Apprenticeships a hot topic during Manufacturing Month

Apprenticeships a hot topic during Manufacturing Month

FVTC seeing more prospective students asking about the option

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

With October being Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin, and National Apprenticeship Week coming next month, the time feels right to talk about red-hot careers in the manufacturing sector.

Garrett Kaminski, associate dean of Manufacturing, Agriculture and Construction Technologies was recently interviewed by Hayley Tenpas during WHBY’s Focus on Careers.

Garrett explains how dual credit classes are getting students started on their careers sooner plus what’s driving more students to consider apprenticeships.

Read the interview below or tap the video to listen to the conversation.



Tenpas: Welcome back to Focus Fox Valley on WHBY. Right now our focus is on careers segment with Fox Valley Technical College exploring careers of promise. And today more talk about what's become a red-hot industry right now manufacturing. My goodness, it's growing and growing and growing. And Fox Valley Technical College is helping to, of course, turn out those workers into our northeast Wisconsin working area and beyond as well, with hands-on high-tech equipment. It's a career in manufacturing that we're talking about here today. And to give us some insight into what they're doing and working on over at Fox Valley Technical College is Garrett Kaminski, associate dean of Manufacturing, Agriculture, and Construction Technologies with Fox Valley Tech. Garrett, hello to you.

Kaminski: Hi. Good afternoon. Thanks for having me. Good to see you.

Tenpas: You, too.  And as I would like to start all these conversations, we'd like to get to know our guests just a little bit. Can you share with us your journey and how you ended up as associate dean at Fox Valley Tech?

Kaminski: Sure. Well, that is quite a story. I like a lot of people, right out of high school, I decided to attend a four-year college and at that time, which was UW La Crosse, which is a great school and a beautiful town. But about halfway through my personal journey there, I realized that that maybe wasn't the right path for me. So, I did graduate, but ended up back in the Fox Valley and found my way to welding, which was not something that was offered at my high school at the time, and happened to stumble into it. And that led me back to Fox Valley Tech. So, I was a student who went through the welding program, a two-year degree. And after that, I always thought that my instructors at the tech had the coolest job in the world. They're all great teachers. And I thought to myself, if something ever opened in that arena, I was going to, I was going to throw my hat in and just see what happens. So, for the past seven years, I've been at the college as a welding instructor, and just recently this position opened in more of an administrative management role. So now I am an associate dean in that division. 

Tenpas: So, kind of a unique perspective though, being on both sides as a student but also as an instructor, I love that.

Kaminski: Yeah, yeah. And we as a college, we have in the past hired former students to be instructors. It's a win-win for us because we know that we produce the best students in the valley and the state. And when we can, we love to have them back as instructors to teach the next generation.

Tenpas: Fantastic. Well, last night a lot of people checked out and looked into Fox Valley tech. It was your open house last night. Lots of visitors to the manufacturing section of Fox Valley Tech.

Kaminski: Yes, yes, we had quite a few visitors, not just to manufacturing. It was just as busy, if not busier, than last fall's open house. But yeah, when it comes to manufacturing, we were quite busy. I led a lot of students and their parents down into that area of the building, machining, welding, and a lot of our apprenticeship areas too. I think during the four hours I hardly had time to catch my breath. It was one potential student and his or her family after the other. So, it was a great event. It was well attended. We were happy to see so many people in the community come to visit the school and see what we have to offer.

Tenpas: I love that, but your associate Dean of Manufacturing, Agriculture, and Construction, which I could imagine has some very similar, you know, alliances, but also can maybe be differing in different ways. How are they the same or how do you find the connection between manufacturing, agriculture, and construction technologies?

Kaminski: Well, I think the most common thread through all three of those is that they all incorporate a lot of hands-on skills. And that's what we see in a lot of our students, is that desire to do something where they are involved, they're active. They're not necessarily sitting at a desk all day or in front of a computer. They like to work with their hands, they like to create, and they like to do different things day in and day out. So, it is a big division of agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. But all of those in a way are their own trades and they all involve a lot of hands-on learning and a lot of hands-on activity.

Tenpas: I imagine lots of different pathways in those categories.

Kaminski: Literally dozens, yes.

Tenpas: So, what does a student in your program look like? What are you seeing when it comes to students?

Kaminski: Well, a lot of our students come directly from high school. That's a trend that we've seen grow and increase over the past, I would say 5 to 10 years for sure. We've had the good fortune and ability to work with a lot of high schools in the Fox Valley to start or continue working with their students. A lot of high schools work with us now to have dual credit opportunities for their students so that when they graduate high school, they often have some college credits already, which is a great opportunity. Yes, and a lot of times those programs end up costing the students nothing. I mean, it's just an opportunity for them to take advantage of while they're in high school. So that's one component of our student body. But the other is, you know, we see a lot of adult learners, too, that are maybe not happy in the role they're in and the career path that they're in. And they want to come back to school and learn a new skill and make that change. And it's never too late. You know, I'm one of those stories. I went to school for something completely different and changed my mind. And it can be done and it just sometimes it just takes time to find that passion.

