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Student Returns to School after 24 Years in Manufacturing



When Alfredo Gomez lost his manufacturing job of 24 years, he knew it was time to return to school and resume his education in order to build a better career to support himself and his family.

Currently training in Machine Tooling Technics at Madison Area Technical College, Alfredo had a lot of work to do before getting into the program.  His first step at the college was to earn his GED.  That was followed by three certificates and several credentials in the area of manufacturing funded by the TAACCCT Advance Wisconsin Manufacturing grant.  Plus, he took classes to improve his English language skills.  So now, he is working toward a technical diploma in Machine Tooling Technics, which prepares students for a careers in tool and die making, mold making, CNC programming, quality control inspection, and precision and repair machining.

Alfredo has approached his education at Madison College with such enthusiasm that he won the Exemplary Student of the Year Award for the School of Applied Science, Engineering, and Technology for 2014-15.  Claudette Zweifel, the coordinator of his program, noted Alfredo’s dedication, work ethic, and outstanding character.  One of his instructors said, “Not all students easily transition from the TAACCCT program into the Machine Tool program, but Alfredo has earned the respect of the other students by working long hours in the shop and being a natural leader.”

Alfredo followed a similar path of many Mexican immigrants to the United States.  As a teenager, he started working in the farm fields of California, where his education took a back seat to day-to-day survival.  After that, Alfredo moved to Wisconsin to live with his uncle, where he was hired by Trostel, a manufacturer of custom rubber products and compounds.  He had a long run there as a machine operator until they moved their operations out of the United States and laid off many of their workers, including Alfredo.

Now, with the opportunity of education and a revitalized career, Alfredo is distinguishing himself among his classmates.  He organized a group of students from Whitewater to carpool to school, and he makes sure others around him are learning, by helping them with their English and technical training.  It is important to Alfredo that no one feels left out or falls behind in their school work.  He said, “This has been a great experience.  What I have learned in the United States at the college level has exceeded my expectations.”

Most recently, thanks to his training at Madison College, Alfredo was hired as a mold technician by a company located close to his hometown, and they are allowing him to work part time until he completes the Machine Tool Technics diploma.  Given Alfredo’s strong work ethic and positive attitude, it sounds as if that company is lucky to have him.

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Move to USA Allows Student to Renew Welding Career Path



More than 20 years ago, Adrian Gotts finished high school in Australia and started on his welding career path by taking an apprenticeship.

Then, his training was interrupted when he started caring for a relative who had dementia. And that led him down a very different career path in disability and senior care, in which he has been employed for the last 15 years. He has cared for people with dementia, autism, and schizophrenia, and worked in a hospice care unit.

When the mother of Adrian’s daughter decided to move back to Wisconsin from Australia, Adrian followed in order to be part of his daughter’s life as she grew up.  And, he was in fact, a stay-at-home dad before his daughter started school.

After that, Adrian began working in Wisconsin in a facility serving people with disabilities. An outgoing and compassionate person, Adrian has found his career as a caregiver to be rewarding in that he knows he is making a positive difference in people’s lives by helping to alleviate their challenges and suffering.

Nonetheless, over the years, Adrian has missed building things. He had a workshop and tool shed at home in Australia, which he had to leave behind. So when he learned recently that there is a high demand for welders in Wisconsin for jobs that pay well, he decided to take the opportunity.

The first step for Adrian was going back to school, starting in December 2013. He lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where Western Technical College is located, so that was a natural choice.  Adrian took advantage of the opportunity to earn credit for previous work/life learning.  He was awarded credit for several classes when he demonstrated that he had already mastered the required skills.  This allowed him to save time and resources while moving his career forward in the welding field.  “They really go the extra step for their students,” Adrian said of the faculty and staff at Western, whose flexibility he has really appreciated. They have also allowed him to use their facilities outside of class meetings to practice his welding skills.

