Area citizens will see a referendum to provide funding for Fox Valley Technical College on their April 3 ballots.
FVTC, which has regional centers in Waupaca and Clintonville, is seeking authorization to borrow up to $66.5 million for seven projects.
The projects include building a new Public Safety Training Center near the Outagamie County Regional Airport and adding a Health Simulation and Technology Center in Appleton, expanding the Transportation Center and remodeling the Agriculture Center.
Expansions and remodeling are also planned at the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center in Oshkosh, FVTC’s regional center in Chilton and the student support services center on the main campus in Appleton.
The FVTC college district covers all or part of nine counties. Two of FVTC’s four regional centers are located in Waupaca County, at Waupaca and Clintonville.
New London School District Administrator Bill Fitzpatrick is also chairman of the FVTC board of trustees. He said the projects will benefit both employees seeking to enhance their technical skills and employers looking for high-skilled workers.
Fitzpatrick said technical colleges serve as a bridge between the needs of employers and employees. Tech schools help shape a workforce that fits the reality of local businesses.
Fitzpatrick said about 23 percent of all high school students go to technical college right after they graduate.
Two years after graduation, about 40 percent of high school graduates are taking classes at a tech school.
“Some of them go into the workforce but realize they need more skills, or they go to college and realize that the better paying jobs are through skill-based technical training,” Fitzpatrick said.
Each of the projects focuses resources on an area of current and projected economic growth for the region and for Waupaca County.
He said the top two industries in Waupaca county are manufacturing and agriculture.
“Manufacturers need to ship their materials in and their products out, and they need skilled workers in transportation to do that,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are currently long waiting lists for programs to train truck drivers and diesel mechanics.”
There is also a shortage of skilled workers in the field of transportation. FVTC estimates that Wisconsin alone will need at least 8,000 truck drivers and 400 diesel mechanics annually.
The expansion project will allow the college to double its capacity and provide additional space for a truck driving inspection bay, diesel technology maintenance bays, diesel engine labs, auto mechanics expansion and additional classrooms.
Due to changes in methods of farm production, more skilled workers are needed in agriculture. As a result, the number of full-time students taking ag-related classes at FVTC has grown by nearly 87 percent in the past four years.
Fitzpatrick noted that expanding the ability of the local technical college to train more students “will help the local economy dig out of the current recession.”
“It will cost about $1 per month on a $100,000 home,” Fitzpatrick said, regarding the referendum’s impact on property taxes. “It’s more of an investment in the future than an expense.”
Partnering with industry
Richard Recktenwald is president of Walker Forge in Clintonville and a member of FVTC’s board of trustees. He points to FVTC’s ability to shape its programs to the specific workforce needs of industry as a key benefit to the local economy.
He said both Walker Forge and ThyssenKrupp Waupaca worked with FVTC to make ABB Robotics part of its advanced automated manufacturing curriculum.
Both Walker Forge and ThyssenKrupp use ABB Robotics in their manufacturing process, and FVTC gives their employees hands-on training in the technology.
Walker Forge also turned to FVTC when the company introduced a new 3-D modeling program called Pro Engineer to design its dies. Initially, Walker Forge had to send its engineers to Auburn Hills, Mich., for training.
“It was costly to fly our people over there,” said Amy Goerlinger, a human resources professional at Walker Forge and a member of the FVTC Foundation. “Having the training here in Clintonville was a great benefit to us.”
Goerlinger said FVTC also provides monthly training for Walker Forge’s emergency response team, which handles spills, fires and injuries at the plant.
Recktenwald estimates that 100 percent of Walker Forge’s employees have received some level of training through FVTC, while as many as 25 percent of them are graduates of FVTC programs.
“Fox Valley Tech touches 53,000 students every year and a great many of them come from Waupaca County,” Recktenwald said. “Just about every manufacturer in Waupaca County can and probably does benefit from having staff trained at Fox Valley Technical College.”
The largest, single project the referendum seeks to fund is for a $32.5 million Public Safety Training Center to be built near the Outagamie County Regional Airport.
The center trains police officers and firefighters throughout the region. The new, expanded facility will have more labs and classrooms, indoor and outdoor firing ranges, an emergency vehicle driving course, a fire tower and rescue training facilities.
Between 2008 and 2011, enrollment in FVTC’s criminal justice programs increased 60 percent.
Currently, there are about 400 students on a waiting list for fire fighting programs at FVTC.
Lt. Geoff Johnson is in charge of training for the Waupaca Police Department.
Johnson said every police officer is required to have 24 hours of training every year.
“We probably utilize Fox Valley Tech the most for our training,” Johnson said. He indicated that expanding the FVTC’s Public Safety Center will make it easier to schedule training due to waiting lists.
“Every two years, we have to re-certify in emergency vehicle operations for pursuits. In the past, it’s been hard to schedule time on the track because public safety is sharing it with transportation. With the new facility, public safety will have their own course.”
Johnson said the new center will also offer a more sophisticated firing range.
“It will be like a mini-town with actual buildings so that law enforcement can use them in real-life scenarios,” Johnson said, adding that weapons training can now include the element of knowing when to shoot and not to shoot.
Johnson noted that FVTC’s Public Safety Training Center would be unique in the Midwest.
“It could draw students not only from throughout Wisconsin but from bordering states, as well,” Johnson said.
The second largest project would be an $11.9 million addition to the health care training center in Grand Chute. It would expand training for health care workers through a virtual hospital, real-life simulation sites and computer training labs.
Jann Johnson is director of nursing at Bethany home in Waupaca. She noted the value of simulated training for IV insertions, “versus poking a real person.”
“It gives students more reassurance before they have to perform those procedures on real people,” Johnson said.
She said having access to ongoing training in the field of nursing is critical.
“The majority of our staff, including our LPNs, have been trained at Fox Valley Technical College,” Johnson said. “We try to work with our staff and encourage them to continue their training.”
She said one of the biggest challenges is the need to schedule classes while working full time.
Currently, space is limited in one of FVTC’s high-demand fields of study.
The expansion seeks to expand the health care services program to meet the needs of more students.