About 1800 jobs open up every year for operating engineers and other construction equipment operators in the Midwest, but there are not enough people with the needed skills to fill these positions and the workforce shortage is increasing. The 2017 Sage Construction & Real Estate survey of contractors proved that the workforce shortage is a top concern for most companies with 76% of contractors predicting that worker shortages will remain tight or get worse this year. Likewise, the MTWC Midwest Job Needs and Priorities Report, identified operating engineers as a priority for the region with a 7.4% projected growth by 2024.

In recognition of the importance of workforce issues to Wisconsin’s contractors, Wisconsin Operating Engineers partnered with Destinations Career Academy to develop the Operating Engineers Pre-Apprenticeship Program. This program prepares students for registered apprenticeship while still in high school. Hosted through the McFarland School district in south-central Wisconsin, this program is available through course options to students throughout the state.

Today’s high school students are part of a group often referred to as Generation Z, which includes people born between 1995 and 2009. These are the students targeted by Destinations Career Academy, an online charter public school. These young people have grown up with technology and are accustomed to immediate solutions like being able to find answers quickly through the Google search engine on their smart phones and using FastPass at Disney to advance to the front of the line. Per Forbes magazine, the educational world must change to meet the changing needs of this generation as:

  • 47% would consider entering the workforce straight from high school
  • 60% welcome employers offering education in their field in lieu of a college degree

Offering this type of career technical education (CTE) requires a bit of a culture shift for some schools. Additionally, especially for smaller districts, it is not possible to offer every career path to every student. This model is a unique collaboration that allows school districts to outsource a career path while maintaining their students. And, students stay in their school where they can continue to learn alongside their friends and participate in extracurricular activities like sports.

Through Destinations Career Academy, Wisconsin students can take the following Operating Engineer courses online while remaining at their current high school, earning technical college credits and completing apprenticeship requirements:

  • Basic Equipment
  • Basic Grade (paired with Construction Math)
  • Basic Maintenance
  • Construction Regulations

Completing these required apprenticeship courses in advance, allows the student to accelerate—much like with a FastPass at Disney—upon graduation from high school, into the apprenticeship program. This saves Wisconsin families money and helps to-be apprentices move quickly into a career as an Operating Engineer.

Meet Taylor and Mike Fox

High school student, Taylor Fox, knows a lot about Wisconsin Operating Engineers as his father Mike Fox is a proud member of Local 139. Taylor became really interested in becoming an Operating Engineer after visiting the training center during a Member Picnic. This was an important event for Taylor as for the first time he had the opportunity to see and experience the many types of equipment and the state-of-the art training center in Coloma, Wisconsin.

Taylor was excited to learn about the unique opportunity to start taking apprenticeship classes while still in high school.  He is currently taking the Basic Equipment course and really enjoys it. His experience has intrigued many of his classmates that also have strong technical aptitude and desire a way to tie that interest into education. Taylor’s story is the focus of an upcoming show on Building Wisconsin TV.

About the Author

Laura Cataldo

Laura Cataldo

Manager Construction & Real Estate Services at Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP

Laura is a consultant to Construction Business Group/Wisconsin Operating Engineers. Ms. Cataldo’s experience in the construction industry began at home as the daughter of a contractor. She has over 20 years working in the Architectural, Construction and Engineering industry; allowing her a unique perspective of all parties involved in a project. Working with contractors of all sizes, she understands the challenges of today’s industry and is keenly in touch with future trends.

Her innovative efforts with workforce and leadership development have earned her national recognition. She has served on the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin for the past five years, appointed Chair Elect in 2017. Laura is currently Vice Chair of the AGC of America Industry Recruiting Taskforce and a representative on the TED Steering Forum.