New Nicolet facility brings the real world into the classroom
By Eileen Persike
RHINELANDER – A $2.2 million state-of-the-art manufacturing training facility at Nicolet College was unveiled to the public last week. The center is located in an expanded Birchwoods Center and complements the college’s welding, electromechanical technology, industrial maintenance mechanic, industrial electronics technician and industrial mechanical technician programs with classrooms and equipment.
“It really puts a very centralized focus on manufacturing,” said Jeff Labs, dean of Trade, Industry and Apprenticeships at Nicolet College.” The impact that it has on all of us, locally, statewide, everywhere – is something we realize, especially when there are hiccups, like with the supply chain issues that are going on, but just how important manufacturing is to our everyday lives.”
In manufacturing it can be easy to only see the main function of the piece of machinery, like cutting a piece of metal. But there is much more to the process.
“It’s not only the skills and knowledge to operate the equipment, but even more so to maintain it, repair it and that’s what we have here,” Labs said. “The more advanced machines become, they also need individuals who can troubleshoot and communicate that to a larger team. So everything is so interconnected.”
The School District of Rhinelander Board of Education has started looking a future facility projects, which may include an upgrade and addition to the high school’s technical education department. Superintendent Eric Burke attended the open house and said the Nicolet facility is impressive.
“What we’re trying to figure out is how we, with the Inspire Rhinelander program, using our partners, Nicolet College, the high school – the whole combination to get our kids exposed and prepared for the workforce,” Burke said. “And what a wonderful environment.”
To do that, Burke said a committee is being formed to get input as to what SDR needs at the high school and how Nicolet College, the school district, industry partners can work together to make that work for the students.
Labs said working with area high schools is high on Nicolet’s priority list.
“The more we can communicate and have this seamless pathway from exposure, foundational coursework to getting a diploma and then earning employment, the better,” Labs said. “It’s a great opportunity and it’s something we’re focused on working with our high school partners, and with our industry partners. They are more than open to anything to address some of the workforce shortages.”
The college will also launch a new metal fabrication program this spring, followed this summer with a new forestry maintenance program.
“You’re always asking the question, ‘is our job to respond to the needs of employers, or should we be on the leading edge of driving the technologies and processes,’” Labs said.
The answer, he said, is both “to react to what’s coming in the future and at the same time make sure we provide opportunity on the right equipment for the future workforce.”
Labs said much of the work on the facility was funded through competitive grants.