Wisconsin Sizes Up Recent, Potential Future Changes in Manufacturing

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laboratories, and Madison College. The school offers a variety of associate degree programs and certificates, including one in stem cell technologies. Madison College will train students who aspire to work in the field using a version of Cellara’s software, says Alex Vodenlich, the company’s vice president of business development.

Training students with an interest in manufacturing careers sometimes starts even earlier, says Lisa Johnson, who leads the life sciences trade group BioForward. She points to the $1.1 million in grant funding for digital fabrication laboratories the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has awarded to 34 school districts since 2015. These facilities, called fab labs for short, are workshops outfitted with tools like 3D printers, laser engravers, and plasma cutters that students learn to use. WEDC says its funding supports establishing fab labs in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

During a visit to Wisconsin last month that included a tour of a Milwaukee-area community college, President Donald Trump promoted registered apprenticeships. These are programs that teach people a trade—welding or metal fabrication, to name two examples—and sometimes offer paid, on-the-job training while participants attend school.

There are also apprenticeships in high-tech fields. For example, the Apprenti program in Washington has led to registered apprentice placements at companies like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN).

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a member of his administration, has said that attending a four-year college “is not the right path for everyone,” according to Politico. She has touted apprenticeships as something that could help fill 2 million manufacturing jobs over time.

Michael Hicks, a professor and the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, says Trump’s comments set the bar too high.

“I haven’t seen any evidence suggesting we’re going to generate 2 million new manufacturing jobs because of a single program,” Hicks says. “There are not that many people sitting around, waiting to be manufacturers.”

Wisconsin passed the country’s first apprenticeship law in 1911, and it was later used as a blueprint by other states and the federal government, according to the state’s Department of Workforce Development. The program had 11,353 participants in 2016, an increase of more than 7 percent compared with the previous year. However, Robert Lerman, a fellow at the Urban Institute, last month told the Chicago Tribune that only about half of those who enroll in a multi-year apprenticeship program ultimately finish it.

Members of the Trump administration have reportedly expressed their desire for more collaboration between community colleges and the private sector, possibly by having companies fund apprenticeships that lead to jobs.

One existing model could be computing giant IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) program. The program lasts six years (though some participants finish early) and enrolls high school-age students. They graduate with both a high school diploma and associate degree in an area of study related to science, technology, engineering, or math. Graduates also receive preferred consideration for jobs at the 300 businesses that help fund the program. P-TECH, which launched in 2011, will be offered at 80 schools by the end of this year, IBM says.

Wisconsin residents probably won’t remember President Trump’s June visit by the comments he and other officials made about apprenticeships and workforce development. Instead, they’ll likely recall it as the occasion that set off speculation about Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer, building a plant in Wisconsin and manufacturing electronic displays there.

Taiwan-based Foxconn is best known for assembling iPhones and other gadgets at factories in China. Late last month, founder and chairman Terry Gou said at a … Next Page »

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