Helping Northwoods companies stay competitive
When companies in this area need specialized training for their employees, they don’t have to look very far. A number of area manufacturers and other organizations have turned to Nicolet College’s Workforce & Economic Development team for customized employee training and professional development.
“We really focus on working adults and people who need to update their skills in their current jobs or for career advancement,” says Sandy Bishop, director of Workforce Development at Nicolet. From her office on the college’s wooded Rhinelander campus, Bishop, along with her team, facilitates programs and services for area businesses and other organizations in the form of short-term training, technical assistance and continuing education for certification and licensure in a number of different fields, as well as training in business and organizational development for entrepreneurs and those who plan to become business owners.
Increasingly, technical colleges play a part in assisting businesses that need training and certification for their employees.
All 16 of the technical colleges in Wisconsin have departments dedicated to economic development. These industry-driven programs offer customized training for jobs in manufacturing, health care, safety, agriculture and many other fields. In the process, they can help companies increase productivity, retain workers and expand operations.
The Workforce & Economic Development program at Nicolet is no exception. The department supports the Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation and is involved in economic development issues in the various counties that Nicolet College serves. Bishop credits former Nicolet College President Elizabeth Burmaster with recognizing and broadening Nicolet College’s role in this area’s economic development. “I think she really embraced that vital part of our mission,” she says.
Bishop shares Burmaster’s vision and enjoys learning about the businesses in the area, developing relationships with them and creating specialized training for employers. Originally from Tomahawk, she graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a degree in health care administration and served as the administrator of a small skilled nursing facility in the western part of the state. She and her husband then returned to this area, and Bishop worked in human resources at a local health care facility. She was especially drawn to organizational development, as well as employee training and performance improvement. She holds a master’s degree in education with specialization in training and performance improvement, and became an adjunct faculty member at Nicolet, teaching supervisory management classes. Then in 1997, when a position opened up in the college’s Department of Economic Development, Bishop jumped at the chance.
All these years later, her passion for her job is obvious. “I’ve loved every minute of my time at Nicolet,” she says. She describes her move to the Department of Economic Development as one of the best professional decisions she has ever made.
“Our community has such a diverse collection of different kinds of businesses and a thriving manufacturing environment that many visitors to the Northwoods don’t realize,” she continues.
“There’s a wide variety of programs and services available to our Northwoods businesses. Whether it involves helping them solve a particular workplace challenge or talking about a long-term workforce development program, we can assist them. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.”
A company that turns to Nicolet for assistance in training employees is Expera Specialty Solutions, which produces specialty papers in Rhinelander. “We have utilized the services of Nicolet College’s Workforce & Economic Development department for several years,” says Nancy Watry, human resources manager at Expera. “Nicolet was instrumental in providing classes for a state indentured pipefitter apprentice program that allows apprentices to train on-site rather than traveling to another facility for classes.
This program has been extremely valuable in coordinating classroom training to real hands-on experience right in our facility.” In addition to training, Watry notes that Nicolet’s Workforce & Economic Development team has also provided resources for grant opportunities.
The department’s services aren’t limited to Rhinelander. “We serve the entire Nicolet College district,” Bishop explains, “which includes all of three counties (Oneida, Vilas and Forest) and parts of three others (Lincoln, Langlade and Iron).”
Assistance with training and other services aren’t reserved for larger companies with formal training and development departments. “If a business is too small to do custom training for their employees, we can look for businesses with similar needs and coordinate training,” Bishop says, citing, for example, training on QuickBooks for a group of businesses.
There are more than 100 local businesses and organizations that have utilized the services available through Nicolet’s Department of Workforce Development over the past several years, among them manufacturers and other companies, health care organizations, local, state, federal and tribal governments, and others. As of the last fiscal year, 2012-13, Nicolet’s Workforce & Economic Development team delivered 169 contracts for technical assistance and customized training, and nearly 250 professional development and occupation-specific continuing education course offerings, serving thousands of enrollees. Training is offered in many different areas, including workplace fire safety and technical training in a variety of subjects (for example, industrial maintenance, blueprint reading, quality and process improvement, to name only a few). OSHA compliance and industrial safety are key components of the department’s customized training, and employers can gain access to employee training in confined space, hazardous materials, fall protection, forklift operation, electrical safety, fire extinguisher training, respiratory pro-certification and licensing are available in those fields which require employees to maintain certification, such as food management, cosmetology, early childhood education and other occupations.
To help their clients, Nicolet’s Workforce & Economic Development program draws from a variety of resources at the college and works with a variety of other organizations such as chambers of commerce, downtown business organizations, local government agencies, tribally-owned businesses and governments, and nonprofit groups. If the department can’t help a business or organization directly, Bishop says, there’s a network of organizations with which her department works. For example, the Workforce & Economic Development department partners with UW-Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center to help businesses in this area with specialized assistance in a variety of industries. The department also works with the Small Business Development Center through UW-Stevens Point and the UW-Extension.
The Workforce & Economic Development program at Nicolet is of immense aid to entrepreneurs and businesses large and small, and is of great significance to area economies.
“Many of our local companies have told us that the number one factor affecting their ability to stay competitive and grow their businesses is the availability of a skilled work force,” Bishop says, “and not only are technical skills important, but also skills related to interpersonal communication, customer service, working with a team, being flexible and having a positive attitude.”
That holistic approach isn’t lost on employers, and neither is the significance of the resources available to area businesses through the college. “We have a responsibility as an employer to provide our employees with the best tools possible to do their job safely and efficiently,” Nancy Watry says. “In order to do that, we need to provide learning opportunities on a regular basis, and Nicolet has been a great resource to provide those opportunities.”
For more information about the Workforce & Economic Development program at Nicolet College, log on to nicoletcollege.edu.