Technical colleges work to rapidly fill new courses

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development recently awarded $28 million in Wisconsin Fast Forward grants to 16 Wisconsin technical colleges to increase their course offerings in high-demand fields.

Among those awarded grants were: Milwaukee Area Technical College, which received $2.6 million; Kenosha-based Gateway Technical College, $1.9 million; and Pewaukee-based Waukesha County Technical College, $1.2 million.

The grants will create a projected additional 4,908 seats for courses beginning this fall, said Scott Jansen, administrator of the Division of Employment and Training and director of the DWD Office of Skills Development.

Each technical college applied for funding for programs, which had a student waiting list or high employer demand, and Jansen’s office received 141 funding requests, of which 100 were fulfilled.

The technical colleges were asked to deploy the funding into added student capacity, usually by adding sections or instructors, and recruit students to begin the courses this fall semester. But the recruitment process hasn’t been entirely successful so far, and some courses may be delayed until the spring semester if more students don’t enroll, Jansen said.

“We’re using every resource that we can to make people aware of what’s being offered at the 16 technical colleges and putting them in touch with any enrollment or recruitment resources that we can,” he said.

The DWD is contacting employees who have recently been laid off and members of veteran services programs to inform them of the openings, as well as putting out ads in local media.

Some technical colleges have also had difficulty recruiting instructors for high-demand programs, Jansen said.

“Especially when it’s certified instructors, such as health care or manufacturing, some have had difficulty locating instructors,” he said. “In some of these programs, we’re running into a skills shortage on instructors.”

The state funds can be used through June 2016, and courses can range from a 10-week boot camp to a two-year degree, Jansen said.

MATC is splitting its funding fairly evenly between early childhood education, truck driving, health care certified nursing assistant and manufacturing. The manufacturing students will be prisoners on work release from state prisons.

The college will train 125 students in early childhood education, 66 in truck driving, 307 in CNA and 48 in manufacturing.

“The DWD made this money available so that we could expand the programs that were in high demand and get people to work for employers who needed workers,” said Cheralyn Randall, director of grants and resource development.

MATC chose the designated programs by evaluating the marketplace need and the size of student waiting lists for each program.

“Our School of Health Sciences, our School of Technology and Applied Science, our School of Liberal Arts began to look at the programs that they had that were in high demand,” Randall said. “They began to look at the programs to determine which of those programs that they had could in fact benefit from an expansion.”

The college is evaluating adding hybrid classes with online and in-person components as well as weekend classes to make the courses more accessible to both students and instructors.

Waukesha County Technical College will train another 18 students in CNC manufacturing; 36 students in manufacturing welding; 24 students in early childhood education; and 18 students in applied science-electrical engineering.

“We are in the process of hiring our instructors,” said Mike Shiels, dean of the School of Applied Technologies at WCTC. “Two new instructors are being hired immediately and some of these programs extend into the next year, so some additional instructors will be hired.”

Gateway will train an additional 750 students over the next two years in 13 different programs, ranging from its popular CNC boot camps to medical coding apprenticeships, from HVAC training to industry partnership courses.

Since the funding extends for just two years, Gateway is trying to do as much as possible with additional adjunct instructors on a part-time basis to offer the additional courses, said John Thibodeau, assistant provost/vice president of institutional effectiveness and student success at Gateway.

The college is working with Brown Deer-based Badger Meter Inc. to provide industry training in fresh water management as part of its fluid power program. It is also offering industry specialized training to employees of Racine-based Modine Manufacturing Co. and other students using equipment donated by the company.

“We work with the companies to basically set up labs at the college to expose our students to the things they’re going to see out in the world,” Thibodeau said.

The partnerships have generated interest from other local companies and helped spur additional training opportunities.

“We’re really excited about being able to have more resources and serve more students,” Thibodeau said. “We really appreciate the DWD and the governor’s office making it available to us. I think it’s a real vote of confidence in the technical college system that they’re willing to put these kind of resources behind the training we do.”

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