Apr 17, 201812:47 PMInside Wisconsin
with Tom Still
At Wisconsin’s oldest tech college, new task taking shape: Working with Foxconn
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In southeast Wisconsin these days, jokes Bryan Albrecht, “orange is the new green.”
Albrecht, the president of Gateway Technical College, is referring to the massive amount of construction about to get under way in and around the Racine County town of Mount Pleasant, the new North American home to Foxconn Technology Group.
The largest foreign direct investment project in U.S. history will span hundreds of acres, thousands of tons of concrete and steel, and years of construction work as the plant takes shape along the I-94 corridor connecting Milwaukee and Chicago.
It will also employ thousands of production and technical workers over time, which is where Albrecht and 107-year-old Gateway Tech enter the picture.
“Our plan is to make sure our communities are ready and our students are prepared,” Albrecht told a gathering of Wisconsin tech and business leaders April 10 in Kenosha, home to Gateway’s largest campus.
The campus is primed to do so, with a tradition that helps to explain why Foxconn picked Wisconsin as the home for the first liquid crystal display plant outside Asia. With roots dating to 1911, Gateway Technical College has the oldest college apprenticeship program in the nation and represents the birthplace of technical education in Wisconsin.
As Albrecht noted, however, “that’s history … we’re about the future,” and the campus has impressive current experience.
Gateway offers its students about 200 industry certifications and holds 160 training contracts with about 600 other colleges nationwide and beyond, meaning the college is adept at “training the trainers.” It also has dozens of industry relationships with companies that include Modine Manufacturing, Kenall, Snap-on, InSinkErator, Amazon, Trane, and S.C. Johnson.
One of the latest additions is Foxconn, which signed an offer of program support with Gateway in January. The deal describes Gateway as a “strategic partner” in establishing a talent pipeline for its hiring needs over time. The first two training programs would be advanced manufacturing technology and supply chain management, likely to be followed by security infrastructure technicians and data analytics specialists.
Foxconn's offer does not promise jobs to Gateway graduates but says graduates of Gateway or similar programs at Gateway's partner technical colleges “will be considered as candidates for hire.”
In the largest sense, Albrecht said, the campus will train people who can work within the “internet of things” — a phrase that describes making devices and machines talk to other devices and machines.
An older but related field is “mechatronics,” which is mechanical and engineering systems that interface with information technology. Examples include computer numerical controlled mills and lathes, industrial robots, presses, and pumps. Data collected via the internet of things can help workers predict maintenance, monitor performance, adjust processes, and improve efficiencies.
“This is a great opportunity to advance our programs and to bring new skill sets to our students with the automation and robotics that are shaping ‘smart manufacturing’ today,” Albrecht said.