Apprenticeships represent one form of training that has forged several partnerships for the college, and they have run in concert with FVTC for about a century. The first legislation in the United States to promote an organized system of apprenticeship was enacted in Wisconsin in 1912.
“In the beginning, the first apprenticeship programs were in the construction trades and machine shop industries,” says FVTC President Dr. Susan May. “Today, the apprenticeship programs at Fox Valley Technical College cover a broad range of fields.”
Jim Kitchen, lead Machine Tool instructor, summarizes the importance of the FVTC apprenticeship program. “Simply put, you can’t compete if you don’t have people who know how to perform high-tech skills,” Kitchen says. “Today, there are not enough new machinists to replace the ones who are retiring. We are working tirelessly to create enough machinists to keep up with demand. We have to train the next generation.”
“We provide relevant education for each and every trade,” states Mike Cattelino, associate dean of the Manufacturing, Transportation, Information, and Agriculture Technologies division. “Each apprentice program represents its unique trade, so it has its own instructors, classrooms, and facilities. For example, our Operating Engineer program is on a 400-acre site where students can practice running large equipment such as earth movers, bulldozers, cranes, and road graders.”
Although the education segment of each program is designed to meet specific needs, the basic operational structure for all programs remains the same as it was 100 years ago. “It begins with a contract between the apprentice, the company, the education provider, and the state,” says Steve Schneider, Millwright Apprentice instructor at FVTC. “Companies pay their apprentices an hourly wage while they come to class each week. They are also in an apprentice learning position during the rest of week. Ninety percent of their learning is actually on the job.”
“Our apprenticeship advisory committee sets up how we work with the manufacturers and helps us ensure that we’re covering the right topics,” Schneider continues. “We’re not just teaching what we think is good, we’re providing skills that we know they need.”
Traditionally, students did their book learning in school. “We realized that apprentices were not getting broad enough experience in hands-on training,” states Kitchen. “So now, we provide a high volume of hands-on work for our apprentices. For example, an individual may not only have to learn how to read a blueprint, but he or she then needs to know how to machine something to exactly match those specifications.”
“I believe the training our apprentices receive from Fox Valley Technical College is very beneficial to my company,” states Bob Strelka, maintenance planner at SCA Tissue in Menasha. “They gain a lot of useful knowledge that they can apply to our workforce. I did my pipefitter apprenticeship years ago at Fox Valley Tech. In fact, most of the people at SCA Tissue went through either an apprenticeship or engineering program with Fox Valley Technical College.”
The FVTC apprenticeship program staff keeps close track of each individual’s progress. Instructors maintain contact with employers and work to provide additional educational support, if needed. “It’s a big red flag if a Machinist apprentice is not cutting it in a math class, for example,” Cattelino says. “Is there more we can do to help them? Can we offer more classes? In the end, that’s up to the employer, but we try to give everyone the best opportunity to succeed.”
After a student completes his or her apprenticeship program, FVTC notifies the state. Once the employer verifies the apprentice has received the mandated amount of on-the-job training, the state issues a journeyworker certificate. This certificate is recognized throughout Wisconsin as well as in other states.
FVTC faculty members for apprenticeship programs understand the on-the-job demands of their apprentices because they all have professional experience in a specific industry. “All of our instructors possess exceptional on-the-job experience, plus they continue to work within our teaching certification system,” notes Dr. May.
The demand for apprentices varies throughout the year and depends on the current state of a company’s specific needs. Currently, for instance, FVTC has more than 500 students in its Electrician apprentice program. This level of adaptability reinforces FVTC’s high-level of responsiveness to industry demands.
“When we go out and talk about apprenticeships,” says Cattelino, “we try to introduce people to careers they may not have even considered and an educational option that they may not know even existed.”
Typically the apprentices are a bit older than traditional FVTC students. “A lot of them have taken some type of tech classes and their employer wants them to take on more responsibilities,” reports Kitchen. “In machining, many students earn their degree from us, get a job, and then come back to our apprentice program. They can earn their journeyworker credentials after only taking a few classes.”
“I think it’s important to look at apprenticeship from a student’s perspective,” states Cattelino. “Apprenticeship is an excellent educational option for people who are hands-on learners and want their education related directly to what they’re doing to earn money. If you need to apply new knowledge immediately, then an apprenticeship works perfectly to fit your needs and goals. It’s about gaining the knowledge and motor skills needed to become a skilled person in your trade.”
“We have an amazing history in our apprenticeship program,” concludes Dr. May. “And we also have an amazing, almost unimaginable future thanks to many industry partners that have been with us along the way. If we stick to our original and still-core purpose of preparing people for careers in local industry, then we’ll still be making a difference for years to come.”
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