Looking to draw attention to its many high-tech manufacturing programs, Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) brought out a heavy hitter – Gov. Scott Walker – to kick off its annual Manufacturing Show Thursday at the college’s Gateway Campus in Eau Claire.
“You really should look long and hard at jobs in manufacturing because they’re not just jobs, they’re careers,” Walker told an audience composed mostly of high school students who came to the show to learn about such career opportunities.
“We have a lot of manufacturers who are adding a lot of jobs,” Walker said, adding that among the 50 states only Michigan added more manufacturing jobs last year than Wisconsin. “You can make good pay from one end of the state to another.”
And the governor said he expects that trend to continue.
“Employers are telling us that where most jobs are being generated is in manufacturing,” he said, adding, “These aren’t just jobs, these are careers. And that’s important.”
While introducing Walker to an audience of about 200 people, CVTC President Bruce Barker said that last year there were more than 600,000 people with manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin. Those workers allowed 11,000 manufacturing companies to create $50 billion worth of products, he said.
“So there are jobs waiting for you,” Barker told the students. “It’s about education, it’s about opportunity, it’s about growing Wisconsin.”
Walker told the students that in today’s high-tech manufacturing environment, workers need more than a high school diploma to qualify for most jobs. “Overwhelmingly you need a technical college education,” he said.
The governor cited the economic advantages of a technical college education that four-year colleges cannot match, namely preparing students to enter the work force in half the time and at half the cost or less.
Walker cited the 91 percent job placement rate for graduates of its manufacturing-related programs as proof that a CVTC education is “a pretty good investment.”
And with that investment, manufacturing graduates will find “there are tremendous opportunities out there,” he said. “There’s amazing career opportunities.”
Manufacturing jobs pay more than most other jobs in Wisconsin’s economy, Walker said. And, he added, about 87 percent of manufacturing jobs also provide health insurance, as compared to 74 percent of other jobs in Wisconsin.
As a result, Walker said, the majority of those working for Wisconsin manufacturers appreciate their jobs. “They want to stay there,” he said. “They want a career.”
Walker said that when he tours manufacturing plants throughout Wisconsin, he sees “some pretty cool stuff. It’s amazing the sort of things we make in this state.”
And as Wisconsin manufacturers develop new markets for their products, around the nation and around the world, they will need more highly trained workers to make those products.
“There are great careers in manufacturing,” he repeated several times to his audience. “It’s going to help us grow as a state.”
After his remarks, Walker spent several minutes visiting with some of the young audience members, shaking hands and posing for cell-phone photos with them.
Jason Dorn of Arcadia, who plans to graduate from CVTC’s industrial mechanics program in December, was among those who spoke briefly with the governor.
“I think he’s got a real good point. There’s a lot of jobs out there,” Dorn said.
Dorn added that he agrees with Walker’s argument concerning the financial advantages of a technical college education, “especially when it comes to starting wages.”
Erik Brunner and Quincy Olson, 11th graders at Menomonie High School, also were impressed by the governor’s explanation of the cost-benefit ratio of a technical college education.
“Everything he said is pretty much true,” Brunner said.
Olson said he is considering studying physical therapy at a four-year college, but after hearing Walker’s remarks he’s more open to considering a technical college education.
“It kind of makes me want to get a manufacturing kind of degree,” Olson said. “You get a lot more faster. It sounds nice.”
During a 45-minute tour of CVTC’s Manufacturing Education Center, Walker spent a few minutes speaking with William Haferman, a student in his first semester in CVTC’s Industrial Mechanics program. Haferman, who spent seven and half years in the U.S. Army, including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, came to CVTC hoping to gain the skills that will allow him to find work in offshore oil drilling or on an energy pipeline.
When Haferman told Walker he is seeking a part-time job to help him pay for his schooling, the governor encouraged him to visit with the many western Wisconsin companies who had booths set up at the Manufacturing Show.
“He told me those manufacturers wouldn’t be here if they weren’t looking for people to do those jobs,” Haferman said.
Dave Thompson, a Machine Tool instructor at CVTC, briefly explained his program to Walker during a chat in a computer lab. Thompson described the conversation as “just shooting the bull a little bit,” but said the governor’s visit was important in raising the profile of CVTC’s manufacturing programs.
Thompson said the Machine Tool program can accommodate up to 96 students at a time but currently has fewer than 80 enrolled.
“We have more than a 94 percent placement rate, and there’s over 600 jobs available in the region right now,” Thompson said. “So there’s opportunity to make an honest living.”
Barker also spoke of the public relations value of Walker’s visit to CVTC.
“Our biggest problem is recruiting students into these programs,” Barker said, explaining that the Manufacturing Show is a great opportunity to show potential CVTC students and their parents what the college’s high-tech manufacturing programs are all about.
And Walker’s presence at the show can only help in attracting students to CVTC, Barker said, adding, “The governor certainly has supported workforce training.”
Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.