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The Customized Workforce
Dr. Darnell Cole & Sandi McClary

Posted on 2/20/07

We have all heard the chilling statistics and the disturbing stories:
• 40% of Milwaukee’s manufacturing workforce will be retiring in the next 3-5 years
• Tramont Corp had to refuse $10 million in business because it didn’t have the employee capacity
• Bucyrus needs more than 200 welders and machinists, yesterday.

The recent “Wisconsin’s Job Outlook 2005-2007” published by the Department of Workforce Development confirmed this trend in its report, stating that the number of replacement jobs is eclipsing the number of new jobs in every industry category.

So who is responsible for finding and training this replacement workforce? The public school system? The technical colleges? The community? Employers?

The Answer is Yes

The workforce of the future will be reliant upon the combined expertise and resources of the community to address the current skilled labor shortage and to grow a competent future workforce. The highly successful “Tramont Model” – creating a customized workforce -- demonstrates the power of bringing together education, the community and local employers to address a workforce crisis.

When Sean McGowan, CEO of Tramont Corporation, turned away $10 million in business in 2006 because he couldn’t find enough welders, he vowed it would never happen again. After contacting the Mayor’s office, a team was assembled in August of 2006 consisting of the public school system, a community-based organization, a W-2 agency, and the local technical college. When Tramont stated they would guarantee jobs for anyone graduating from the 200-hour customized program, the partners pulled out all the stops. By December of 2006, 14 “customized” workers were ready to start work at Tramont.

What made this model work? All agreed that there was not one partner that was more important than the others, but that the project would not have worked without each doing what they do best. Following is an overview of what is needed to replicate this model and how each partner helped create Tramont’s Customized Workforce:

Facilities - Milwaukee Public Schools

Recognizing that Milwaukee has limited training facilities for welding training, Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) re-opened labs that were left dormant due to decreased interest in the trades by high school students. The agreement with Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) included a commitment from MATC to teach the welding program to MPS high school students, creating fresh awareness of the trades while potentially customizing additional workers for Tramont and other manufacturers.

Participant Screening & Barrier Abatement

With Policy Studies, Inc. (PSI) & Multicultural Community Services (MCS) PSI, a W-2 funding agency under the Department of Workforce Development and MCS, a community-based organization, MATC ensured successful participant selection and provided barrier abatement services throughout the program.

All projected participants were screened for academic readiness appropriate to the program. Those not ready to enter the rigorous training program were referred to MCS, which has a MATC Learning Lab, for basic skills help and to ready them for a future training opportunity. Additionally, all participants had drug-screening, eye exams and a basic physical prior to being accepted into the program.

A critical component to the success of this program was the case management services that were provided by both agencies. As childcare and transportation continue to be major barriers to this emerging workforce, MCS provided emergency childcare and PSI handled transportation issues on site. PSI staffed the program every day to support the participants and ensure retention. At the end of the six-week program all 14 starting students graduated and, as of the writing of this article, all are still employed at Tramont.

Education- Milwaukee Area Technical College

Prior to the start of training, MATC faculty worked with Tramont Subject Matter Experts to determine specific competency requirements; to customize the curriculum; and to coordinate facilities, materials and equipment with MPS and Tramont staff. MATC faculty provided 200 hours of customized instruction, with weekly assistance from Tramont’s welding supervisors. In addition, all participants earned welding certifications.

Employer – Tramont Corporation - Guaranteed Jobs

This is critical to the Customized Workforce Model. Tramont guaranteed jobs to all program graduates. Employers must also be willing to:
• Develop specific occupational skills & job characteristics to aid in the screening process
Employers must work with the community agencies to clarify the competencies and qualities required to ensure a successful worker. Academic testing, drug-testing, and physical assessments will identify those ready to enter training, and will identify options for others.
• Contribute subject matter expertise for program development & classroom support
Experienced Tramont welding supervisors were utilized as subject matter experts to customize the curriculum and provide practical application opportunities for the students. Students learn how their new skills will be applied in the workforce, and employers can assess the readiness of this future workforce. Any potential barriers to successful employment are addressed by MATC and the community partners prior to entry into the workplace.
• Donate materials when available & appropriate (e.g. scrap steel for welding)
Welding programs are costly to run because of the materials and supplies required. Tramont donated scrap steel to help decrease costs. Other companies may choose to donate machinery, gas or other supplies.
• Encourage participants during training through classroom visits, etc.
Tramont CEO Sean McGowan welcomed the students on the first day of class, even giving them Tramont insignia lunchboxes in anticipation of their first day of work. He visited the class on several occasions, which inspired and motivated them to graduate.

This Customized Workforce Model is designed to influence more employers to guarantee jobs. The participants have been carefully screened and trained to their specifications and employers have the opportunity to build relationships with the participants throughout the program. Participants are more apt to stay in training and succeed because there is a specific opportunity at the end; they are more invested and begin to think of themselves as already employed by that organization.

We must continue to be creative and focused in developing the future workforce. This Customized Workforce Model is easily replicated for any industry cluster or organization requiring skilled workers.


Dr. Darnell Cole is the President of Milwaukee Area Technical College

Sandi McClary is the Director of MATC’s Office of Corporate Learning

Helen Bader Foundation University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Milwaukee Jobs