're continuing these programs, they're hoping to do more this year. They want to expand Dream It Do It by creating a listing of manufacturer-submitted opportunities or arranging presentations. Schools2Skills, which begins in February, is including more schools and they're even testing out job shadowing follow-ups this year.
Dream It Do It
Wisconsin is the 20th state to implement the National Association of Manufacturer's Dream It Do It campaign. It's a rebranding campaign, which launched in October 2012, designed to promote interest in the manufacturing sector, especially within younger demographics. It's designed to inform students, parents and teachers about careers across the manufacturing sector while debunking misconceptions.
"Dream It Do It is a collaborative campaign to educate, inspire and ultimately employ the younger generation in manufacturing," Kelley said.
"People think that manufacturing is dead. It's not! It's really not!" said Dickten Masch Plastics Chief Executive Officer Doreen Lettau. Dickten Masch Plastics is located in Nashotah and they're a manufacturing ambassador with WCBA.
It was a long project that could become the foundation for a state-wide adoption of Dream It Do It. In the works this year, too, are plans to tweak the website DreamItDoItWI.com to include job listings - apprenticeships, internships, vacancies. Kelley said that they've just now laid the foundation for Dream It Do It and now they can pursue more.
"I think our long-term vision is not only to have it go statewide, right now it's just the seven-county initiative, but also for it to be a place where students can go to find those kinds of opportunities like internships and job shadowing and mentoring," Kelley said.
WCBA is just rolling out its second ever Schools2Skills tours. Last spring, when it was launched, more than 350 students from across Waukesha County toured a total of 18 manufacturing facilities, six job sites and Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC). Ten of the 11 school districts participated.
"We have had kids now that have never seen a machine shop. They've never been in a factory. They've never seen a welding booth, things like that. It's a long day. It's a fun day," Mary Baer, WCBA Director of Membership Development said.
In one day, the kids toured three different manufacturing plants and wrapped the day up at WCTC. They survey the kids before and after the tours and found that, in all cases, they've "moved the needle" in a positive direction - kids walk away with a better perception on manufacturing, according to Kelley.
"I think we've done a horrible disservice to young people by telling them that they can't be successful in manufacturing … So now we're trying to get in front of students to say, 'Here's what I did and here's what I'm doing today,' " Ellison Technologies CEO Kent Lorenz explained. Ellison Technologies is a local company, based in Pewaukee, who is also a partner and manufacturing ambassador with the WCBA.
Different this year, WCBA is also offering job shadowing for anyone who's already been on the tour. They'll have a whole list of classes that they can attend at WCTC, as well as a list of manufacturers that they can visit if they'd like to, according Baer.
Baer said that it's especially important because some schools in Waukesha County are down to one shop class. No automotive, no technical and no welding classes.
"We're going to have to get creative to start providing some of that technical training that's going to be needed to fill these current and future jobs," Kelley said.
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