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Third Annual Manufacturing Career Panel at Elkhorn Area High School on February 18, 2015, Draws a Large Crowd of Students

Michael Reader

For the third year in a row, Precision Plus in partnership with Elkhorn Area High School, presented a Manufacturing Career Panel to more than a hundred high school students from several area schools.

The event, which took place on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at Elkhorn Area High School was organized to explain to students what 21st century advanced manufacturing is and how it has changed over the last decades, to dispel old manufacturing myths, to talk about manufacturing career opportunities, and exciting educational opportunities available for students in the area.

The program was moderated by Mike Reader, President and Owner of Precision Plus, and by Barry Butters, the company’s Director of Education and Training. A shout-out was given to JoAnne Pella, Career Advisor of Elkhorn Area High School, for her contribution and dedication to make the panels possible.

The panelists were distinguished industry leaders Dennis Giesler, General Manager of Parker-Hannifin Quick Coupling Division, Dawn Tabat, COO of Generac, Geoff Martin, Principal and Senior Leader of GE Healthcare Partners, and Rick Lofy, Lean Six Sigma Instructor at Gateway Technical College. Click here to see their expanded bios.

All four panelists drew from their own experiences in manufacturing, sharing the broad spectrum of opportunities that exist within the industry at all levels. They all spoke about the next generation of advanced manufacturing professionals, and how they are looking at that generation, which included the students present, to carry the future. All speakers agreed that we live in an exciting time, when things are changing faster today than in the history of the world. And that these fast, dynamic, changing times require problem-solving, creative-thinking individuals who can move with the changes and have the ability to rapidly adapt and progress through collaboration and continuous improvement. Success now and in the future, they concluded, will be driven by the purpose, culture and passion of those individuals and companies who are committed to make a difference.

Feeding the Employee Pipeline: WCEDA Panel Discussion on Efforts to Create a Viable Workforce for the Future

Michael Reader

A panel discussion entitled “Feeding the Employee Pipeline,” was organized and presented by the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA) on Thursday, March 19, 2015 at the Geneva National Golf Club.

The purpose of this panel presentation was to bring together educators and industry leaders to better understand the present shortage of a skilled workforce and its future implication, to learn about the solutions and initiatives currently in place that address that shortage, and find out how collaborative efforts are essential for creating a viable workforce. Barry Butters, Director of Education and Training at Precision Plus, was invited to be a panelist.

Derek D’Auria , Executive Director of WCEDA, moderated the discussion. In his introduction, D’Auria referred to data collected for a Harvard University study, which indicate that 33% of jobs in the future (as early as 2018) will require a 4-year degree, 57% will require a technical skill, and 10% of jobs will be able to be filled with unskilled employees. He also pointed out that currently in Wisconsin, 65% of all high school graduates set off go to a 4-year college after high school graduation, but that only 25% earn a bachelor ‘s degree, leaving the rest typically with a lot of debt, and resorting to part-time jobs.

First to address the audience was Karen Burns, Manager of the Walworth County Job Center. Burns summarized all the programs that are available at this agency—from learning interviewing soft skills, to working on resumes, to lining up candidates with programs, to working in conjunction with Gateway Technical College and employers.

The second speaker was Dennis Winters, Chief Economist, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Winters presented several slides showing a growing disparity between jobs and the workforce, and the implications, should the situation remain status quo. He contrasted the job seeker position from 50 or 60 years ago, with the one from today, by saying “You can’t expect now to finish high school and run a machine: understand technology, run it, and don’t break it!”

Winters also spoke about the “Wisconsin Fast Forward” program, a blueprint for prosperity, based on employer-need base training. He emphasized the importance of postsecondary training and continuous improvement, and concluded with the following statement: “Education and training must be part of your lifestyle for the rest of your life.”

Barry Butters, Director of Education and Training at Precision Plus., was the first panelist to speak. He pointed out that a manufacturing company can expand their brick and mortar and get new equipment, but without people to run it, the expansion is senseless. Given this situation, Mike Reader, President and Owner of the company, hired Butters to build an awareness campaign to make this happen. As an example, Precision Plus has established internship and youth apprenticeship programs, actively participates in several career and technical education (CTE) committees at the high school and college level, and has sponsored industry field trips for students. Butters also teaches an engineering design and development (EDD) course through Elkhorn Area High School and regularly engages with other companies to encourage their involvement.

