Apr 25, 2014

Schools, industries join forces

Excerpted from Baraboo News Republic

By Ben Bromley

A need for trained workers has Baraboo manufacturers and schools working together to promote technical education programs.

Teel Plastics, Synergy Metalworks and Flambeau, Inc. recently partnered with Baraboo School District’s tech ed department in seeking a $150,000 state grant to upgrade technology in local classrooms. On Friday, those manufacturers welcomed 35 high school students for tours to stimulate interest in industrial careers.

Todd Spencer, Flambeau’s chief administrative officer, said many longtime employees at the company’s plastics plants are nearing retirement. Manufacturers need an influx of prospective employees who have undergone quality training on up-to-date equipment.

“We’ve got to fill up the pipeline,” Spencer said. “We’ve got to replace them or we’ve got to outsource it.”

Local industries and educators hope to land a grant through the state Fast Forward Program. In addition to buying new technology for the schools, the partners plan to establish youth apprenticeships that will both strengthen tech ed programs and yield ready-to-hire workers.

This partnership between the schools and the private sector was promoted by Mayor Mike Palm and has earned support from the Cooperative Educational Service Agency, MATC and the state Department of Workforce Development.

District Administrator Crystal Ritzenthaler said business leaders have provided feedback about the schools’ tech ed curriculum and input as to the kind of equipment needed to train qualified workers.

“The business partnerships have been phenomenal,” she said. “We all want the same thing: to educate our kids.”

Friday’s tours were designed to show students that working on a production floor doesn’t mean getting coated in grime. On the Flambeau tour they watched Baxter, a $39,000 robot, contribute to the construction of John Deere lawnmower parts.

“We’re getting kids in here to see this isn’t your grandpa or grandma’s, or your mom and dad’s, industry anymore,” Spencer said.

School programs need technology to keep up, from robotics to hydraulics to computer-aided design. In addition to improving technology in the classroom, Ritzenthaler said the public-private partnership will give students opportunities to work in the field, using the same tools professionals do.

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