Training Tomorrow’s Workforce through Unconventional Means

Moraine Park Technical College
Written by Samita Sarkar

For those interested in attending vocational school in the United States, there are well over a hundred to choose from. But Moraine Park Technical College, with its three campuses in the State of Wisconsin and over 100 career options to choose from, does many things differently from conventional trade schools and other institutions of post-secondary education.
Through its regional partnerships with workforce development stakeholders, Moraine Park strives to give students the ultimate two-year educational experience, with ample opportunities for internships, networking, and even international travel. The Wisconsin technical school’s main campus is in Fond du Lac, with two other campuses in Beaver Dam and West Bend. (There are also regional centers in Jackson and Ripon.) Upon graduation, students are uniquely prepared to enter Wisconsin’s rich labor pool and meet the needs of major employers.

“We have programs that make our students immediately more employable,” Patty Lehn, Director of Marketing, tells us. “Myself, when I went to a four-year college, I was more valuable at the end of the four years. Here, our students are often able to get employed in their field even after one semester, in many cases. That is one thing that sets us apart—the laddering within a program itself. Within healthcare, in one semester you can have a job as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant), while you continue to advance your schooling toward another position within healthcare.”

Helping the next generation of workers start their careers
Moraine Park Technical College offers a number of services to help both students and graduates begin their careers. Students are connected with internship opportunities while they study, and are offered in-person job search assistance by campus staff upon graduation. This includes providing data about the sector, salary information, helping with résumés and cover letters, and even going through mock interviews with the students and graduates.

“One new thing we have started within the last couple of years is a career clothes closet for students who may not have appropriate clothing to wear to their job interviews. We have donated clothing that they can access and be able to choose from,” Lehn comments.

The “boot camp” training model is another fairly recent endeavor at the innovative school. The manufacturing, CNC, and welding boot camps are completely free to attend for those who gain acceptance into the rigorous programs. As the college is part of a strong manufacturing region, boot camps are funded by Fond du Lac-area employers who are looking for workers, ensuring the employment of those who undergo the training. The employers are in partnership with the school and are actively involved in the programs.

“These are employers who need entry-level, skilled employees. What is really great is that we are hoping to fill that shortage by bringing those skills to underemployed people, such as people who were previously incarcerated who just need that second chance. The boot camp program has been a wonderful way to give them some skills in areas where our local employers are desperate for those workers,” says Lehn.

Lehn informs us that the boot camp graduation ceremonies can often turn into emotional, heartwarming experiences. “The students really appreciate being given that second chance. A lot of them have perhaps dropped out of high school, or have been incarcerated, or just made some bad choices. Not everyone in the program has – we’ve had people come through who see what a great opportunity it is and just need that foot in the door – it’s just a phenomenal opportunity for so many people.”

“The boot camp changed my life by giving me the opportunity to have a career in the first place. If I didn’t attend this, I would most likely just have a job… the difference between a job and a career is that when you have a career, you actually show your passion and give it all you can. Careers can take you anywhere in life that you want to be,” Alex Rocha, a student of Moraine Park’s welding boot camp, has told the college.

While these programs are offered on a self-registration basis, Moraine Park also works with its boot camp employer-partners to train their incumbent workers and expand their current skill sets for positions in industrial maintenance, robotic welding, production assembly, and working with PLC digital computers (Programmable Logic Controllers).

On top of its boot camps, MPTC’s economic and workforce development unit is anchored in its community workforce-specific, specialized training for employees. “We have a plethora of different types of training: everything from customer service to leadership, Six Sigma, team building, and we have a catalog of those types of programs. But what serves our industry partners so well is our customized training. We even do training on site at their location if that is what they want. We deliver whatever the company needs,” Lehn comments.

The customized business training has been very well received. Recently, for example, MPTC created a custom package for Mercury Marine, a large employer in the college’s hometown in Fond du Lac. The 80-hour course was made for the marine engine manufacturer’s machining department. The employee-students were given training in mass print-reading metrology, CNC, and milling. They were required to complete 13 individual work activities and 42 skill checks in the training period.

Within two years of the training, students had earned more than 150 industry credentials. 176 people have been trained to date, and MPTC will continue to train 40 to 50 people per year until all 400 machinists have been trained. MPTC will also be launching an intermediate level series to continue to increase the skills of those who have already gone through the fundamentals training, and the school supports the onboard training of all its manufacturing production associates.