Tenpas: I love that just a little bit of both, a little bit of both. We're going to take a short break. But when we come back, you mentioned apprenticeship programs. I'd love to learn more about those and how they are making a difference. And of course, the workforce where these students are going upon graduation. So do not go away. We're talking manufacturing, agriculture, and construction technologies, and manufacturing programs with Fox Valley Technical College. It's our focus on careers, and we'll be back after this.

Tenpas: It's our focus on careers, with Fox Valley Tech digging into the manufacturing industry. And one thing we hear pop up a lot is apprenticeship programs. We're going to learn now sort of how they work and where people are going to learn and be these apprentices. Garrett Kaminsky again, joining us, associate dean of manufacturing, Agriculture, and Construction. So yes, a lot of apprenticeships are happening. Why are they important and kind of what are they?

Kaminski: Well, apprenticeships have a long history in Wisconsin. And our state… it pioneered the concept of apprenticeship and teaching those classes as sort of a work-based learning format. They cover a wide range of career paths, not just manufacturing, but I think a lot of people when they hear the word apprenticeship, that's the first thing they think of. But you can be an apprentice in cosmetology. You could be a barber apprentice; you could be a truck-driving apprentice. The area that I work with is manufacturing. So, we have apprenticeship programs for millwrights, maintenance mechanics, pipe fitters, plumbers, and electricians, and we offer some safety engineering training as well.

Tenpas: Fantastic. And how is that helping students maybe get a step up into their future careers?

Kaminski: Well, one of the biggest benefits of apprenticeship is that once a student finds an employer that wants to work with them and sponsor them, that employer will place them in the apprenticeship program, which is usually 4 to 5 years. So, it's a bigger time commitment. But the benefit that our students see is that not only are they being paid by that employer during the entire apprenticeship, but they're also being paid to attend the classes that they take at the college as well. So, the schooling costs the student almost nothing. And they're learning valuable hands-on skills for their job, and they're developing a relationship with that employer that often continues for many years to come, even after they've completed their apprenticeship.

Tenpas: Wow. Oh my. But what an amazing opportunity and to have that employment at the end is the ultimate win, I would imagine.

Kaminski: Yes. That is the goal. And these are these are well-paying jobs. I don't think that's a secret anymore. But you know, we talked about the open house, and I saw a surprising but awesome number of students come wanting to learn more about apprenticeship because they know that maybe, four-year schooling isn't for them. They want to make a good wage and get into a trade that is needed in the area. I mean, who doesn't need a plumber or an electrician, or a mechanic at some point in their life? And those are skills that will continue to be needed in the community.

Tenpas: So, talk about that need. Are the jobs happening? Are the jobs open? What is the job outlook appearing to be?

Kaminski: Yes. So, whether it's welding, machining, electrical, or plumbing, all the trades right now especially in manufacturing employers need skilled people. It's becoming harder and harder to find as folks in the older generation are retiring, and not as many young folks are getting into the trades as they were in the past. So I was excited to see the number of people that we saw at the Open House last night that manufacturing is alive and well, and our students and our parents out in the community, I think, are seeing that these are high-skill, high-value jobs, and their students and their children can enter the workforce often in 1 to 2 years, at a much lower cost. And they can have a high-paying job right out of the gate.

Tenpas: Yeah, it's a topic that keeps coming up in this segment, this career field in manufacturing, those hands-on careers. It keeps coming up that they are hiring and hiring locally as well. Do you ever speak are you speaking with local companies and getting, I guess, a current scope on what their situations are?

Kaminski: Absolutely. We, the college as a whole and especially us in manufacturing, value those relationships that we have with local employers and with every program that we offer. We sit down at least once a year in what we call an advisory committee. And so, the instructors, the deans, the department chairs will meet with those local employers to get a real sense of what they're looking for and compare that to what we're offering. And that helps us keep our programs relevant. And it helps us make sure that the students that we're training have the skills they need to immediately fulfill the needs that those employers are looking for.  

Tenpas: So Garrett, for potential students out there, what kind of skills are you looking for in a student that would be ideal for these programs?

Kaminski: Sure. When it comes to manufacturing, an interest in engineering, a mechanical aptitude, an interest in the way things work, an interest in doing things with your hands. Certainly, creativity comes into play. Absolutely. And I would say a willingness to keep an open mind, try new things and give it your best each day.

Tenpas: Dozens of career opportunities out there all through the manufacturing, agriculture, and Construction technologies programs at Fox Valley Tech. If people want to learn more, Garrett, how can they get in touch with you? Get in touch with the college.

Kaminski: Well, the easiest way to do that would be to visit our website,  You can find contact information there. And it all depends on what program or what area of interest you have. But we have lots of people who are ready and willing to help you find that path.

Tenpas: Fantastic. Garrett, thank you so much for being here. Anything else you can think of adding?

Kaminski: Um, no, I'll say it's been a great start to this fall semester and we've it's good to see our halls filled with students again. It's just an exciting time of year.

Tenpas: About seven weeks in already. Six, seven weeks in.

Kaminski: Yep. Wow. And it goes fast. So, it just gives me a good feeling seeing so many students and faculty back in the halls. It feels normal and it feels good and we're just doing really well and our students are too.

Tenpas: I'm glad to hear that. Garrett Kaminski, thank you again for being here today. Thank you. All right FVTC-dot-Edu, to learn more about the programs that we've chatted about here today