When Ella Johnson received her high school degree from Waukesha West on Saturday, she already had received a welding technician diploma from Waukesha County Technical College, which held its graduation a few weeks earlier.
Just three days after graduating high school, Johnson found herself telling the President of the United States about her experience in WCTC’s Dual Enrollment Academy. She said Wednesday she was amazed the president and his team wanted to hear from students at the workforce roundtable.
“That was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I just thought it was cool they wanted the view of a student.”
Johnson already has a job at Wisconsin Metal Parts Inc. in the City of Pewaukee. Her plan is to continue working there while pursuing a two-year associate degree from WCTC. She said she considered the possibility of a four-year school for engineering, but she’s not sure that’s the direction she wants to go.
“I’m going to stay in welding for a while. I’m going to see where it takes me and what opportunities open,” Johnson said, adding she’d like to stay on the shop floor for a little while.
On the other end of the spectrum, Tuesday’s roundtable included representation from some of the region’s largest companies, including Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation. Mike Laszkiewicz, Rockwell vice president and power control business general manager, said the company appreciated the opportunity to share its perspective.
“As the world’s largest company devoted exclusively to industrial productivity Rockwell Automation understands the importance of a skilled workforce to grow America’s manufacturing future,” Laszkiewicz said. “This is a topic we are acutely aware of as we deliver advanced manufacturing solutions to our customers. The success of U.S. manufacturing competitiveness depends on all of us working together to train workers for these highly skilled roles.”
Companies have been talking for a number of years about the challenges of finding skilled workers and countless programs and initiatives have been developed to promote manufacturing careers. Mike Shiels, dean of WCTC’s school of applied technologies, said those efforts have raised awareness but haven’t necessarily made it easier to attract students.
“They just have so many opportunities and choices,” he said, noting every sector is facing a shortage of employees. “We would still like to see a lot more people coming into these programs.”
President Donald Trump’s visit to WCTC was a precursor to an announcement from his administration on expanding apprenticeship offerings.
“We want a future where every high school in America offers apprenticeship opportunities for young citizens,” Trump said.
The event announcing the effort, however, was cancelled in the wake of a shooting at a baseball practice for GOP lawmakers who will participate in a charity game.
Wisconsin’s apprenticeship programs have added an average of almost 3,100 participants each year over the last five year, but historically more than 40 percent of contracts are cancelled before completion.
The apprenticeship programs are also largely focused on construction fields, with around 18 percent of the 3,088 new contracts started last year coming in industrial trades.
Shiels said WCTC’s programs offer a stepping stone for students to eventually move into an apprenticeship.
“The companies just need more people, period. Apprenticeships are a great way for companies to develop people with the skills that they need,” he said.