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Teachers, Industry Leaders Connect Over Tours, Workshops to Learn about Needs

Antigo school district educators—accustomed to leading in the classrooms—are returning to the role of students, and their teachers are leaders in the business and industrial community.

As part of the district’s inservice schedule, teachers involved in academic and career planning have been touring local businesses, discovering the array of products manufactured here, and learning about the needs of the local workforce.

“We are building knowledge for staff about what careers are available for students here in Antigo,” Kelly Fassbender, the district’s director of instruction, explained. “We want to get rid of some of the myths and show the reality of what manufacturing careers can offer.”

Traditionally, the focus in high school has been on preparing students for higher education, tilted toward four-year university degrees if possible. But those expectations, while noble, proved to be unrealistic for many and left communities such as Antigo devoid of the young people needed to fill the manufacturing jobs that are the backbone of the local, regional and national economy.

“We were not supplying the job market with the skills they need from their employees,” Middle School principal Amy Dahms said. “That is changing. We are beginning to make that connection.”

At the inservice, instructors toured a variety of workplaces including Waukesha Bearings, Johnson Electric Coil, Hydratight, Volm Companies, and Zelazoski Wood Products.

As part of an Antigo school district inservice, staff toured a variety of local businesses, learning about the products they produce and what they need in terms of employees and education. The day also included a panel discussion at the high school.

Clint Rogers, high school principal, said it was eyeopening, and in some cases dispelled long-held myths about the modern manufacturing process.

“These are not low-tech jobs,” Fassbender said. “These are clean, high-tech businesses.”

Afterwards, the instructors convened in the Volm Theater for a panel discussion about the needs of employers. Those volunteering their time included with Hank Kakes, plant manager for Rexnord Merit Gear, Troy Brown, president of Kretz Lumber, Mark Arrowood, CI leader for Waukesha Bearings and Angie Close of the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation.

The business panel speaking with educators in the Volm Theater.

Those business leaders stressed the labor shortage they are currently facing and reaffirmed the need for the schools to produce graduates with skills in the areas such as mathematics, communications, and work ethics.

The next step, the instructors said, is melding the needs of employers with the school curriculum.

“We need to let our students know how the fractions they learn in a math class teach them the skills they will need for reading a blueprint,” Rogers said. “We need to stress that the skills they learn in an English classroom are necessary for communicating in a business setting.”

“This is all about translating academics to the real world,” guidance counselor Bree Kratz added.

The inservice also included members of the Northcentral Technical College staff, which has a long history of offering programs and producing graduates tailor-trained to the well-paying jobs that exist in the communities that it serves.

“We want to let our students know that they can stay in Antigo and have a productive career,” Sarah Dillon, dean of college enrollment for Northcentral Technical College, added. “But first we have to know what is here as well.”

The first round of tours and the panel discussion was well-received by the instructors and industry representatives.

“All of the feedback we received was very positive,” Dahms said. “And the employers were excited about the opportunity. I think everyone really enjoyed it.”

Source: Antigo Daily Journal, March 23, 2019 edition