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 ever said: Supply chain manager! CNC machine programmer!
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.
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.
Realistically, we can’t all be movie stars and pro athletes. Employers and schools are working toward better alignment with what young adults pursue and which jobs are in demand. But what does an engineer do, anyway? (See page 15 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.
“We need tochange the paradigm from the idea that the only viable track is a four-year degree.”
— John Dipko, Wisconsin DWD
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 data from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, you can cruise classes at a technical college for much less. You’ll spend $3,912 on one semester of general coursework at a four-year public university, and about $1,745 on one semester at NWTC.
Additionally, technical college students will graduate with jobs, according to Nels Lawrence, technology and engineering youth apprenticeship/co-op coordinator at Kaukauna High School.
“Students who choose manufacturing careers are first-round draft picks for local industry,” Lawrence said. “We are looking at students who will top $80,000-a-year salaries by the time they turn 21.”
Many affordable paths are available to students who seek them out, have some support and show creativity. 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.
Many high school graduates work to support themselves while studying part-time, and for some, 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. Some companies provide specialized or accelerated training on the job.
Employers like to hire students with on-the-job experience, and this is often built into the curriculum in the applied technologies fields. A lot of times, students in technical programs get placed with employers during their first term. This employment serves not only as career-based learning, but also offsets costs of education. Students earn wages as they train and get credit. For example, upon graduating from Appleton East High School, Kaylee Wiltse will have completed a youth apprenticeship position at Arrow Cutting Dies in Appleton and gained credits to Milwaukee School of Engineering, as well as Fox Valley Technical College, with dual credit programs.
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 will eventually build a $10 billion manufacturing campus in Wisconsin, so advanced manufacturing jobs will be needed a few years after this 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
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, including Fox Valley Technical College. 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 6 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 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. Homebuilding is expected to increase with new manufacturing, according to the Wisconsin Builders Association, which estimates the Foxconn development could spur construction of 1,000 new homes, 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 in the past 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.
Students have opportunities to talk to mentors in the fields in which they are interested, job shadow or even work as interns to get a feel for the company’s culture and business. Sometimes, if a student finds a company is the right fit, the employer might offer him or her a job when an 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 many work with high schools and technical colleges to prepare and hire students for the current and future workforce.
Apprenticeships are another way 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 pursue any number of career tracks,” said John Dipko, communications director for Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development.
“Students who choose manufacturing careers are first-round draft picks for local industry. We are looking at students who will top $80,000-a-year salaries by the time they turn 21.”
— Nels Lawrence, Kaukauna High School
Jobs in your own backyard
To start your career, you won’t need to go far. Mark Maley, public affairs and communications director for WEDC, is working hard every day via the “Think-Make-Happen in Wisconsin” campaign to spread the word.
“We want to let people know Wisconsin is a great place to live, work and play,” Maley said.
The statewide initiative aims 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. Here’s hoping you find an amazing career opportunity right outside your door at a northeastern Wisconsin business.
Most wanted positions
These were the 30 most requested job positions from employers in 2017 through Wisconsin TechConnect.
- Nursing assistant
- Administrative professional
- Marketing (digital marketing, marketing management)
- Electromechanical technology
- Early childhood education
- Truck driving
- Machine tool operation
- Human services associate
- Medical assistant
- Machine tooling technicians
- Business management
- Culinary arts
- Computer Numerical Control technician
- Criminal justice professional studies
- Banking and financial services
- Mechanical design technology
- Computer support specialist (IT)
- Office assistant
- Sales representative
- Industrial maintenance technician
- Electronic engineering technology
- Hospitality management (hotel and restaurant management)
- Supply chain management
- Machine tool technician
- Network specialist (IT)
- Practical nursing
Source: Wisconsin TechConnect 2017 job postings data; wistechcolleges.org