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New Gateway center to meet Walworth County employer manufacturing needs

Meeting employer demand for trained workers in computer numeric control machine (CNC) operator and other skilled machining positions in Walworth County remains a priority for Gateway Technical College.

It remains a priority for employers, as well.

As a result, the college has started construction on a new manufacturing center at its Elkhorn Campus, providing students an enhanced learning experience to ensure they have the skills needed for area employers, and are ready to work on the machines used in today’s workforce.

The center will consist of 13,865 square feet of renovations to the South Building on the campus, as well as adding another 3,100 square feet onto that same building. The facility will consist of a welding, CNC and mechatronics lab in addition to classrooms and a computer-aided design (CAD) studio.

Area companies have partnered with Gateway in the soon-to-be-built center by supplying modern precision manufacturing equipment for students to train on, in addition to providing industry insights which will help students gain the skills to be hired – and, help their company to meet their growing needs for skilled workers.

Gateway instructor Rich Shouse was there at the beginning of the initial discussions on whether to expand the program, and he says the buy-in from employers was immediate.

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of passion for this industry we have among area employers, and the need for this type of training. Everyone said what was limiting their company’s growth was employees. They simply could not get enough people.

“Employers were telling me they could expand their operations by 30 percent if they had the skilled workers.”

Rich points out that while these companies compete against each other in the marketplace, they still came together for this effort because they realize it is what is best for their industry. Working together with Gateway to increase training and skilled worker numbers benefits all of them.

“Some said the need was so great, that their only alternative sometimes was to hire away employees from each other – which definitely doesn’t help the industry as a whole, at all,” says Rich.

Precision Plus donated $50,000 to Gateway and – with its industry buying power – negotiated a less costly price tag for a new CNC Swiss precision screw machine for students to train on.

Students will be trained for CNC positions of the industry today, ranging from entry-level positions to more skilled positions, depending on the academic coursework track they decide to follow. Skilled positions pay $16 to $20 an hour and are open and available in the area, Shouse points out. He also points out that Walworth County is a national hub for Swiss precision machining

“In our Racine program, 95 percent of the students are employed before they even graduate,” says Rich. “We have companies reach out to us regularly, asking us about students and graduation numbers.”

The center is slated to be completed and open for students by Fall 2016.

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