Fox Valley Workforce Development Board & Lt. Governor Celebrate Press Brake Graduates in Oshkosh Ceremony

Published Saturday, October 26, 2019

With the sounds of machinery echoing across the expanse of the bustling Oshkosh manufacturing plant, Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes celebrated the graduation of 6 individuals who completed an extensive press brake training course partially funded by a Wisconsin Forward Grant secured by the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board. The event was held on October 22 at Wald Wiring & Manufacturing Company. This is the fourth and final cohort of graduates to be certified in press brake operations.  Sponsoring employers were Wald Wire & Manufacturing Co., Muza Metal Products and SMC Metal Fabricators, all of Oshkosh.

Lt. Gov. Barnes, a former workforce board professional from Employ Milwaukee, highlighted his family’s long manufacturing background while indicating a desire to build a stronger partnership with state agencies, the workforce boards and employers.

Secretary-designate of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Caleb Frostman, sporting bright blue tennis shoes following the removal of a boot cast after a recent flag football injury, praised the graduates for maintaining full time employment while completing their training.   He cited the “learn while you earn” model which allows employers to upskill their workers while not disrupting regular paychecks of the employees. Frostman also called out Governor Tony Ever’s proclamation naming October as Manufacturing Month in Wisconsin and praised those who work hard to “invest in their homes, families and communities.” He added, "These students have a great start on a strong career pathway thanks in large part to the dedication of their employers, the local workforce development board, and their local technical college.”

FVWDB Chair of the Board Jason Hendricks, kicked off the ceremonies. He said, “Today marks an exciting milestone for the final 6 graduates of the Fast Forward Press training program; in addition, during the course of this two year project, we have successfully trained 19 people from three prior cohorts.”

Hendricks, who serves as an HR Business Partner for J.F. Ahern in Fond du Lac, added, “As an HR professional, It is exciting to see that three companies with similar needs can work together to create a training program that supports a common need in our business settings.  This is some out of the box strategic thinking. “

This training was made possible thanks to a Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. FVWDB received $110,194 award to train a minimum of 24 employees in the operation of a press brake. By using a press brake to form a part from a single piece of steel sheeting, rather than welding parts together, manufacturers keep production costs competitive. Currently, the lack of trained press brake operators is making our region less likely to hit its economic potential.

Dan Ruedinger, President at SMC, said of the training, “The press brake training partnership has been very valuable to both SMC and our employees. The program provides the underlying knowledge required for a skill set that’s critical to our success, and it sets the employees up in a skilled trade for the rest of their careers. It’s a great example of all parties working together to serve each other’s needs.” Ruedinger remarked at the graduation, “In my 25 years of work, this is the most successful program of this type I’ve ever been part of.”

Trainees received 54 hours of customized instruction from Fox Valley Technical College. In addition, trainees worked closely with company mentors to compliment and reinforce what they learned in class with an additional 54 hours of mentoring during classroom training and also an additional 80 hours of mentoring after classroom training had completed. Training provided instruction on basic and advanced press brake training with a strong focus on safety. Outcomes for the companies include increased manufacturing capacity due to having more trained operators. For trainees, this provided career advancement. Although originally slated to train 24 students, the final tally of those graduating from the four cohorts over the past two years was 25.

“Fox Valley Technical College’s Business and Industry Services team is honored to partner with the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board to address key training needs in advanced manufacturing,” said Dale Walker, director of Business and Industry Services at FVTC. “This partnership highlights FVTC’s role in collaborating with business and other partners in solving the regional skills gap we are facing.”

A Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant is one in which the DWD matches financial commitments from partner employers. The program has tough metrics, requiring all employees to not only complete the program and demonstrate proficiency, but the company must also provide each employee with a salary increase within a set period of time.

“A Fast Forward Grant is a not a giveaway, but a highly competitive and closely monitored investment in Wisconsin workers,” said Anthony Snyder, FVWDB CEO. “We see Fast Forward Grants as the catalyst to bring together coalitions of local employers to tackle their most urgent training needs.” Since 2013, the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board has worked with local employers in its six county area of Calumet, Green Lake, Fond du Lac, Waupaca, Waushara and Winnebago, to bring in more than $1 million in Fast Forward Grant dollars.

“Fast Forward Grants provide us with critical resources to drive significant economic development in our area,” said Snyder. “We’re always eager to bring those dollars home to ensure our employers remain vital.”

Board Chair Hendricks summarized the entire training, “These three organizations had a need for specific press brake training.  However, no local training specific to press brake was in existence.  Previously, the only available training was imbedded in other classes and did not offer the depth of training required for the partner companies.  Having trained press brake operators means that these parts can be produced in a cost effective manner and this makes local companies competitive and insures we have a strong supply chain available.

“Knowing this need existed, Fox Valley Workforce Development Board, working with company partners and FVTC researched possible solutions and ultimately partnered to create a custom solution.  This training includes blueprint reading and work instruction in alignment with the work being done by these three companies.  So, as a project, we feel that we have not only met but exceeded our initial goals.  But it’s really more than the project, it’s about the companies and the people and for that we are grateful for the Wisconsin Fast Forward funding to move this initiative forward.  “

DWD’s Fast Forward grants are expected to restart in early 2020 and will be awarded quarterly in a variety of business sectors. If you are interested in learning more, contact Bobbi Miller, FVWDB Business Services Manager, at or 920-470-0837.