Adrian has continued his full-time job as a caregiver while taking classes at Western. He attended school part time during the evening to obtain the Basic Welding short term technical diploma.  The Basic Welding pathway is fully embedded in the Welding program and the Manufacturing Systems Maintenance Technician (MSMT) program.  Adrian choose to return to Western full-time from January through March 2015, in order to complete the Welding Technical Diploma program in the spring, and be able to start a new career that much sooner.

Looking at that next step, Adrian said he thrives on variety and hopes to find a position that offers him diverse projects on which he can use his problem-solving skills.

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Hobby Turns into Exciting Career

What started four years ago as a hobby for Rodolfo Gomez is now evolving into an exciting new career. Thanks to the suggestion of some friends, he learned that his love of woodworking could lead to training for a manufacturing position. And, that is what led him to the Machine Lathe program at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

Before that, Rodolfo spent 27 years in public service, first in the military, then in the postal service, and finally, as a police officer. He is now redefining himself for work in the private sector. “A lot of companies are hiring right now, so it feels promising,” he said when asked about the outlook in manufacturing.

He began at MATC in February 2014 training in machine lathe, which he will finish this spring. Next, he plans to continue at MATC in the fall with training in computer numerical controls (CNC) operations. His end goal is to earn an associate’s degree. While serving in the military, Rodolfo took some college courses, but did not have the time to complete a degree program.

Rodolfo is grateful now that he does have the time and opportunity to return to school. However, there have been some challenges. He has a family and a part-time job in addition to being a full-time student, so it has been tricky to juggle everything. Nonetheless, Rodolfo explained, “My family is my motivation, and a family man always finds a way to make it work.”

“I’m trying to set a good example for my kids on the importance of school,” he added. “You are never too old to learn.”

Rodolfo says that other challenges of being a returning student include getting up to speed on computer technology and having to take math classes again. Fortunately, MATC has been very helpful by providing tutoring and resources in the computer lab.

According to Candice Zielinski of MATC’s School of Technology and Applied Sciences, Rodolfo excels at this training and has been very helpful to other students.

For his part, Rodolfo says he really appreciates the college and feels it is a great reward for his military service to be able to go to school. When asked about career goals, he cites Harley-Davidson as a dream employer. Perhaps, they will see him as their ideal employee. Or, there will be another company that Rodolfo has yet to discover.

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Student has Multiple Supporters in Education

Magally Rengifo-Marin student at Madison Area Technical College studied CNC.  Photo property/courtesy of Madison Area Technical College.

Magally Rengifo-Marin student at Madison Area Technical College studied CNC. Photo property/courtesy of Madison Area Technical College.

Behind nearly everyone’s success story is any number of supporting players, without whom it would not be possible. Such is certainly the case for Magally Rengifo-Marin, a CNC Operations student at Madison Area Technical College (MATC).

One of Magally’s key supporters is her employer, Promega Corporation, a manufacturer of products for biochemistry and molecular biology. She started working there six years ago as a temporary packaging technician and was hired on full-time in that position after her first year.

Recently, the company acquired CNC (computer numerical controlled) machines, and Magally expressed interested in learning how to operate them. That led her to the training programs at Madison College, which began offering manufacturing credential programs in the summer of 2013, according to Claudette Zweifel, administrative coordinator for manufacturing programs.

Magally enrolled in the first semester of the Manufacturing Essentials program, which includes the OSHA 10-hour industry recognized safety credential. This May 2014, she will finish the CNC Operator program. Then, Magally hopes to enroll in the CNC Setup Technician credential program, which the college is developing next.

Originally from Peru, Magally has lived in the United States since 2003. She had three years of college in Peru, with a major in a program similar to oceanography. Her hope is to continue after the CNC training to earn an associate’s degree at MATC.

Ms. Zweifel said she is impressed with Magally because, “She is juggling a lot as a single mother, full-time employee, and student.” Plus, Magally is overcoming the odds in manufacturing, where women are in the minority, Zweifel noted.

As a student, Magally found it difficult to be in class in the afternoons and evenings after a full work day. To make it easier, Promega created a second shift just for her, so now she attends class from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and then works from 3:30 to 11 p.m.

The other challenge in Magally’s life is making sure her son is taken care of while she goes to school and works. Fortunately, she found a nice family who live nearby, to help her.