The next panelist was JoAnne Pella, Career Advisor of Elkhorn Area High School (EAHS). Pella outlined the programs that are in place at the school, such as co-ops, career panels, that will guarantee that all students be exposed to academic career pathway guidance. By mandate, all students will have to have gone through career guidance. She pointed out, however, these initiatives have been long in place at EAHS, and each added option only enhances their existing program. Pella also talked about a career advisor consortium, held at Gateway Technical College, where advisors from several high schools in the area meet once a month to review their programs and exchange ideas.

Debbie Davidson, Vice President of Workforce and Economic Development at Gateway Technical College, talked about the initiatives in place at the school that address the needs of employers in the area. She particularly talked about their CNC Boot Camp program, which has been offered to adults for several years, but to entering high school seniors just for the last three years, with great success. Students go to school during the summer for six weeks. Then, during the fall semester, they attend school in the morning and Gateway in the afternoon. In the spring, they split their day by attending school and participating in a paid internship at a local manufacturing facility. At the end of the program, students not only have a high school diploma, but also a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt, a Manufacturing Skills Standard Council (MSSC) Safety Certification, 15 Gateway school credits, and six months work experience to put on their resume.

Davidson mentioned that through a collaborative effort, which included Precision Plus, the CNC Boot Camp will be offered at the school’s Elkhorn Campus as of July of 2015.

Kevin Paluch, Vice President of the Geneva National Golf Resort, addressed the shortage of properly trained hospitality/culinary arts employees. Due to the nature and the location of the business, the company generally hires a short-term workforce that may not be best prepared to provide a superior experience for their clients. He also alluded to an earnings threshold that will determine whether the younger generation (less than 25 years of age) chooses to work or stay at home. The incentive to go beyond that threshold depends on their qualifications and ability to perform hospitality and culinary jobs properly. Paluch reiterated the need for schools to expand on this type of training.

Rich Gruber, Vice President of Mercy Health System spoke about what his group has done to address the skills shortage. In an entity that employs about 6,500 people, there are regularly 1,500 jobs to open, and these include a range of occupations, from health care to plumbing to food service. Proactively, the organization has established several programs within the system, such as a residency program for primary care physicians, and certified nurse assistant (CNA) program that works with local high schools and colleges. This year alone, Mercy Health System will have graduated over 900 CNAs.

Gruber also spoke about options for junior high and high school students: “The earlier they are exposed to career choices, the better,” he suggested. Schools must be able to provide tools to explore different careers as early as 6th or 7th grade. “Capturing inquisitive minds is essential,” he added. Gruber made clear, however, this could not happen without collaboration and constant conversation with schools at all levels, as well as with fellow health systems, and observed solutions need to be fueled by creativity and outside-the-box thinking by all the partners involved.

Bob Kopykdlowsi , Principal of Badger High School, then addressed the perception issue experienced by many parents and the community at large. He stated that convincing parents that a 4-year degree may not be the only career path available for their students, presented a hurdle, and he suggested that typically the community does not recognize alternate career paths as viable. His school offers many options for children to explore career opportunities.

Tristan Steiner, a senior at Badger High School, spoke about his experience from a student-perspective. Tristan has always been interested in math and science, but did not know how to apply his interest to a career choice he would not regret later. Beginning in his sophomore year, Tristan was able to get a taste of different careers options by taking targeted classes, which eventually led him to realize that he would like to become an electrical engineer with a focus in renewable energy sources. Tristan also had the opportunity be an intern at Precision Plus, where he was able to experience a number of aspects of the business. Being able to study the design of parts and programs for machines, confirmed the choice he made was valid.

The program then opened up to questions and comments that explored topics such as externships–or teachers going into the field to experience the environment, the importance of schools having advisory committees to drive their curricula, the advantages of going to a 2-year college before joining a 4-year institution, and changing the mindset of the community.


A video of the entire presentation is available below:

Precision Plus’ Barry Butters Continues His Visits to Area Schools to Bring Manufacturing to the Front of the Class

Michael Reader

In November and December of 2014, Precision Plus’ Director of Education and Training Barry Butters continued on his mission to visit area schools to bring attention to the viability of manufacturing as a career option for today’s youth.

On November 3, 2014, Butters joined forces with Zach Ford from Scot Forge to make a presentation to a group of students at Richmond Burton High School in Illinois. Although Scot Forge and Precision Plus are on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to the size of the parts they manufacture, both companies seek similar traits in future employees. Both Ford and Butters reiterated the importance for students to master soft skills–such as having a positive work attitude and respecting punctuality, as well as focusing their studies on STEM and pre-engineering courses that would contribute to their technical preparedness for jobs in manufacturing.

