Thursday, August 17, 2017

CVTC Academy Steers Students to Industrial Mechanics Careers

Grant links people in need of work with a major workforce need

Article Photo - CVTC Academy Steers Students to Industrial Mechanics Careers

Joseph LeDuc of Chippewa Falls, left, listens as CVTC Industrial Mechanic instructor Jeff Johnson explains procedures on an electrical switch system tied into a computer at the Industrial Mechanic Academy at CVTC Aug. 11.

Joseph LeDuc once had a good career going doing mechanical work in an industrial setting. But that was before an injury, which led to years of struggle.

“Nowadays I hear the words ‘you don’t fit’ a lot. I don’t just want, but I need to find a place where I fit,” said Leduc, 55, of Chippewa Falls.

Meanwhile, employers all over western Wisconsin are desperately looking for more industrial mechanics. Recently, an Industrial Mechanic Academy at Chippewa Valley Technical College sought to connect people like LeDuc with employers who could use them if they had some training.

“There is a huge shortage of maintenance mechanics in industry, especially in western Wisconsin,” said Doug Olson, who works with employer engagement for CVTC. “I’ve talked to employers who have had vacancies for eight months or more.”

A four-year federal Department of Labor IMPACT grant allowed CVTC to start the Industrial Mechanic Academy in cooperation with Workforce Resource, which identified potential participants.

“Our target was 17-to-29-year-olds not in high school and unemployed or underemployed,” Olson said. “Our secondary targets were veterans, the disabled and adult workers in need of work.”

“We’re showing them positive changes they can make in life so they can make a living in the future,” said program instructor Jeff Johnson.

LeDuc fit the secondary target group. “I’m freshening up on my mechanical experience,” he said. “I’ve dealt with some medical issues in past years that make it harder for me to get a job.”

A veteran, LeDuc worked at W.S. Darley in Chippewa Falls for 22 years before he broke his back in 2003. He’s been in-and-out of work since, landing some work with companies like Premium Waters and PMI. As the years slipped by, industry started to move beyond the skills that served him well before the injury. “I’m learning about computers here,” he said. “I’m slow at it.”

But many of the 18 participants who started at the academy are younger and were learning the basics of industrial machines.

“It’s a multi-skilled field,” Johnson said during the fourth day of the five-day academy. “It entails electrical, mechanical systems, hydraulics, and pneumatics. Today they were setting up installing bearings and doing shaft alignments.”

Students who complete all the classroom and lab work, including an online portion, earned an industry-recognized Maintenance Awareness certificate, which could lead to better employment for some. However, the academy was also seen as a gateway into CVTC’s two-year Industrial Mechanic program.

“This is helping people who might not otherwise consider CVTC,” Johnson said. “We are trying to give them a glimpse of what it would be like to be a student in the program.”

The academy lured Deven Risler, 18, a May graduate of Altoona High School, who starts in the CVTC program at the end of the month.

“The academy helped me decide on Industrial Mechanics,” Risler said. “I wanted to go to CVTC because you learn what you need to do a job. A few programs caught my eye, including Machine Tool and Information Technology.”

Antwon Pruitt, who is originally from Racine, moved to Eau Claire to be near his son and was looking to get into a construction trade. But the academy opened up new opportunities for him, and he also plans to enroll in Industrial Mechanics, with an October start.

“I would like to get into construction, building homes and stuff, but this will help me doing that kind of work,” Pruitt said.

Brandon Bintz, 18, a May graduate of Cornell High School, is also heading for CVTC – but in the Auto Collision Repair and Refinishing program. Still, he recognizes benefits he received from the academy.

“Knowing about wiring, motors and alignments will help in other fields too,” Bintz said.