Step out of a job and into a career mindset


Last updated on April 14th, 2022 at 05:12 am

It starts when you’re a kid as an icebreaker with adults: what do you want to be when you grow up? And while we all had stock answers – Football player! Actress! – no kids I knew ever said: Operations supervisor! Small business owner!

Yet those are important jobs in Wisconsin that provide career success and satisfaction. As the need for skilled labor and trained tradespeople increases in our growing economy, the number of workers entering these fields is decreasing. So many jobs are out there, you need only look.

There is great demand for a diverse workforce in manufacturing and building trades, making these kind of skilled jobs a destination for anyone.

Whether you’ve done some planning or are just starting out, more career opportunities await than you can imagine in Wisconsin – you just need to know they exist.

The jobs available are for men and women from all interest areas and backgrounds. There is great demand for a diverse workforce in manufacturing and building trades, making these kind of skilled jobs a destination for anyone. The problem is that many young people don’t seem to know about them.

“We want greater alignment with what kids pursue and what jobs are in need,” said Susan Koehn, director of talent partnership at Milwaukee 7, who helps connect young people with job experiences and career coaching via Inspire Southeast Wisconsin (see our story on page 24). Realistically, we can’t all be movie stars and pro athletes. But what does an engineer do, anyway? (See page 27 to find out).

Two-year or four-year degree?

While a bachelor’s degree from a university is still a much-traveled path to a career, not all high school graduates are going to four-year colleges.

“So many students have been told that a four-year degree is the only way to find success. We know that’s not the case. Some students go into a four-year program and drop out because it’s not a fit or they can’t afford it,” said Robin Kroyer-Kubicek, career pathways education consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Kroyer-Kubicek suggests that academic career planning can help to find the correct fit for the student.

“While post-secondary education is critical to access high-wage, highly skilled jobs, we are trying to elevate the idea that all pathways are valuable and technical certifications are critical,” she said.

Some high school students are taking advantage of dual enrollment programs and getting credits toward technical degrees while in high school. Many high school graduates work to support themselves while studying part-time, and for others, a two-year associate’s degree is a step toward a four-year program of specialization. For others, a technical certification can be earned while working at a related job, and sometimes the employer helps pay for schooling. If you would like to work as an admin personnel, you may want to be an administrative specialist. Those who are looking for an administrative specialist program in Fairview Heights, IL may contact schools like CALC Institute of Technology.

Some companies provide specialized training on the job, like kitchen equipment manuacturer Alto-Shaam, which builds training into the onboarding of each new employee.

“Before workers get put in a position, they are trained in how to be an assembler, or how to be a fabricator, to show them what needs to be done before they’re on the floor building units,” said Sarah Wittig, supervisor of HR. “Their training program is specialized for their indvidual workplace and products. Career tracks in manufacturing exist. It’s not the same job forever.” (See page 28 for career ladder examples).

Four-year degrees are in need at manufacturers, as well. Most companies have many departments supporting the organization. Organizational structures include finance and accounting, sales, marketing and communications, administrative, as well as personnel/human resources (hiring) divisions. So, you can work for a manufacturer even if you aren’t on the production floor, in a professional support role.

Cost is a thing

The affordability of higher education is an issue. Many students are going into college with no savings. Some take loans to sample a variety of classes when they don’t know what they want to do. Cost-wise, according to Mike Shiels, dean of the School of Applied Technologies at Waukesha County Technical College, you can do the same thing at a technical college for much less.

“You’ll spend about $14,000 on one year of general coursework at a four-year state university, and less than that on a two-year technical degree in a specialized field,” he said.

“If you graduate with a technical degree from an Applied Technologies program, you will have at least two job offers waiting for you. With some degrees, you will have four to six job offers.”

— Mike Shiels, dean of the School of Applied Technologies at Waukesha County Technical College

Additionally, Shiels said students will graduate with jobs, based on WCTC’s recent Graduate Success report.

“If you graduate with a technical degree from an applied technologies program, you will have at least two job offers waiting for you. With some degrees, you will have four to six job offers,” Shiels said.

A lot of times, students in technical degree programs get placed with employers during their first term. This employment serves not only as career-based learning, but also offsets costs. Employers like to hire students with on-the-job experience, and this is often built into the curriculum in the applied technologies fields.

School-to-work works

Some schools are bridging classwork offerings with other community support programs. If you are a forward-thinking high school student, consider dual enrollment, where some costs are covered by the school district. These students are working and going to school at the same time. They will put their savings and credits toward four-year degrees in the future, like Andy (see page 26), who has been working and training since his junior year of high school. His school district paid for continuing education.

