• WisBusiness

Friday, February 6, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Scholarships help apprentices buy tools


By MaryBeth Matzek
Paying for education after high school is challenging enough, but throw in potentially expensive supplies – such as the proper tools and equipment if you're studying a skilled trade – and some students can have serious second thoughts.

With that in mind, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College teamed up with the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation to provide scholarships to students in their apprentice programs. Madison-based Great Lakes awarded $1,000 scholarships to 11 students so they could purchase their own tools and safety equipment.

Todd Kiel, apprenticeship manager of the Trades & Engineering Technologies Department at NWTC, says the funds are sorely needed.

"Depending on the trade, there are different pieces of equipment needed for them to be successful," he says. "There is a huge demand out there now in the trades and they are well-paying jobs and students need their own equipment."

During the most recent downturn, Kiel estimates that the construction industry lost between 40 and 45 percent of its workforce as tradesmen (and women) took jobs in other areas, including manufacturing and transportation. As the economy has regained its footing, businesses are looking to expand their physical space and construction work is plentiful. A 2014 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 83 percent of U.S. construction firms reported difficulty finding qualified workers.

Kiel says students are responding to the call for more workers. Since 2011, the number of students in NWTC's apprenticeship programs has doubled from 350 in 2011 to the current number of 700.

"These are in-demand jobs," he says.

In an apprenticeship, individuals receive on-the-job training from an employer and classroom instruction at a technical college. Since apprentices earn modest wages while learning their trade, it can be challenging to qualify for financial aid to help with paying for tuition and necessary supplies.

NWTC isn't the only technical college working with Great Lakes. The organization started handing out similar scholarships to students at Milwaukee Area Technical College in 2013 and then expanded it to all Wisconsin Technical Colleges last fall. Just last month, the organization awarded 170 of its Tools of the Trade scholarships to apprentices studying at a Wisconsin Technical College.

"We don't want to see the cost of a welding helmet or steel-toe boots stand in the way of program completion," says Great Lakes President and CEO Richard D. George. "We created Tools of the Trade scholarships to help cover program costs so hardworking apprentices can meet employer needs for skilled workers."

Kiel says the scholarships help students start their careers on the right foot. "It's nice to help these students as they get started in a new, well-paying career," he says.

UW students, faculty earn seed funding grants

Nine University of Wisconsin System faculty and student teams will receive up to $325,000 in the latest round of Ideadvance Seed Fund grants from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the University of Wisconsin- Extension Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC). 

Four teams are the first Ideadvance participants to progress to Stage Two of the program, and will receive grants of up to $50,000 each. They include:  Innovative Foundry Technologies, UW- Whitewater; Nannoaffix, UW-Milwaukee; Organic Research Corporation, UW-Milwaukee; and Tali Payments, UW-Milwaukee.

Five teams entering Stage One of the program include G1 Technologies, UW-Milwaukee; Gift of Tongues, UW-Eau Claire; Ictect, WiSys Technology Foundation; Tactical Athlete, UW-Milwaukee; and YourBook, UW-Platteville. Those teams are eligible to receive up to $25,000 in grants each.

Not prepared

AARP says a recent survey finds that most Wisconsin workers over age 45 aren't confident they'll have enough savings for retirement.

AARP's Building a Secure Financial Future in Wisconsin survey found that 60 percent of working registered workers older than 45 say they are "very" or "somewhat" likely to put off their retirement as long as possible because they don't have enough saved. Forty-two percent of that group say their employer does not offer a workplace savings retirement plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b). In addition, 59 percent of those who responded say their company doesn't offer a traditional pension plan.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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