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NWTC students are rocking thanks to Metallica Scholars Initiative

Scholarship-eligible programs include health sciences, construction, transportation, human services and manufacturing

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August 23, 2023

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – The Metallica fan base has grown in Northeast Wisconsin, and it has nothing to do with the long-standing heavy metal band’s musical prowess.

Instead, these new “Metallibangers,” as Metallica fans are known, are the recipients of scholarships made possible through the Metallica Scholars Initiative (MSI).

Earlier this month, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) announced it was the recipient of $100,000 in funds for scholarships from the band’s philanthropic foundation, All Within My Hands (AWMH).

MSI, created through AWMH and the American Association of Community Colleges, is focused on enabling students to pursue high-paying careers in key fields, including the health sciences, construction, transportation, human services and manufacturing.

Now in its fifth year, MSI has provided support to 42 colleges and more than 6,000 students nationally.

“The Metallica Scholars Initiative is so important to us because we are seeing results,” Lars Ulric, the drummer and co-founder of Metallica, said. “Five years in, with the help of community colleges across the country, we are helping people fill these essential jobs which require skills and training.”

NWTC joins Metallica on stage
NWTC was one of three colleges from Wisconsin announced as recipients of MSI, which the college attributes to a number of factors.

“We take a holistic approach to bring in students from all walks of life, and everyone’s goal is to get them to graduation,” Crystal Harrison, director of the NWTC Educational Foundation, said. 

Harrison said she also credits the local labor market and fastidious homework the college did to document the local workforce’s needs, as well as perform an analysis on which degrees both match that demand and are high wage. 

“I think the foundation saw this as an investment in Northeast Wisconsin, and helping community members get a degree that will make them eligible for these awesome, high-wage, local jobs was appealing,” she said. 

NWTC is a two-year technical college with three campuses, five regional learning centers and numerous specialty centers throughout a nine-county district.

Currently, 3,160 students are enrolled in one of the scholarship-eligible programs – health sciences, construction, transportation, human services and manufacturing – at NWTC for fall 2023.

Some of the eligible programs include:

Manufacturing – welding, electromechanical technology, electrical engineering technology, CNC technician and automation engineering technologyHealthcare and social assistance – Nursing, diagnostic medical sonography, dental hygienist, early childhood education, emergency medical technician, early childhood education and dental assistantConstruction – architectural, carpentry, electricity, civil engineering technology.Transportation and warehousing – automotive service technician, diesel medium and heavy truck technician
“This generous contribution paves the way for our students to explore high-paying, in-demand careers,” Harrison said. 

NWTC serves about 24,000 students per academic year, a number that includes high school students taking dual-credit college courses, corporate training and economic development training for those already in the industry – that’s in addition to the one-year and two-year associate degrees the college offers.

“What’s exciting about this list is that these scholarships can fund certificates, which are short-term training opportunities that working adults (may pursue) for that quick win,” Harrison said. “There is a lot of opportunity for short-term training as well.”

Vickie Patterson, executive director, Bay Area Workforce Development Board (Bay Area WDB), said the grant funds through the Metallica Foundation assist NWTC in providing training opportunities in some critical, high-demand occupations, which will greatly impact Northeast Wisconsin.

“Bay Area WDB recognizes the importance of developing and sustaining talent in these sectors, and is pleased NWTC received these monies to continue their positive impact in our area,” she said.

The data, Patterson said, supports that.

Across the spectrum of all careers NWTC associate degree graduates pursue, the median salary is $50,000, according to 2021 data.

Of 2021 graduates, 91% were employed with 77% of graduates employed in their career field. There also is a huge element of retention; 69% work in the Northeast Wisconsin area and 95% work in the state.

Scholarships add harmony to students’ lives
So far, 65 NWTC students (at press time) were approved for one of these up-to-$1,000 scholarships to offset the costs of their fall 2023 NWTC education.

With the average cost per semester for a full-time NWTC student at $1,920, Harrison said a $1,000 scholarship pays more than half the semester’s tuition.

“It’s evident this contribution can make a significant impact on a student’s decision and access to pursue higher education,” she said. “For many, they can get that first piece of college with Metallica’s help. Then, it’s up to us to make sure they’re taken care of until graduation.”

The NWTC student population is diverse.

The average age is 28, 82% attend part-time, 74% are employed and more than half are first-generation post-secondary institution students.

Of the NWTC student populace, 4,300 students received financial assistance and/or scholarships through NWTC during the last academic year of fall 2022-summer 2023.

What distinguishes the MSI scholarships from others, Harrison said, are both in who is eligible and the process to apply.

“A long time ago, when you thought of scholarships, you thought of merit or ranked scholarships: Having to get a 4.0 GPA, lots of volunteerism, be student class president, write an essay,” she said. “That’s a meaningful process to a lot of students. But education has evolved, and we are trying to be student ready when they come to us.”

Harrison said today, a lot of NWTC’s students have financial hardships, work full- or part-time and have children and families – and as such may not meet the criteria of a merit scholarship, but they do offer value to the workforce and need assistance nonetheless.

“We are evolving (in how students can qualify for financial assistance), and we’re glad Metallica’s foundation agreed with that,” she said. “Financial aid is a federal process and there are a lot of rules and regulations, and students are missed. Plus, there are still gaps after federal financial aid.”