Butters also visited the Arrow Academy on November 11th, Burlington High School on December 2nd, and Westosha Central High School on December 9th, making presentations to their individual technical education classes. During his presentations, Butters delivered the same soft skills and STEM-focused classes’ message. Additionally, he explained the nature of the precision metal turning industry and demonstrated the CAD/CAM software used at Precision Plus to design parts and program CNC machines. Butters was happy to learn about Westosha Central High School’s plans to remodel their entire technical education facility beginning this summer.

Butters also participated in mock interviews at Elkhorn Area High School for Mrs. Joanne Pella’s Business Occupations class. “I give honest feedback to the students concerning their appearance and application materials from a manufacturing employer’s perspective. Often I am just reiterating what Mrs. Pella has already told them about the interviewing process, but having someone from outside the school repeat it, reinforces the message.” Several students have responded by sending letters of appreciation to Barry Butters.

Precision Plus invites any individual or group interested in learning more about the manufacturing industry to contact Barry Butters or Mike Reader or call 262-743-1700. We can set up informational tours of the facility and/or travel to speak to any group about the manufacturing industry. Precision Plus welcomes your comments and questions.

180 High School Students Attend the First Manufacturing Career Panel Discussion at Elkhorn Area High School in Wisconsin

Michael Reader

Despite an 8” snow fall, on February 27, 2013 180 high school students from Elkhorn, Lake Geneva and William’s Bay gathered at Elkhorn Area High School’s  Wehner Auditorium to listen to a panel of manufacturing professionals discuss the vast possibilities available today in the world of hi-tech manufacturing.  The program was entitled “Elkhorn Area High School – Manufacturing Career Panel.”

This manufacturing awareness initiative began in late July of 2012, when 40 business representatives from Walworth County—most of them manufacturers—met to discuss the skills gap and the increasing demand for skilled manufacturing professionals.   The vision was clear: to strive for the collaboration of businesses, the academic world and legislators in order to validate the impact that the manufacturing sector (or its absence) has on the overall economy of the state and the country.  Additionally, the group agreed to foster initiatives aimed to bring up a new crop of world-class manufacturers through relevant education.   The mission was also clear:  to make the vision happen, and to dispel the current stigma hovering over the notion of pursuing a career in manufacturing.

“The real world of 21st Century manufacturing is totally different than its mid-century predecessor,” comments Mike Reader, President of Precision Plus   “Today, manufacturing is the engine behind every “Top-Gun” pilot’s aircraft, the tools behind every surgeon’s life or death decision, the technique behind every tractor reaping the best of the crop, and even the reality that made the Mars Rover Mission possible. “

“Today’s manufacturing industry is not looking for unskilled workers, but instead, is looking for the cream of the crop,” adds Mike Reader, “Only 3 out of 100 candidates makes the cut. The manufacturing industry needs people who will make James Bond succeed and we’re willing to train them on the job and pay them a salary comparable or even greater than any college graduate.  But they have to have the drive and the will.”

Late in 2012, Precision Plus invited twenty-four area educators to tour its facilities in Elkhorn, WI and to discuss the manufacturing possibilities available for high school graduates in the area. The exchange resulted in the implementation of a program aimed to educate high school students about the reality of a future in manufacturing.  Under the diligent leadership of EAHS’s Career and Technical Education Coordinator JoAnne Pella and the support and endorsement of Principal Tina Bosworth, a Manufacturing Career Panel was organized for February 27, 2013.

The event was formatted as a panel discussion.  The manufacturing professionals panelists were Dan Murphy,  Regional Sales Manager at Rem Sales, LLC; Darlene Miller, President and CEO of Permac Industries; John Murphy, President of Morris Midwest, LLC; Olaf Tessarzyk, Managing Partner of ZPS America, LLC, and Mike Reader, President of Precision Plus  For one and a half hours, the panelists and students engaged in a genuine discussion about the state of the industry and the possibilities manufacturing has available for young people finishing high school.

It was pointed out by the panelists, that the marked difference between a regular college education vs. a technical college education and/or on-the-the-job training was the opportunity to have real-work experience rather than strictly classroom instruction.  A person learning and experiencing the art and science of machining,  may continue on as business owner, as a program developer, design engineer, quality control engineer, management leader or sales professional, to name a few, and have the real-life experience to understand how to transform ideas into reality.  The machining industry opens the doors to limitless possibilities, offering rewarding careers to “Top Gun” candidates, both men and women.

Following the panel discussion, several tours have been scheduled for students to visit area manufacturers.  The next phase in the manufacturing awareness program is to develop internships for high school and college students, to coordinate learning opportunities with local technical colleges and to seek increased support of  local, state and national legislators.