Foxconn expected to create ‘entirely new opportunities for students’

Foxconn building a high-tech manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin will create “entirely new opportunities for students,” according to Michael Shiels, a dean at Waukesha County Technical College.

The dean of the tech college’s School of Applied Technologies says the proposed project is “very exciting” for the entire state, but particularly for Wisconsin’s technical college programs, as it will provide opportunities to train members of the skilled workforce needed to run the facility.

In his position, Shiels oversees the college’s programs in engineering, manufacturing, construction trades, apprenticeships, transportation and architecture — about 31 associate degrees and diplomas in total.

He works closely with various groups to obtain data on the latest techniques and best practices for industry, collaborating with faculty and local employers.

Sometimes, WCTC provides short-term training programs tailored to certain employers’ needs; other times, Shiels says the school links employers with specific program areas so they can hire out of those programs. He also helps to make connections for internship programs, so students can get hands-on experience before graduating.

With Foxconn details still to be determined, he and others tech college leaders are working to be ready once more is known.

“We look at a variety of training programs,” he told “At this point, we’re doing some planning with tech colleges in the area, looking at how to ramp up quickly to meet those needs.”

He says the school’s existing training programs are already primed to meet at least some of Foxconn’s needs.

“Automation systems technology programs, robotics programs — we think they will be very interested in those,” he said. “And electronics, electrical engineering programs… they’ll be wanting students in those programs.”

Between 7,000 and 8,000 students go through WCTC each year, he added, with about 1,800 of those in applied technologies. Shiels says he’s interested in finding out exactly what kind of skill sets will be needed by those students in the coming years.

“Looking forward to having those discussions, to see if we need to make any changes to our programs, or add any new options,” he said. “We may need to add some components or curriculum to address the types of panels they will be producing.”

Though he says he’s not sure which programs will need tweaking, he says he’s confident some programs will be able to change without too much difficulty.

“One of the strengths of tech system is responding rapidly to employer needs,” Shiels said.

He says there are two main ways to determine just what those might be: working with the state by talking to the Department of Workforce Development or other agencies, and dealing directly with representatives of Foxconn stationed in Wisconsin.

“Tech colleges are already doing some training for how we are going to rapidly respond to that,” he said. “Looking at the different things we can be doing in the short term to at least start ramping up.”

The biggest associated change for the school, he said, will be the existence of an entirely new manufacturing field to pursue.

“I think that will diversify opportunities for our graduates, and for students seeking internships,” he said. “I think it will be a very exciting time for students and faculty, with changes in store and opportunities for graduates in the workforce.”

–By Alex Moe