Andy had multiple work experiences at Generac Power Systems Inc. before graduating high school, and now he works at Ritter Technology LLC. Once he finishes coursework at WCTC, he will move into the mechanical engineering program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is also saving money by living at home with his parents.  Many affordable paths are available to students who seek them out, have some support and show creativity. (Check out the sidebar on page 6 for a few ideas to jumpstart your career plan.)

Another community program is the School District of New Berlin’s Advanced Innovation and Design program, which serves as an “entrepreneurial skills accelerator.” Juniors and seniors receive guidance from professional mentors in partnership with UWM and Innovation in Milwaukee’s The Commons program.

The future is now

In an economy increasingly based on knowledge and services, Wisconsin still has a strong manufacturing base. Manufacturers continue to need workers for production, fabrication and welding. Now, as manufacturing returns strongly to the U.S., Wisconsin has a chance to get engaged in the U.S. economy nationally, as well as globally.

Foxconn Technology Group plans to eventually build a $10 billion manufacturing campus in Wisconsin, so advanced manufacturing jobs will be needed after the plant is built. Operational by 2020, the plant will initially employ 3,000 people, with the potential to grow to 13,000. It will be the first liquid crystal display facility of any kind in North America and will manufacture LCD screens.

STEM = hot jobs

Engineering positions are needed across the board. Mike Reagan, global supply chain strategy manager at GE Healthcare, said, “We hire for jobs that support the core of delivering high-tech health care product to clients – manufacturing, logistics, product quality engineers. Few products are made by a single engineer. They need multiple engineers for every build.”

This includes automation (robotics) engineers, software engineers, chemical engineers, biomechanical engineers and more. These careers emphasize a core math, science and technology education, most often including a four-year or more engineering degree.

Reagan said students who take tech classes reveal an ability to learn new stuff constantly.

“These disciplines demonstrate the aptitude to learn and adapt, which we need more than ever,” Reagan said.

Laura Schmidt, assistant to the superintendent of the School District of New Berlin, noted that job opportunities for kids are related to disruptive technologies.

“There is demand for enterprise information technology knowledge,” Schmidt said.

Job growth is huge in areas around technology deployment, with a focus beyond programming that includes informatics, security and analysis of big data.

“One of the surest ways to the middle-class American dream is getting these high-skill, high-wage, high-tech jobs,”  said Brent Kindred, technology and engineering consultant at DPI. He recommends extracurricular activities like SkillsUSA, robotics clubs, and LEGO leagues for students with interest in STEM areas. These groups create a space to learn about these fields and see what the work is like through hands-on activities.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has awarded fabrication laboratory money to 35 school districts across the state. Students can use these high-tech workshops to learn how 3D printing, plasma cutting or laser engraving works. The equipment in the fab labs is the same as that often used in manufacturing jobs.

Building & manufacturing careers in demand

If you like to make stuff, you might consider a career in a building or manufacturing trade. Workers in manufacturing and industrial trades make almost all of the products we use (see our story on page 14 for some cool Wisconsin-made products). There are many specialties within manufacturing trades, and all rely on training as a first step. Internships, mentorships and job shadowing are ways that you can learn if you like the work and if the company is a fit.

Construction has many pockets of professions that require not just building expertise, but electrical, architectural design, plumbing, heating, landscaping and more. Home-building is expected to increase with new manufacturing, according to the Wisconsin Builders Association, which predicts the Foxconn development will spur at least 1,000 new homes to be built annually, creating more than 3,000 jobs.

Some of the fastest-growing types of businesses in Wisconsin now are one-man (or woman!) shops. In particular, plumbers and electricians are in demand to serve the needs of the trades, which have a high retirement rate. Workers need to be replaced, and as the economy grows, there’s been a shortage. Many entrepreneurs spring up in the trades, and it’s a great time to learn on the job or through accelerated training programs.

Opening the factory doors

A lack of understanding about what happens in a manufacturing plant revealed a need to open the doors to potential workers. Now, through school and community partnerships, young adults can set up tours to see how a plant operates day-to-day. They have opportunities to talk to mentors in the fields they are interested in and job shadow, or even work as interns to get a feel for the company’s culture and business. Sometimes if they find a company is a fit for them, the employer might offer a job when the internship ends, or provide tuition reimbursement for ongoing training of degree-seeking employees.

