MADISON – New programming options for students at Wisconsin’s technical colleges are a good indication of emerging employment opportunities. Consistent with the past decade, technical college graduates are experiencing employment rates of nearly 90 percent within six months of graduation. This is the result of employer partnerships, which lead to career programs matching the needs and demands of local employers.
In Northeast Wisconsin’s shores of Lake Michigan, shipbuilding is big business and recent government contracts are creating many jobs. Two of the unique programs, Marine Engineering and Marine Construction are available this semester to help employers fulfill the contracts. Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) is also launching brand new programs in Gerontology, Vineyard Management (Viticulture) and Winemaking (Enology).
Employer demand prompted Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) to add programs in Technical Communications, Health Information Technology and Interior Design. Unique to the technical college system, Fox Valley also added Forensic Science; Energy, Environmental Engineering Technology; and Safety Engineering Technology.
Over the past few years, several colleges have introduced new sustainable and energy-related programs. Nicolet College is offering a new Architectural Technology program designed to give students traditional building trades skills along with knowledge of green building practices and materials.
“We talked with more than 30 area professionals from construction-related businesses and heard repeatedly that they need employees with these new skills,” said Nicolet College President Elizabeth
Burmaster. “Increasingly, people who are building new homes want to incorporate energy-saving and environmentally-sustainable features in their homes.”
In response to growing demand for skilled and knowledgeable quality leaders, Waukesha County Technical College developed a new Quality Management program. These students will learn how to adopt and implement lean practices in either service or manufacturing sectors of industry.
The colleges follow WTCS Board investigation and implementation procedures to ensure newprograms are relevant to both employers and employees. Colleges initially form an employer advisory committee to identify the need for specific workforce skills in their respective industries. Next, colleges conduct a study to demonstrate employer need, student interest and economic feasibility to theregion. Colleges will develop curriculum and hire instructors only after documenting the workforce need, student demand and cost/benefit analysis. In 2010-2011 the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) Board approved 29 new in-demand programs and discontinued 16 programs deemed less relevant.
Lakeshore Technical College (LTC) expects to offer two new Culinary programs beginning next May. “Listening and responding to Manitowoc and Sheboygan county area employers is the maindriver of college programming,” LTC President Michael Lanser said. “Local restaurant owners, chefs, and representatives of hospitality and food industries have provided input and collaborated with the college on the type of programming which would be most beneficial for their organizations, as well as the training they are looking for when hiring staff.”
The growing senior population in the state is driving demand for more health care services and new potential careers. NWTC’s aforementioned Gerontology is one such program. Another is LTC’s re-established Ophthalmic Assistant program.
“Graduates could work in education, advocacy, health care, financial services or as a benefit specialist,” explains Julie Siefert, instructor and coordinator for NWTC’s online Gerontology program. Upon local board and WTCS Board approval, the college welcomed its first students in August.
As Wisconsin’s economy evolves, the technical colleges use program development to foster continuous improvement and ensure relevance to employers. Where program offerings may once have included training for telephone operators, they now cover more technical professions in the industry, such as Telecommunication Technologies and Web Development and Design. Someprograms may retain their name but may completely change over time as technologies, skills and workplace demand evolve, as Wisconsin’s technical college programs remain relevant to students and critical to Wisconsin’s economy.
The Wisconsin Technical College System offers more than 300 programs awarding two-year associate degrees, one- and two-year technical diplomas and short-term technical diplomas. In addition, the System is the major provider of customized training and technical assistance to Wisconsin’s business and industry community. More than half of all adults in Wisconsin have accessed the technical colleges for education and training. Find more about educational programs at http://www.witechcolleges.org.