CMN Trains High-Tech and Traditional Workforces

Nov 9th, 2014 | By | Category: 26-2: Workforce Development, Tribal College News

Students in College of Menominee Nation’s course for sawyers get field training on tree species and site-type identification. Photo by Annette Miller/CMN

Mention “cutting edge” in relation to workforce development and you’re likely to get different responses from different people at the College of Menominee Nation (CMN). In a trades building classroom, students learn about G-Code—a computer program written in commands unique to the machining industry—and how the software operates a mechanized cutting tool that is perfectly precise. Across campus, another class learns the advantage of the bore cut, a traditional technique that improves safety for workers practicing the ancient trade of forest sawyer.

Computerization and mechanization are radically changing many fields, wiping out some types of jobs and drastically altering others. By listening to employers, cultivating partnerships, and leveraging grant support, CMN is helping students, community workers, and employers in its service area.

With its Keshena, Wisconsin campus located on the edge of the great Menominee forest, CMN knows the needs of Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE), a major employer on the reservation. MTE has been the backbone of the tribe’s economy for generations. The Menominee people have long family traditions of working in the saw mill, many as sawyers. But with increased mechanization in logging and in mills, the need for hand work has decreased. In the Menominee forest’s more than 200,000 acres of sustainable growth trees, however, tree diameters are too large for mechanical devices alone and require traditional methods.

When MTE and its contractors began reporting a shortage of sawyers, CMN president, Dr. Verna Fowler, urged the college’s involvement. “The college understands the critical role it plays in economic development of the reservation and its region,” Fowler says. “We worked with MTE to structure an educationally sound learning component that uses their knowledgeable staff in instruction. The result is a sustainable model for sawyer training for the industry.”

The pilot course launched in spring 2014, offers 100 hours of instruction on topics ranging from forest inventory to GPS mapping to chainsaw safety. All 12 of the tribal men and women completing the course gained sawyer certification. The course is continuing under a $29,917 matching grant for worker training from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Wisconsin Fast Forward program.

Although Keshena is a small town in a rural area, CMN’s Green Bay/Oneida campus is 45 miles east, in Wisconsin’s third-largest metropolitan area. The industry, manufacturing, and business employers there are looking for workers trained in the use of high-tech equipment, such as the industry-standard Computer Numerical Control (CNC) unit.

Recognizing this, the college arranged CNC training for three members of its technical education staff and purchased a CNC machine and software, using $45,000 from a U.S. Department of Education Native American Career and Technical Education Program grant. The unit, with the ability to meet volume and precision demands of a production environment, is sized for use in educational settings. Students from all of CMN’s technical/ trades diploma programs on the Keshena campus are gaining familiarity with it.

CMN’s technical education dean, Deanna Bisley, knows that not all students in the college’s pilot course will end up in industries that require precision cutting and routing or knowledge of AutoCAD software. “Whatever the career path, graduates will be in environments that include software-driven technology,” Bisley says. “Knowledge is transferable, and by learning how codes and programming work in one industry, the worker has a capacity for adapting to other industries. In today’s market, learning how to learn is absolutely critical—for both the worker and the employer.”

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