WAUKESHA - Anyone who has paid attention to
education and manufacturing over the last several years has
likely heard the term “skills gap” repeatedly. The phenomenon of
employers having jobs to fill but not being able to find
potential employees with the right skill-set has proved
stubbornly difficult to solve.
The Waukesha County Business Alliance has
launched several programs to help address it and recently
announced its Waukesha MADE Action Committee as another
The collaboration with the Waukesha School
District, which has a Waukesha Manufacturing, Automotive, Design
and Engineering program, is intended to increase involvement and
communication between the manufacturing community and the
The committee’s activities will include exposing
parents and students to manufacturing careers through tours and
job fairs, bringing real-world into the classroom, encouraging
students to share their experiences and offering mentoring
Waukesha Superintendent Todd Gray said the
district’s goal is to have students college and career ready.
“If you’re not going to college, we think being
career ready is a good option as well,” he said.
Nick Kroll, president and CEO of Aries
Industries, said the committee is focused on trying to integrate
Waukesha’s manufacturing businesses into the school system.
Kroll, the committee’s chair, added the focus is
on high school students, but there is a desire to also reach
middle school students.
Gray said the collaboration will help address
some of the skills gap issues.
“They certainly aren’t directing the education,”
he said, before adding the companies can tell the district what
hard and soft skills potential employees are missing.
Kroll said that while each company will often
have its own specific skill needs, one hard skill need that is
almost universal is a strong foundation in math.
Among the soft skill issues Kroll highlighted
were issues with attendance and communication. He said it may
seem basic, but many young employees struggle to show up on time
on a consistent basis. He added the increase in technology in
daily life has meant young employees often struggle to look
someone in the eye, listen to what they are being told or
articulate their thoughts clearly.
He acknowledged these were generalizations, but
said they do present problems for employers.
The main goal of the Business Alliance committee
is to promote manufacturing careers as an option for students.
Kroll said the committee’s success will be measured by how many
students choose to take full-time jobs with manufacturers right
after graduating high school.
He said he wasn’t trying to imply a college
education was a bad thing, but said it isn’t the right path for
Kroll said there are a couple of roadblocks
preventing more people from going into manufacturing careers.
“One of the biggest things we’re fighting,
frankly speaking, is parents,” he said, noting that many have
had bad experiences themselves with manufacturing or think the
industry is dangerous, dirty and lacks good jobs.
He also said that while many people associate
manufacturing jobs lost through downsizing or outsourcing,
similar things have happened in other industries like finance or
Those looking to draw students to manufacturing
are also fighting the tradition of going away to school.
“It’s almost looked at like it’s a right of
passage to have that college experience,” Kroll said.
He noted many employers are willing to help their
employees with tuition and other education related expenses.
As for the possibility of jobs disappearing,
Kroll said there are number of companies with strong ties to
“I don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon,”