For Wisconsin businesses to continue to grow, they need the next generation to sign on. Lots of companies are coming up with strategies for attracting new workers, such as signing bonuses and paid training on the job. Some companies develop their own in-house training programs, and others hire companies to come in and train workers for new technologies. Employers have developed internship and mentoring programs, and some work with high schools and technical colleges to prepare and hire students for the current and future workforce.

Apprenticeships are other ways businesses are engaging the next generation. The state’s Youth Apprenticeship program provides a chance for students to make learning relevant to their lives because they’ll use the knowledge on the job. Instead of learning from a teacher, they are listening to a colleague at work.

“We all have to continue to upscale our skill set – Youth apprenticeship prepares students for lifelong learning. We need to change the paradigm from the idea that the only viable track is a four-year degree. Opportunities such as a youth apprenticeship open options to purse any number of career tracks,” said John Dipko, communications director for Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development. (Get more information about youth apprenticeships in Wisconsin in our Featured Resources on page 82.)

Jobs in your own backyard

To start your career, you won’t need to go far. Mark Maley, public affairs and communications director with WEDC, is working hard every day via Think Make Happen to spread the word.

“We want to let people know Wisconsin is a great place to live, work and play,” Maley said.

The WEDC has developed a statewide initiative to attract and retain talent as the demand for workers intensifies.

The new workforce will drive economic development, as well as curriculum in school districts and tech colleges around the state. Talk about shaping the future: you are the future, and can create what comes next!

Working for a local company can give you a sense of regional pride. When asked to offer advice to a job seeker, Wittig says it comes down to finding work you like to do at a place that feels comfortable.

“If you find a company you love, stick with it because it will pay off in the long run,” Wittig said.

Here’s hoping you find an amazing career opportunity right outside your door at one of our southeastern Wisconsin businesses.

5 things you can do to find a career…

Join a club

Many schools have extracurricular programs designed to give you a chance at hands-on experience doing the work through robotics groups, LEGO leagues and STEM competitions.

Career cruise

All Wisconsin students have access to career planning software at, which can help you find ideas and make a plan. Check out companies and what they want to hire for, and hear from actual workers in your field of interest for career guidance (See page 24 for more.).

Talk to a career coach

Ask your teachers and counselors in the school-to-work office about dual enrollment programs with other schools, colleges, or training programs with employers that you can explore. They can also connect you with mentors working in your field of interest.

Try a job shadow or internship or youth apprenticecship

Many companies offer opportunities to see what jobs are like day-to-day. Teachers and counselors in your school district can guide you to finding job shadow opportunities for careers you are interested in. Classes might offer tours of factories in the area.

Attend a career fair

Meet recruiters and ask questions about the positions that need to be filled today and for tomorrow to help you in planning your future. They can suggest programs of study based on your interests. Talk to your community business association or chamber of commerce for career fair information.

Check out our Resources section starting on page 65 for some other points of interest on your journey to not just a job, but a career.

50 most wanted positions

This list represents the workforce gaps in our region. These are the top jobs that companies are hiring for in southeastern Wisconsin. The open positions in today’s local economy show a need for skilled trades and STEM-based education. Manufacturers, in particular, have positions to offer.

  1. Human resources specialist
  2. Marketing specialist
  3. Administrative assistant
  4. Manufacturing manager
  5. Manufacturing machine operator
  6. Machinist
  7. Sales representative
  8. Accountant
  9. Office manager
  10. Receptionist
  11. Technical sales representative
  12. Customer service representative
  13. Mechanical engineer
  14. Quality controller
  15. Industrial engineer
  16. Mechanical engineering tech
  17. Industrial machine mechanic
  18. IT project manager
  19. Engineering tech
  20. Industrial engineering tech
  21. Shipping and receiving clerk
  22. Purchaser
  23. Electrical engineer
  24. Bookkeeper
  25. Computer network specialist
  26. Cost estimator
  27. Public relations specialist
  28. Welder
  29. Logistics specialist
  30. Business systems analyst
  31. Computer software engineer
  32. Financial manager
  33. Account manager
  34. Electrical engineering tech
  35. Recruiter
  36. Custodian
  37. Tool and die maker
  38. Computer support person
  39. Corporate trainer
  40. E-business consultant
  41. Data entry clerk
  42. Market research analyst
  43. Nursing assistant
  44. Personal care attendant
  45. Stock clerk
  46. Electronics assembler
  47. Volunteer manager
  48. Auditor
  49. Computer programmer
  50. Heavy equipment operator

Read more about Stuff made and built in southeastern Wisconsin in the digital edition of this new publication. 

Source : June 2017 – Inspire Southeast Wisconsin Career Engagement Survey

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