Stimulus package grant aimed at creating jobs in northeast Wisconsin by helping apprenticeship training
Story by Lee Reinsch
It’s been said that the wheels of the government churn slowly. One might even wonder if these wheels were powered by burrows, or perhaps mournful, blue-clad donkeys, like Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend, Eeyore. But once they’re off and rolling, the federal government’s SAGE grants will be worth the wait, assures the state Department of Workforce Development. SAGE stands for Sector Alliance for the Green Economy. It’s a three-year grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus package of 2009. Wisconsin’s share of the grant involves $6 million from ARRA earmarked to make many apprenticeable trades more environmentally friendly – or sustainable – to the green crowd. An estimated 270 apprentices and journey workers in Wisconsin are expected to receive green training once the program rolls out later this year, according to Steve Roberts, Department of Workforce Development program manager for SAGE. Of the $6 million, the New North region will be allocated $558,000 to green up its apprenticeship programs and existing trades.
Though the grant money was announced more than a year ago, disbursement of funds is still in the planning stages. Getting things rolling involves two parts, Roberts said.
1. Pinpointing: “We will be identifying and addressing labor force needs, specific to green jobs,” said Department of Workforce Development Communications Director John Dipko. The SAGE grant will create opportunities for renewable energy, green manufacturing, smart grid utility technology, and other areas, Dipko said. Roberts said they have identified over a dozen apprenticeable trades that are being looked at for greening up. State officials are now looking at exactly who needs what and how to go about greening things up. Designees in different sections in the state – called GROW regions, or Growing Regional Opportunities in Wisconsin – will partner with businesses, educators and other stakeholders in their areas “to identify and address labor force need,” Roberts said. One of those needs was for a wastewater treatment operator apprenticeship program. It’s new for Wisconsin. Although it’s long been an apprenticeable trade in states like Minnesota, wastewater treatment operation is new to the apprenticeship system in Wisconsin. One focus of the wastewater program will be on reusing graywater, according to Bill Berge, associate dean of the apprenticeship program for Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. “Graywater is water that has been used for things such as washing or showering and can be used again for tasks such as flushing toilets or watering gardens,” Berge said. “There’s potable and nonpotable water, and what is happening is they are going to open up more (uses) for graywater and how to use graywater.” Some people and businesses are already reusing gray water - collecting rain water in rain barrels, for example, or hooking up special sinks connected to toilets or toilet-top sinks, and other types of systems, jury-rigged or otherwise, that allow bath and shower water to be use for irrigation. But it’s definitely not in the mainstream yet. Once SAGE teams are implemented, industry and businesses can identify other occupations to the GROW region SAGE teams that could benefit from being integrated into Wisconsin’s apprenticeship program, Dipko said. The first program to be squared away will be the construction electrician apprenticeship program, which should be ready by April, according to both Dipko and Roberts. Apprenticeships as a whole are administered through the Wisconsin Technical College System and sponsored individually by employers. A student enrolling in an apprenticeship program must be sponsored by an employer.
2. Updating what’s taught: Another facet involves updating the current apprenticeship curriculum, Roberts said. That will come as a relief to Berge, who said oftentimes the people who excel at their trade are not trained in curriculum development. “I think it’s going to take a collaboration. You need to bring people from the industry and instructors collectively together,” Berge said. “I really believe you get a much better product with collaboration than if you get one person to write in a bubble.” That’s what the state is planning, said Dipko and Roberts. The SAGE grants will provide for updated curriculum and in some cases, equipment that will help green a trade. For example, there’s the $20,000 virtual paint booth that virtually trains prospective painters to paint, in a computerized booth. This contraption contributes to the green effort by not wasting paint, said Roberts. It also centralizes training, he said. “Apprentices can be trained in painting and sand blasting - the sprayers help conserve paint and at the same time reduce possible exposure to fumes and chemicals,” Dipko said. Another example is software for the heat and frost trade that detects where pipes are leaking heat. “Instead of just wrapping pipes, the nationwide trade organization has energy-appraisal software to analyze which pipes are leaking and how much insulation is required to make it more efficient,” Roberts said. “We’re identifying this via analysis before we go wrap pipes.”
Number of apprentices down
Enrollments for apprenticeships have dropped significantly in the last decade. In 2000, the Wisconsin Technical College System tallied 4,561 students enrolled in apprenticeship programs. Ten years later, in 2010, that number plunged more than 50 percent to 1,957 students in apprenticeship programs. Berge said that’s related to the state’s business economy. “It’s employer driven,” he said. “The employer has to hire the apprentice, and we have fewer and fewer employers who are hiring apprenticeships.” Berge believes, as do others involved in SAGE, that these green program grants will help grow enrollment in apprenticeship programs.
An alumna of Ripon College, Lee Reinsch is a freelance writer based in Green Bay.