With the harsh realization in mind that 50 percent of its skilled trade workers will retire in the next 15 years — and that new skilled workers are hard to find — a local manufacturer has developed a partnership with the Port Washington-Saukville School District to work with students on developing such skills and interests.
Charter Steel Senior Human Resources Representative Erin Spaeth said the company became interested in the partnership after realizing the apprenticeship program it currently offers won't be enough to fill the gap when those retirements hit.
"We know that the apprenticeship program is not the only way that we are going to (be able to prepare)," she said. "We've recognized the need (for outreach) and building the relationship (with the schools)."
Superintendent Michael Weber said he is thrilled by the partnership, and even moreso satisified that the deal fits an extreme need on both parties' behalf.
"We saw a need that both of us had and we just took off with it, in a very short amount of time," he said. "It's really exciting."
Vanja Ubovich, a services manager with the company, described some of the ideas they have for giving the students real-life experience.
The company is working to develop an engineering co-op for one student with the district, involving a real-life application and interview process.
"We're hoping that this develops in the future maybe to a couple positions in our different plants," Ubovich said. Students will also be offered tours of the plant, and the company planned to participate in a mock interview event for the students this week.
Charter Steel also sits in on committee meetings for the district's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Forward program. "STEM Forward is a technical organization that provides and promotes education outreach programs that emphasize Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics," according to a press release from Port Washington High School Principal Eric Burke. "Their mission is to advance STEM talent in Wisconsin."
- What does STEM do for the students? Read more about the program.
The STEM concept is all-encompassing, being applied in every genre of class — from math all the way through English and everything in between — focusing on problem solving and "the why" of things, according to Alec Belling, a technology and engineering teacher who works with the STEM program.
And this plays out very well with the Charter Steel partnership, School Board President James Eden said, pointing out that while it is a manufacturing plant — there are also jobs in human resources, accounting, design and more.
"All of those pieces put together, there's job opportunities for all levels of students ... for a variety of people's interests," he said.