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Culture - May 25, 2016

Waupaca Foundry Graduates Fill Skills Gap

Joey Leonard

Waupaca Foundry Graduates Fill Skills Gap

Seventeen Waupaca Foundry employees graduated from a pilot program designed to develop skills required for high demand electrical maintenance positions. The program was funded by a state of Wisconsin Fast Forward grant designed to train current employees at eleven Wisconsin businesses, one of which is Waupaca Foundry. The program was funded by $229,000 from state grants and a $330,000 match from participating employers.

Wisconsin-based Waupaca Foundry employees who were selected for the program were required to pass aptitude tests to qualify for the program, then attend weekly day-long training at Fox Valley Technical College for two semesters. Although employees were paid for their time spent in school, the program required extra hours of study and applied training on the job. Participating students were all from the Waupaca and Marinette plants. Graduates earned a Fundamentals of Maintenance certificate and 10 technical college credits, which can be applied toward an associate's degree.

Pictured here (from left to right): Ryan Buchholz, Joshua Wanty, Devin Wolberg, Al Gilliard, Justin Gabrielson, Keith Janke, Dan Nelsen, Tallon Golz, Josh Johnson, Blake Wolfe, Jeremy Steingraber, Samantha Bucholtz, Jeff Johnson, Beccah Novak, Stan Novak, Andrea Pillasch, Greg Block.

Finding qualified electrical maintenance workers is a challenge for Waupaca Foundry due to a shortage of qualified applicants, as well as the complexity of the machines and manufacturing processes used in foundries.

"We looked all over for these highly qualified people and all along they were right here in our operations, said Joey Leonard, executive vice president of human resources. All they needed was the right skills, he added.

Beccah Novak started in the mill room in Marinette and was most recently a forklift operator. She is one of only a few women enrolled in the program. "I always wanted to go back to school, but life got busy," Novak said. "Im so thankful for Waupaca's investment in this rewarding program and I'm happy to gain a career, not just have a job," she said.

Jeremy Steingraber drove a forklift in the mill room at Plant 1 and said a career in electrical maintenance was never part of his plan, but he took the opportunity when it was presented. "I have three kids and wouldn't have been able to take the time away from work for this program," he said.

Devin Wolberg is in maintenance at Plant 3 in Waupaca and had been working toward an associate's degree in electrical maintenance but didn't finish college. This program gave me the chance to finish my schooling," he said.

According to Gordy Barth, manager of employee development & training, the program took two years to plan and required collaboration between private employers, Fox Valley Technical College, and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. "Waupaca Foundry provides educational reimbursement to our team members, but the structure of this program and the fact that employees were paid to attend school made a big difference."

The company will be rolling out a version of this program at plants in Etowah and Tell City in fall of 2016. In those programs, students will be able to pursue certification in electrical and mechanical maintenance. A similar program for mechanical maintenance is also offered at the Fox Valley Technical College campus in Waupaca for employees. The Wisconsin Fast Forward program used a combination of public and private dollars for funding, but in these programs Waupaca Foundry will underwrite the entire cost of training materials, tuition, and will pay employees for attending classes.

Waupaca Foundry has a long history of promotion from within and this program is a natural extension of our commitment to employee career pathing. "We would rather give an opportunity to someone who has worked for us awhile, someone who understands the foundry industry, has worked on our equipment, and who believes in the Waupaca Foundry culture," Leonard said.

If employees have questions or are interested in the program, please contact your human resources manager or Manager of Employee Development & Training, Gordy Barth.

Please congratulate our graduates.

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