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(Milton, WI) Jim Leute, Gazette

Andy Svedin and Ryan Petitt hadn't even been to Blackhawk Technical College's central campus south of Janesville on Wednesday, but they knew one thing for sure.

The college's advanced manufacturing training center under construction in Milton will offer them more opportunities for an education they believe can open doors to high-paying jobs, they said.

The two Milton High School juniors were with about 150 classmates touring the center on Plumb Street. After spending the morning at the 105,000-square-foot facility, they traveled to BTC's central campus to see the school's advanced manufacturing programs in action.

Students from Edgerton High School also did the tour Wednesday, but in reverse order.

Svedin said his older brother went to BTC and is now an agricultural mechanic who is doing well. Svedin said he'd like to pursue a similar path, and he was impressed with the new center's welding area, which will have 40 individual welding bays.

The current program only has 18.

Svedin and the others said the manufacturing world has changed. He believes there are plenty of jobs available in the area, but only for those who have the necessary skill sets.

“You need some type of training,” he said. “Employers aren't going to teach you all the things you need to know.”

Petitt agreed, saying there's much more automation and technology involved in manufacturing than older generations encountered.

“It seems like there's a lot more here,” he said after Wednesday's walk through the new facility. “More equipment, more technology, more hands-on opportunities.”

Petitt said he also was impressed to hear that graduates of the school's industrial mechanics program can earn $20 to $30 per hour with a one-year certificate. His eyes lit up when he recounted what a BTC tour guide said about talented welders earning $100,000 a year.

While Petitt is interested in pursuing his education at BTC, senior Jonathon Tschudy said he plans to eventually attend a technical school in Pennsylvania that specialize more in the automotive field.

After graduation, he'll probably stay in the area for a year and is investigating the welding programs at both BTC and Madison Area Technical College.

“If I can get that skill here, it would help me when I go to Pennsylvania,” Tschudy said. “I just wanted to see what they have. BTC has a big name in the programs.”

The new center in the former ANGI building is scheduled to open in August with Blackhawk's welding, CNC and industrial mechanic programs. Automation, HVAC and mechanical design will follow in fall 2015.

The $12 million center is designed to connect local students and employers in a new manufacturing model.

The idea is to consolidate all of BTC's manufacturing programs into a space that is more than double what is devoted to the programs at BTC's central campus. The center will include new equipment, labs and classrooms that lend themselves to cross-training among several disciplines.

Garry Krause, the school's dean of advanced manufacturing and transportation, said the manufacturing world has changed, and the new center will reflect that.

It is no longer the greasy, grimy environment other generations remember, he said, adding that Wednesday's tours were the first of many that are expected to amplify that message.

“Employers are not looking for people out of high school,” he said. “They need highly trained people with math, verbal, written and other communication skills.”

While leading one group of students Wednesday, marketing manager Gary Kohn said manufacturing now relies on more automation and technology.

“It requires more math and more science,” he said. “Our president likes to refer to this center as a center of deep learning.

“That means a lot of cross-training between the disciplines here. We don't want you to come here just to learn welding. We want you to learn several skills that make you a more diverse employee and therefore a higher paid employee.”

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