MaryBeth Matzek: Scholarships help apprentices buy tools

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

Paying for education after high school is challenging enough, but throw in potentially expensive supplies – such as the proper tools and equipment if you’re studying a skilled trade – and some students can have serious second thoughts.

With that in mind, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College teamed up with the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation to provide scholarships to students in their apprentice programs. Madison-based Great Lakes awarded $1,000 scholarships to 11 students so they could purchase their own tools and safety equipment.

Todd Kiel, apprenticeship manager of the Trades & Engineering Technologies Department at NWTC, says the funds are sorely needed.

“Depending on the trade, there are different pieces of equipment needed for them to be successful,” he says. “There is a huge demand out there now in the trades and they are well-paying jobs and students need their own equipment.”

During the most recent downturn, Kiel estimates that the construction industry lost between 40 and 45 percent of its workforce as tradesmen (and women) took jobs in other areas, including manufacturing and transportation. As the economy has regained its footing, businesses are looking to expand their physical space and construction work is plentiful. A 2014 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 83 percent of U.S. construction firms reported difficulty finding qualified workers.

Kiel says students are responding to the call for more workers. Since 2011, the number of students in NWTC’s apprenticeship programs has doubled from 350 in 2011 to the current number of 700.

Read the full column