Harrison said students are encouraged to approach NWTC’s Student Services to have conversations about their individual circumstances, needs and opportunities for financial assistance.

“If people have been thinking about enrolling for fall but money is a barrier, this is a great time to get information and see if they are eligible for this and other (funding),” she said. “This (scholarship) is a just-in-time model where somebody with needs can have a conversation and learn pretty much right away if we are able to help.”

Real-life impacts
Adrianna Nilo said juggling the realities of pursuing a health sciences education is no small undertaking.

In June, she earned her high school equivalency diploma and is currently working as a pro re nata (PRN) certified nursing assistant.

She is pursuing post-secondary education at NWTC while working, raising her three children and managing a high-risk pregnancy with her baby due in October.

She recently learned she is an MSI recipient for fall 2023 coursework at NWTC.

Adrianna Nilo and family

“I’ve been working in the healthcare field for nine years now, after starting in in-home healthcare, and I want to be an NP (nurse practitioner) eventually,” Nilo said. “This scholarship is helping me a lot financially because I haven’t been able to work as much as usual. Times get tough, so I am grateful. Slowly but surely, I will get there.”

Michaela Stich, another MSI scholarship recipient, currently works as a certified nursing assistant but said she has long wanted to further her education to become a registered nurse.

Stich said she attempted four-year college previously, but found that was too expensive to manage as a single mom, even though she works full-time.

This coming semester, she is taking eight credits at the Green Bay NWTC campus and qualified for the full MSI $1,000 scholarship. 

Stich said she credits the scholarship to making college a viable option.

Michaela Stich

“Receiving the scholarship is taking care of a big chunk of my fall tuition,” she said. “I am living paycheck to paycheck, and I was stressing about how I was going to pay for tuition. Going back to school is nerve-wracking enough, and not having to worry about how to pay for all of it is definitely keeping me motivated.”

Striking a chord with business community
Graduating more students in viable careers (those earning $50,000 or more the first year on average) in those industry fields is great news for employers in those industries hungry to add to their workforce.

Ann Franz, executive director of NEW Manufacturing Alliance, said manufacturing is among them.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, long-term manufacturing industry projections statewide for 2020-30 show the number of employees will only continue to climb – jumping by 5.22% to 482,173 in 2030.

The trades, transportation and utilities segment is anticipated to grow by 5.05% to 560,145 employees by 2030.

The education and health services category is expected to grow to 697,547 employees, a 6.54% increase.

And the construction industry is expecting a 7.5% jump to 133,129 employees by 2030. 

“It seems fitting a heavy metal band is offering scholarships in heavy metal careers,” Franz said. “Then again, there are 2,000 manufacturing companies in Northeast Wisconsin alone, providing 23% of all the jobs here and creating $17.9 billion in output.”

Transportation and logistics is a strong industry cluster in Northeast Wisconsin as well, with Greater Green Bay rating as the 18th largest employment concentration in the industry in the entire United States. 

Kelly Armstrong, vice president of economic development, Greater Green Bay Chamber, said transportation and logistics in Greater Green Bay and surrounding regions top the job growth industry.

“The grant is an exciting opportunity to grow the talent pipeline for our local companies,” she said. “NWTC is a regional asset, and we are thankful for their partnership and leadership on this talent initiative.”

The health sciences industry is not far behind with healthcare institutions clamoring for talent.

Debbie Helmle, director of recruitment, Prevea Health, said it currently has a list of opportunities for medical assistants – something it and others across the healthcare landscape are experiencing.

“Health sciences education programs open the door for a wide variety of careers in healthcare, and play a critical role in providing healthcare entities the staffing they need to care for their communities,” she said. “There is ample opportunity to establish a career in healthcare right now, and it will continue to be that way for years to come. As our population is aging, the demand for healthcare is increasing.”

Case study: Construction industry
Construction – one of the pathways eligible to be considered for MSI – is an important one as the industry experienced its highest level of job openings on record, averaging 390,000 per month in 2023, according to an analysis by Associated Builders and Contractors.

In addition, nearly 25% of construction workers are 55 or older, and their forthcoming retirements will further deplete that workforce.

And, since 2012, almost 40% of new construction workers have been laborers, an entry-level role, whereas the number of skilled workers has grown at a slower pace.

Cheri Galecke, director of human resources at DeLeers Construction Inc., said hiring is top of mind daily for the company, whose employee roster comes in at about 135 employees, with opportunities to add another 20 employees at any given time, in addition to the 28 the team hired already this year.

“We’re hiring across the board, from carpenter to framer to project manager to estimator,” she said. “If we doubled the 28 we hired already by the end of the year, we’d be ecstatic so we can keep pace. What keeps us up at night is that we will need to slow down on projects or not take on some projects at all because we don’t have staff to do it.”

With 78 years in the business, Galecke said DeLeers Construction is excited to see the funding sources, such as MSI, to funnel more of the workforce into skilled trades.

“The labor shortage is huge everywhere, and seeing the money come in to help with training to grow our workforce is exciting,” she said. “As chair of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board of Directors, I see the shortages and know it’s not going to go away. We have to come up with different and inventive ways to get more (workforce).”

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