By LeAnn R. Ralph
EAU CLAIRE — For Jarett Cassellius, it was a high honor.
A farm boy from Downing who graduated from Glenwood City High School in 1986 and then from Chippewa Valley Technical College who is now the Senior Manager North Division for Walmart Logistics got to meet the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, at CVTC’s Manufacturing Day October 6.
More than 200 students from over a dozen area high schools attended Manufacturing Day at CVTC’s Manufacturing Education Center on Alpine Road in Eau Claire.
[emember_protected] High schools that were represented included Alma, Altoona, Augusta, Ellsworth, Elmwood, Owen-Withee, Stanley-Boyd, Neillsville, Chippewa Falls, Durand, Eau Claire North, Elk Mound, Greenwood, Lake Holcombe and Spring Valley.
Cassellius’s visit to CVTC was part of a larger initiative to recruit young people in Wisconsin for careers in manufacturing.
“I help support all of the (Walmart) distribution centers in the north part of the (United States) for staffing and maintenance. I’m the regional maintenance manager. Right now, I’m looking at recruiting, at developing that relationship between industry and technical schools to help increase the interest in the mechanical field for staffing in the distribution centers and as a whole,” Cassellius said.
Cassellius is based out of Walmart’s offices in Bentonville, Arkansas, and in the Twin Cities.
“Right now, we’re seeing a shortage nationwide on mechanically-inclined students for the technical schools, that in turn, rolls into the industry,” Cassellius said.
“That’s why you are seeing new terminology in the technical colleges, like mechtronics. ‘Industrial maintenance’ is old-fashioned. The younger generation, for the millennials, that’s too industrialized,” he said.
“But when we have a term like mechtronics, that’s more interesting. More hand-held devices. Things like Google glasses and heads-up displays and voice-activated robotics. New technology. They may not be aware that (new technology) is available and being used (in manufacturing),” Cassellius said.
Walmart also plans to begin working with interns, he said.
“Another program we’re starting at Walmart is an internship program. I am working on an internship where we will take one or two-year students out of the technical schools and have them work at our distribution centers in the maintenance field to see if that is something they’d like to do,” Cassellius said.
“That’s what I’m here for. To build that relationship and remove any barriers we can to increase our staffing nationwide. I would love to see Chippewa Valley Technical College be a supplier of technical students who can go nationwide for Walmart or any other company,” he said.
All across Wisconsin, and nationwide, there are fewer young people with any kind of mechanical experience or background.
“I grew up throwing hay bales. A lot of people did. Now less than 5 percent of our younger generation are growing up on the family farm, and so therefore, they are not having that exposure to maintenance, mechanical, taking care of equipment,” Cassellius said.
“Unless they have a mentor in their lives that shows them some mechanical ability, they are missing out. Therefore, they don’t know what they don’t know they’re missing out on in the industry,” he said.
In addition to fewer young people with mechanical experience, there are fewer industrial arts/ technology education programs in high schools.
Budget constraints have been particularly hard on tech ed programs in high schools.
“Trying to stay within a budget in a high school, some (classes and programs) end up getting cut. Sometimes it is those industrial-type of classes that expose young people to that type of industry,” Cassellius said.
Cassellius plans to start talking with local high schools.
Like many small family farmers, Cassellius said his parents sold their farm near Downing in the late 1980s.
“My folks retired, but a lot of farms went out of business then,” he said.
From the family farm, Cassellius went to Chippewa Valley Technical College.
“I figure if a farm boy like me can make it from a small town like Downing, the world is my oyster,” he said.
“I’ve traveled internationally for Walmart. It’s a company that has the same values I have, and it has allowed me to grow with my career,” Cassellius said.
Along with Governor Scott Walker, state Senator Terry Moulton (District 23) and Representatives Warren Petryk (93rd Assembly District) and Kathy Bernier (68th Assembly District), also attended Manufacturing Day at CVTC.
“We’re here to support students, teachers and to support instructors here in the Chippewa Valley, to support the board and all the employers,” Governor Walker said.
Part of the event included a plaque presented to CVTC President Bruce Barker on what was termed “officially Manufacturing Day” in Wisconsin.
Manufacturing is important to the Chippewa Valley and statewide, the governor said.
Governor Walker said his grandfather was a machinist for more than 40 years.
“It was a good job that allowed him to live a middle class life … he was raising my dad, my uncle and my two aunts by himself, and he made enough money to do that,” he said.
“I also know that manufacturing is no longer like what my grandfather did,” Governor Walker said.
“He loved it, but manufacturing has completely changed. It’s a completely different world. It’s an exciting world … but it takes more than just showing up … it takes some advanced skills. It takes some knowledge in computing, it takes knowledge in math, applied math,” he said.
If the high school students of today go into manufacturing, “you will get a good wage. You will have a good career. You will have a good opportunity to advance,” Governor Walker said.
Doug Olson of CVTC says a variety of manufacturers in Wisconsin are having trouble finding workers.
The evidence, he said, is the number of signs in front of manufacturing facilities that state, “now hiring.”
Cassellius, Governor Walker, and the other legislators were given a tour of the robotics lab at CVTC.
The robotics lab was part of a federal grant through the Department of Labor called IMPACT, Industrial Maintenance Production Automation Control Technologies.
IMPACT is focused on 17 to 29 year olds who are not in school and who are unemployed to get them into manufacturing careers, Olson said.
Bush Brothers in Augusta had an opening for industrial maintenance, and it took six months to find someone they could hire for the position, he said.
The IMPACT program has morphed into automation, which is why CVTC has the robotics lab, Olson said.
The robotics equipment is used to make flash drives from start to finish without anyone touching the flash drives. The system has 2D visioning and the flash drives are used as a promotional tool for CVTC, Olson said.
The real purpose of the robotics lab, however, is to teach students how to troubleshoot and fix the robots, he said.
“The faculty programs faults into the system, so our students have to figure out what went haywire and fix it. That’s the whole purpose … any number of things can be causing a problem. They learn how to go sequentially through that process to figure out what’s wrong, in a short amount of time,” Olson explained.
When parts of a manufacturing process go down, it can cost the companies thousands of dollars per minute, he noted. [/emember_protected]