Nov 15, 2010
The Right Tools
FVTC’s Machine Tool Technician program provided Kendal Beilke with a solid foundation for a rewarding career. It also made him an advocate for technical education.
Early in high school, Kendal Beilke sat in the machine shop looking at cool projects that made his head turn. They influenced him to take a machine shop class during his junior year, and he soon found the mix of mechanical and intellectual challenges a powerful combination. The experience caused Beilke to enroll in Fox Valley Technical College’s Machine Tool Technician
program right after high school.
“The guidance counselor said I should go to a four-year college,” says Beilke, who in his mind respectfully disagreed. “A four-year degree is nice, but it shouldn’t be automatically recommended for everyone. Keep it simple and match your passion with a program.”
While at FVTC, Beilke landed a part-time position at Richmark Patterns, a Greenville-based design and machining facility with 13 employees. “The timing was ideal,” he says. “Our industry was experiencing an evolution of the end product from wood to a metal-based platform, and I was on the ground floor.”
The part-time gig became a full-time job after graduation, and Beilke was one of the first to use the fast-emerging technology of CNC machining, a highly accurate and cost-effective method of tool-making. The process was an incredible challenge and defined Richmark’s direction for the following decades.
Today, 25 years later, Beilke is one of the owners of Richmark, which now employs 36 skilled workers. His FVTC education provided a path to a great career. Jim Kitchen, the Machine Tool Technician program’s lead instructor, says the program emphasizes individual learning. “We push them to figure things out,” he notes. “That’s the reality in the workforce. You have to think on your feet.”
Real World, Real Training, Real Jobs
Employers are excited when they interview job seekers with that kind of initiative. So, it’s not surprising that 80% of the 2009 class were employed six months after graduation from the Machine Tool Technician program. “And that was low because we were in a down economy,” says Kitchen. “Normally, we have placement rates in the 90% range.”
Beilke will back that up. He says that many high school students are eager to immerse themselves in real training for real work. “Yet, they’re often advised not to go to a technical college,” he says. “In reality, job placement prospects and average starting wages are often higher for technical college graduates than for four-year grads.”
Given that perspective, it’s not surprising that Beilke has continued his relationship with FVTC, serving as an advisory committee member for the college’s Machine Tool Technician program. The role allows him to give back to a program that helped him launch his career. It also allows him to find new employees; he’s hired eight FVTC graduates in the last few years.