“I am very grateful to Promega, Madison College, and the family who watch my son,” Magally said. “My mother says to take advantage of these opportunities now because they may not come again.” That is what she is doing, with faith that it will all pay off in the future.

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New Easy-to-Navigate Website Helps Dislocated Workers

Advance Wisconsin – Manufacturing launched its new site, www.jobupwisconsin.com, focused on streamlining resources for displaced workers,  those who are underemployed or looking for a new career.


The site is a result of a year’s worth of research, planning and development.

Research was conducted with over 650 displaced workers and stakeholders to better understand the challenges they faced, the resources that were needed during the job loss and reemployment process and what types of tools they would find helpful. This research was coupled with a website steering committee comprised of workforce development staff (TAA, WIA case managers), technical college staff and an ad agency to develop the finished product.

Step-by-Step advice and resources addressing basic needs, making a career plan and taking action to obtain a job is at the core. The resources already exist, we are just making them easier to find.

The site is simple and intuitive – great for those who have limited web skills and includes information on:

  • Budgeting
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Financial Assistance
  • Insurance
  • Emotional Support
  • Skill and Interest Assessments
  • Returning to School
  • Job Search
  • Marketing Yourself

Five testimonial videos from individuals who have experienced job loss are included. They help to normalize the emotions, worries and uncertainty that many experience. They also give the message of hope, as their training will help  lead to a new career. People can use their job loss as an opportunity.

Hear Gary’s Story: 

Meet others who have overcome their job loss.









Visit the site – try it – recommend it to others who might find this information valuable.

Obtaining Employment Before Graduation

Andrew Grafelman, Nicolet College

Andrew- Nicolet

Nicolet College student obtains employment before graduation. Photo courtesy/property of Nicolet College.

With four and a half years in the U.S. Army and four years as an army civilian police officer, Andrew Grafelman has served his country well. So, it seems fitting that he is now being supported by the GI Bill to attend Nicolet College to start a new career.


Originally, Andrew thought his career would be in law enforcement. After high school, he earned both an associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice. However, when he graduated from college, he was unable to find a job as a municipal police officer. He was caught in the familiar scenario that he did not have experience, and most open positions wanted people who already had police work in their backgrounds.


That led Andrew to the army, where he served from September 2004 to February 2009 as a crewman on tanks, and had one deployment to Iraq for nearly a year in 2006. He reached the rank of sergeant before a torn ACL led to his medical discharge.


Andrew then found work as a police officer patrolling the Joint Systems Manufacturing Plant in Ohio, where they refurbish M1 tanks. That position was going along fine for Andrew until a 2012 federal budget cut led to areduction in the army’s police force and cost Andrew his job. At that point, Andrew decided it was time to return home to Rhinelander, Wisc., to rethink his career.


Nicolet College was a natural choice for Andrew, not only because of its convenient location and because it is where he earned his associate’s degree, but also because it started offering a new Industrial Mechanical Technician (IMT) diploma program in January 2013, which offered him a new career. He also decided to specialize in a skilled trade, and started in Nicolet’s Welding Technician program in summer 2013.


Even though Andrew didn’t finish both programs until this past May, he had already started a full-time job in April. He is working for Caterpillar in Prentice, Wisc., where they manufacture logging equipment. He said he is using both his IMT and welding training in his new position, and he praises the Nicolet instructors for having high standards in the work they expect from students.


Andrew said one of the benefits of the programs at Nicolet is that the instructors allow students to start a full-time job in their final semester, if the opportunity arises, and they have provided Andrew with the flexibility to test out of some of his classes.


Looking ahead at his career, Andrew is excited that manufacturing allows him to take an engineer’s drawing and turn it into something tangible. Down the road, he would also like to become a certified welding inspector.

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Collaboration Beyond Wisconsin

Joel Simon from CAEL is pictured presenting at the conference. Photo property/courtesy of NWTC.

