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Northeast Wisconsin is experiencing a rapidly increasing skills gap in two high-demand industries: manufacturing and automotive.

The root causes of this complex problem include the rise of technology, lack of qualified K-12 technical education teachers and training equipment, and the dwindling interest of youth in manufacturing and automotive occupations.

The 2017 Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance vitality report revealed that 80 percent of companies experienced difficulty finding talent: a significant increase from 29 percent in 2011. Per the index, the most difficult-to-fill positions are machinists and CNC machinists, followed closely by welders, engineers and electro-mechanical technicians.

Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) is looking to turn this trend around by partnering with industry employers, area K-12 schools and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh to implement an innovative, multifaceted career pathways project. This project is designed as a fast-track to employment while reducing student costs and increasing the number of students entering career pathways. The initiative is projected to serve approximately 1,790 students through a $797,000+ Career Pathways grant from the Wisconsin Technical College System.

UW Oshkosh’s College of Education and Human Services professor Michael Beeth will serve as the principal investigator on the grant and will work with associate dean Andrew Rinke of FVTC to develop the technical education licensure program to offer teachers the opportunity to become credentialed instructors. The goal is to accept undergraduate students into this licensure program as early as fall 2018. For those currently working in a technical field and looking to get into teaching, UW Oshkosh’s alternative career program (act!) can provide an alternative path to this technical education licensure that is flexible, fast and convenient. Individuals best suited for the act! program have an undergraduate degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics–also known as STEM related fields.

There have been approximately 50 postings for technical education teachers throughout the state over the past three years. Many of these positions remain posted after the start of each school year (38 at the start of the 2016-17 school year). Unfulfilled positions force schools to decide how to keep programs alive for students. This often results in: filling the vacancy with a less qualified teacher, overloading the current technical education teachers in that district with more classes, and in the worst case abandoning the program. Each district is different in the way they handle it. One thing all schools have in common is that the need to prepare technically skilled workers in Wisconsin is at an all-time high.

“UW Oshkosh looks forward to developing and gaining University approval for the technical education licensure. We understand this is a key step to engaging new K-12 teachers in this field and is critical for addressing the current skills gap,” Beeth said.

“Fox Valley Technical College is looking forward to enhancing our already great partnership with UW Oshkosh by developing this technical education licensure pathway for students. We are committed to growing our relationships with all of our local high schools and the university and expect to have a program proposal ready for consideration within the next academic year,” Rinke said.

The enhanced access to the manufacturing and automotive career pathways will not only provide increased learning opportunities for students it will lead to filling vacant positions in our area.

“Our industry is predicting a serious technician shortage that is already being experienced. We currently need at least 15 highly skilled and qualified technicians and would expect 15-20 technicians per year for many years to come,” John Hogerty, executive vice president of Bergstrom Automotive, said.

The Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance has 190 members throughout 18 counties in northeast Wisconsin. Thirty-seven percent of the members employ the manufacturing workforce of the region. Ann Franz, director of NEW Manufacturing Alliance, speaks to the importance of the FVTC career pathways initiative.

“We are committed to assisting the FVTC, UW Oshkosh and area partners in the development of these high demand occupation career pathways for students. By enhancing the educational opportunities, our area will be better prepared to meet our industry needs for years to come,” Franz said.


Additional facets of the Career Pathways grant include:

  • Increasing dual credit offerings in at least 10 area high schools.
  • Purchasing six additional augmented reality arc welding simulators to assist K-12 technical education teachers with instruction to students.
  • Increasing student dual enrollments by creating a lean and streamlined website portal that is easy and convenient for K-12 and FVTC faculty to navigate.
  • Developing and facilitating multiple career exploration events for middle-high school students. Events will include K-12 science innovation fair, career fairs, annual manufacturing expo, summer camps, skills USA events and competition projects.
  • Assisting high schools in developing apprenticeships by connecting youth to area business and the Automotive Youth Education System.


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