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Nicolet College - Nicolet partners with Northwoods manufacturers to create highly skilled workforce

Nicolet College partners with Northwoods
manufacturers to create highly skilled workforce


Posted Monday, Jan. 31, 2011

Mike Sutton knows full well about the close connection between a knowledgeable, highly skilled workforce and a successful company.He lives it every day.

HyProAs the plant manager for HyPro, Inc. in Rhinelander, Sutton focuses much of his time and energy on employee training and development efforts, cognizant of the critical link between individual performance and the company’s bottom line. “If we are to remain competitive, we must increase the skills of our workforce – our future depends on it,” Sutton said.

Sutton and other manufacturing leaders from Grow North, the region’s economic development organization, recently partnered with Nicolet College to formalize the training process and create the six-credit Manufacturing Fundamentals Certificate.

Funding for the project was provided by a grant from the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.

Classes started last fall and, to date, more than 40 individuals both in and out of the workforce have taken certificate classes to learn or improve skills in critical core manufacturing, blueprint reading, and technical math along with how work safely on the job.

“Manufacturing is a very important employment sector in the Northwoods with more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs in Oneida, Vilas and Forest counties alone,” said Sandy Bishop, Nicolet’s director of workforce training and economic development. “By coming together to create this type of training, we’re strengthening the manufacturing base and putting the pieces in place for future success.”

Bishop added that this type of training is even more important today due to increased global competition and a changing manufacturing landscape where increased efficiency and innovation are the norm.

“Success in manufacturing today calls for workers to have a broad and solid foundation in basic skills, advanced technical skills, and a commitment to life-long learning,” she said. “This program serves to provide all of those components.”

Nicolet structured the Manufacturing Fundamentals Certificate to serve as an entry point and stepping stone to higher academic achievement as credits transfer to more advanced Nicolet programs, including the Manufacturing Essentials certificate.

As for HyPro, it operates six plants in Wisconsin and one in Iowa that provide a wide variety of heavy-duty machining and manufacturing services to industrial, energy, and transportation clients. Already 23 employees from HyPro’s Rhinelander facility have taken Manufacturing Fundamentals Certificate classes through Nicolet.

Sutton says he was somewhat surprised by this high level of interest. “This response demonstrates the thirst for knowledge that many people have and how willing they are to pursue self-improvement if someone will work with them on things like scheduling that fits their current life circumstances,” he said.

Prior to this initiative, HyPro employees primarily received on-the-job training. A key benefit of the more structured certificate program is that employees can gain the formal knowledge they need and can apply that knowledge on the job.

“Perhaps most importantly,” Sutton says, “the classes help our employees understand the reasons behind the way we do things. In addition, they are better prepared to take their careers in the direction they prefer and to seize opportunity when it presents itself. Their confidence in their own abilities has been enhanced.”

Other Northwoods companies involved with this project and other Grow North manufacturing initiatives include Advanced Barrier Extrusions (Rhinelander), Appleton Performance Packaging (Rhinelander), Daigle Brothers (Tomahawk), Harley-Davidson Motor Company (Tomahawk), Northland Stainless (Tomahawk), Northstar Steel Fabricating (Rhinelander), Oldenburg Group (Rhinelander), Packaging Corporation of America (Tomahawk), Printpack (Rhinelander), Red Arrow Products (Rhinelander), Superior Diesel (Rhinelander), and Wausau Paper (Rhinelander).