Advance Wisconsin- Manufacturing (Making the Future: The Wisconsin Strategy – Round 2 TAACCCT Grant) presented at a Department of Labor convening in Washington D.C.  Several other TAACCCT grantees attended. Wisconsin offered a workshop on Credit for Prior Learning. It was a collaboration between the grant management team, Wisconsin’s technical colleges and CAEL, which is a contracted partner in helping to establish best practices for identifying and awarding credit for prior experience or training. The feedback was encouraging as attendees learned and conversed about how to further this important topic that will support individuals returning to college for additional training to obtain a new job.

The gathering as a whole was described by many as an opportune time to engage with their peers who have a common cause.

Graduate Finds Gold Collar Program to be a Great Foundation

Josh Turner, Southwest Technical College

When asked what type of work he did before enrolling at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, Josh Turner said, “You name it.”

He worked for a local Boys and Girls Club, in cranberry marshes, as a car detailer, for Universal Forest Products, for Main Street Ingredients manufacturing whey protein, and in custom construction.

A native of Tomah, Wisconsin, Josh quickly found work when he and his girlfriend relocated to Prairie du Chien, where she was stationed for the National Guard. Unfortunately, the manufacturing job he took ended up being seasonal, and he was laid off.

Southwest Tech Student Gets Great Training Through Gold Collar Program. Photo property/courtesy of Southwest Technical College

At that point, Josh decided he needed more education in order to be competitive, and he turned to the Gold Collar Certification Program at Southwest Tech.

The college developed the program in response to employer requests for more qualified entry-level employees and to upgrade the skills of both existing and displaced workers and Workforce Investment Act (WIA) eligible adults, according to Grant Coordinator Louise Bradley.

She explained that the certificate program is 160 hours of training, which covers manufacturing processes and production, maintenance awareness, quality and continuous improvement, and safety. It meets the standards of the Manufacturing Skills Standard Council (MSSC), which is endorsed by the National Alliance of Manufacturing (NAM). The program also includes LEAN manufacturing principles and job seeking skills.

Josh got a lot out of the program and gave a lot to it as well. According to his instructor Craig Woodhouse, “Joshua demonstrated an excitement for learning new things and challenged himself to learn more content than was offered in the curriculum. He was my “why” student, frequently asking follow-up questions during class discussions. Everyone benefited from having him in the class.”

Unfortunately, before the end of the semester, Josh’s girlfriend completed her National Guard duty, and the couple had to return home to Tomah. However, as Mr. Woodhouse explained, Josh “stayed committed to completing the course by finding online course content on his own and even drove back to the area to attend a plant tour and take his final test.”

Since completing the certification in January 2014, Josh has gained full-time employment in construction. He has found many similarities between manufacturing and construction, and as a result, a number of ways to use his Gold Collar training in his current position. He has applied the safety checks, quality standards, production guidelines, and preventive maintenance, which he learned at Southwest Tech, to make sure his performance is the best it can be.

Josh’s long-term goals include advancing to a challenging position with a company, where he can help it to progress. He is also considering earning his associate’s degree, in order to build upon the manufacturing and business training that he started at Southwest Tech.

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Wisconsin’s TAACCCT 2 Project Team Presents at National Conference

Several members from Wisconsin’s TAACCCT 2 Grant Team (Making the Future: The Wisconsin Strategy) attended the TAACCCT On! Conference in Topeka, KS at the beginning of October. It was a great opportunity to collaborate and network with other TAACCCT grantees and share best practices. Wisconsin’s team presented a workshop about the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) process being developed.

Todd Mattison, the grant’s project manager, also gave an informal overview of Wisconsin’s Round 2 grant objectives during a showcase fair at the event (Todd is featured at :55).

Wisconsin Leading the Future in Manufacturing

Why is manufacturing so important in Wisconsin? This infographic provided by TLX Technologies demonstrates not only the economic impact of manufacturing, but also the the skilled workforce needed in the next 8 years. Wisconsin’s technical colleges are proud to help train individuals to fill these positions that are vital to the state’s manufacturing industry.

Wisconsin: Leading the Future in Manufacturing – An infographic from the team at TLX Technologies

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