Lastly, MPTC’s Beaver Dam location also serves as a training site for Mercury University. Its instructors deliver a curriculum designed by the Mercury team to over 2,000 individual Mercury Marine dealers across the country.

JoAnne Hall, Dean of Economic and Workforce Development at Moraine Park, says that “Moraine Park has been providing customized training to area business partners since the mid-1980s. Our region is heavily dominated by mid-size manufacturing firms, and our training resources provide a cost-effective way to grow the skills of their incumbent workers. Tailored to the organization, it is not a ‘one size fits all approach.’ Our team works closely with business leaders at the organization to identify key skills needed, and develops a customized training program to address the skills gaps. Customized training solutions help to minimize training time and maximize business results.”

The Moraine Park Foundation
The Moraine Park Foundation is a charitable organization with the mission of helping students succeed by providing financial assistance and scholarships to students, who in turn strengthen the Wisconsin economy with their skills. In order to be eligible for a scholarship, students must maintain a strong GPA and enroll in a minimum of six credit hours per semester. Lehn informs us that the last time the foundation had an audit, which was during the 2016–2017 school year, it was revealed that the Foundation was able to provide almost $175,000 in scholarships to 205 students.

In addition to scholarships, the Foundation also provides emergency funding for unforeseen circumstances, such as car repairs or stolen computers. Within the same timeframe, it provided $4,600 of such funding to 26 students.

Manufacturing students are also eligible to receive scholarships through an MPTC partnership called the FACT Program. The scholarship was created by a group of manufacturing employers in order to allow students to enter Wisconsin’s active manufacturing field. That same school year, more than $42,000 went to 54 students in manufacturing alone. The college then connected those employers with the students to facilitate their hiring.

“Something else we are really proud to work on is the new ‘Promise Program,’” says Lehn. “It is an opportunity for high school students who maintain an eligibility of a certain GPA. If they qualify because of financial need and live within the school district, they can have their education completely funded.” Moraine Park has just wrapped up its fundraising campaign for the Promise Program, and welcomed its first 35 students through the program this August. Eventually, Lehn wants to expand the program beyond high school-aged applicants.

“It’s so important for us to be able to provide education to students who don’t otherwise think about college. That’s what the Promise Program is intended to do. It’s terrible to think that a person might be a great potential contributor to an employer, but doesn’t even pursue education because they know they can’t afford it. We are trying to eliminate the financial barrier for those students,” she adds.

Through the college’s charity and scholarship programs, it aims to be a conduit that allows its community members to become employable citizens and then give back to their own communities. The cost of education is an investment that ultimately gives the local economy a boost.

A true college experience
A unique feature of the college is its ability to create the experience of a four-year college within a technical college institution. (In fact, MPTC was established in 1912 – well before many public research facilities!) Each of the three campuses has a dedicated student life representative who drives activities and events to enhance the student experience. These include social activities, lectures, discussions, and recreational events such as football or volleyball games.

“With two-year institutions, because we have students who don’t live on campus – many who are employed either full- or part-time – it’s common to come to class and then just leave again. The student life activities help those students feel more like part of a community,” explains Lehn.

But there are additional benefits to joining campus activities on top of connecting with other students. Extracurricular activities serve as an opportunity to enhance skills through student government, groups, or organizations. “The students who take advantage of those opportunities are much more successful, and it’s easier for them to get a job because they are networking with future employees,” Lehn mentions, adding that some groups are almost like mini-internships.

“We have an IT club that any student in an IT program can join,” she shares. “Based on one student’s idea, the club has organized an outreach project with our local seniors’ center to help them better understand their own technology.”

The student-founded, student-run initiative involves weekly volunteering at the center, where seniors can bring in the devices they need help with. The future IT professionals help the seniors get the most out of their own technology.

“I think about these students at future job interviews, and being able to share the experience they’ve had just in that outreach setting alone. The payback is more than tenfold,” says Lehn.

Another way that MPTC keeps rooted in its Wisconsin communities is through advisory boards in Fond du Lac, Beaver Dam, and West Bend. The advisory boards are composed of people who work at local companies, helping the college keep a pulse on the needs of local employers.

MPTC’s impressive graduation statistics speak for themselves. The graduate follow-up report for the class of 2016–2017 shows that 93 percent of graduates are already employed, with 81 percent of those employed in positions related to their field. Top median salaries reported by degree are $66,700 (medical design technology associate degree) and $64,475 (electrical power distribution technical diploma). Other top-earning degrees and diplomas include the nursing associate degree with a practical nursing exit point, process engineering technology, IT, respiratory therapy, CNC technologies, welding, and more.

