Last updated on May 29th, 2022 at 10:46 pm
Oconomowoc-based Bruno Independent Living Aids Inc., a manufacturer of accessibility products, recently received a state Workforce Advancement Training grant that will allow students from Waukesha County Technical College’s (WCTC) Welding program an opportunity to work part-time and go to school for free.
“Bruno actually received money to put two of their employees through WCTC’s one year welding program,” said Mike Shiels, associate dean of manufacturing and technologies at WCTC. “By the time Bruno received notice of the grant however, our class was already full and had a waiting list of at least ten people. We had to brainstorm some new ideas on how to utilize the grant money.”
As a result, Sheils and Bruno decided to develop a trainee program where students already enrolled in the welding class at WCTC apply to be selected for the Bruno trainee program.
“Interested students would apply and go through a selection process, almost a scholarship screening process,” Sheils said.
Students selected for the program would work at Bruno part time on the shop floor and have their second semester tuition at WCTC paid for with a portion of the grant money, he added. The company manufactures stairlifts, vertical platform lifts and vehicle lifts for wheelchairs, power chairs and scooters. The company also makes a turning automotive seating system for vehicles. These products are manufactured using effective tools such as a lincoln electric equipment and automatic girth welder.
“We are planning to bring on some WCTC students as trainees on a part time basis while they are still going to school,” said Tom Jacobson vice president of operations at Bruno. “In exchange we will help defray some of the cost of their classes with the hopes that we will eventually bring them on full time at the end of their schooling.”
Selections for the program will be announced in November.
According to Jacobson, Bruno has hired 25 WCTC welding students since 2004, roughly four to six per year. The grant program allows the selected students to continue getting their education in the classroom, but have actual paid work experience to make the transition to a full time Bruno employee easier, he said.
Bruno received just over $70,000 to help with around $102,000 worth of training courses.
“We will be offering around eight different sets of courses for our employees covering both technical or hard skills and what I call soft skills,” Jacobson said.
Through WCTC, Bruno employees will be able to take part in training courses related to AC/DC intermediate electronics, critical core manufacturing, sigma green belt certification, in addition to the welding program. They will also be exposed to soft skill courses including: listening, effective communication, and leadership.
All of Bruno’s employees, around 300, will take part in the training sessions.
“With the different sets of courses, the material varies,” Jacobson said. “We can have it be very targeted for specific groups and departments, like AC/DC intermediate or we can have large group development for everyone.”
The Wisconsin Technical College System has been allotted $3 million from the state of Wisconsin budget for workforce advancement training grants for 2009. Bruno received grant money for training in 2006-2007 through the same application process.
“We applied for, and received the grant the first time, and decided to continue with that effort this year,” Jacobson said. “Anytime you have the opportunity to train all of your employees it is very exciting.”