Military-friendly designation
Moraine Park is proud of its veteran and military students. For eight years in a row, the school has been awarded military-friendly designation by Victory Media, and it was listed as among the best colleges for veterans in 2018 by Military Times.

There are many ways that Moraine Park cultivates a military-friendly environment, including having a fulltime Student Veterans Specialist on campus. “His name is Steve Pepper, and he’s a retired army sergeant. We affectionately call him ‘Sergeant Pepper.’ Our institution shows our military friendliness through our leadership positions,” says Lehn.

Moreover, MPTC’s Dean of Students is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, who takes military leave to fulfill his commitment to the country. While all counselors receive specialized training on understanding the needs of veterans, having veteran and active duty members of the military helps military students feel comfortable on campus, knowing that they have shared experiences and a sense of understanding.

“Beyond that, we are constantly hosting events. During the holidays we do a shoe box drive to solicit donations for basics like deodorant, magazines, and snacks, and we box them up so we can send them off to some of our military bases. Things like that let our students know that we are committed to being military-friendly,” says Lehn.

“Being military-friendly in a place like northeastern Wisconsin, where there is not a lot of military presence, is really important. To my surprise, there are more veterans than I had anticipated… it seems as though folks really embrace it,” student and Air Force Veteran Carla Stephany has said.

Moraine Park has numerous resources available to military and veteran students. A number of MPTC programs are approved for VA benefits, and veterans are also welcome to join the Student Veterans Association (SVA) club. As the college mentions on its website, “this provides a support system to help veteran and military members ask questions and smoothly transition from military life to college and careers.”

A Fair Trade campus
Have you ever wondered who made your clothing or jewelry? Perhaps you’ve thought about how your cup of coffee or bar of chocolate was processed? As a career-focused college dedicated to helping boost the economy with the next generation of skilled workers, MPTC wants to make sure that both students and those they consume from are paid fairly for their work.

In 2015, MPTC became the first technical college in the U.S. to become Fair Trade certified. The Fair Trade movement, which promotes high product standards and fair workers’ wages, is active in the State of Wisconsin. “We have a couple of employees who are very active in Fair Trade, and I have to credit Anne Lemke, a staff member, who is very passionate about fair trade and was instrumental in bringing it to our college,” says Lehn.

Anne Lemke, Experiential Learning Coordinator, tells us, “Our communities play an important role in growing the Fair Trade movement in the United States. Partnering with this important, exciting, and fast-growing movement, I wanted to bring Fair Trade education to our students and staff. In May 2015, Moraine Park Technical College was named the first Fair Trade Technical College in the United States. As part of this global movement, there are now more than 1,000 Fair Trade towns worldwide and the movement is spreading across the United States. Fond du Lac became a Fair Trade town in 2013, joining Madison and Milwaukee. The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, just 20 miles away from our campus, became the first Fair Trade University in 2008. Today, there are 52 declared colleges and universities, with another 115 in active campaigns across the country. This movement brings together towns, universities, colleges, schools, and community members to build awareness of the importance of Fair Trade and social justice.”

The Moraine Park President, Bonnie Baerwald, is also very committed to Fair Trade.

As MPTC states on its website, “Fair Trade supports farmers and artisans in developing countries. These producers lack economic opportunity and often face steep hurdles in finding markets and customers for their goods. Fair Trade is about making a tremendous impact on artisan and farmer communities while offering great products to the public all around the world.”

But when you buy Fair Trade, you don’t just get higher quality products and fair pay for producers. Fair Trade certification also means that the product was obtained through environmentally safe practices and working conditions, with no child labor and no human trafficking.

MPTC collaborates with several other area organizations supporting and educating others about Fair Trade such as Fond du Lac Fair Trade Towns, Just Fare Market, and UW Oshkosh Fair Trade College.

Is MPTC for me?
There are many reasons for students and Wisconsin-area employers to want to get involved with Moraine Park. The technical college has a rich history of innovation in its approach to training both students and workers as they prepare for careers in a diverse and globally connected world.

Students who are not sure about committing to a degree are welcome to take a single course at the college based on interest, or enroll in a distance course to wet their toes at the modern, flexible school. Meanwhile, businesses are invited to reach out to MPTC to choose from one of its worker training programs, or even request a customized training package.

To find out more about whether MPTC is right for you, please visit



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