On Wednesday, August 14, Juneau County businesses were treated to a dual presentation of ways to address the shortage in workforce that challenges Wisconsin and the nation as a whole today.  One involves the intelligent integration of modern technology and automation; the other, how to build up the Wisconsin workforce through youth apprenticeships.  The event, held at at LYNXX Networks Corporate Offices in Camp Douglas, drew over 20 people, and was moderated by Terry Whipple, the Executive Director of Juneau County Economic Development Corporation.

Guest speakers included Bob Oliver and Todd Edwards, UW-Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center (MOC); and Amy Phillips, Youth Apprenticeships (YA) Program, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD).

Oliver kicked off the first part of the program by asking the audience how they define “Smart Automation”.  As you can guess, people had differing perspectives on what smart automation is.

Edwards presented an overview on smart automation strategies.  First, it’s important for a company to identify why it needs to automate.  Those reasons may include saving cost, improving employee safety, increasing speed of production, ensuring consistency of production by reducing variation and waste, and filling voids in the workforce.   Smart automation strategies, he says, involve building from continuous improvement tools to automation and technology projects.

A three-step approach involves Optimizing, Automation, and Integration.   Optimizing the current process, then finding automation that will enhance productivity, and finally integrating the changes into the process, keeping the impact on the whole company in mind.

A company should first find its biggest needs for improvement.  This can begin by walking around the operation, observing objectively how product moves (or doesn’t move) from one step to the next.  Also by frankly discussing with operators how something could be done better or in less time.

When optimizing their current process, companies can envision the change from current state of operation to their ideal state using tools such as Value Stream Mapping.  In this technique you put adhesive notes on a board, identifying each step of your current process.  Then you move them around or eliminate steps to approach the ideal state.

After this envisioning, scout out new technologies for automation.  Find equipment or software that

would enhance production, but beware of simply adding attractive gadgetry that really does not result in a good return on investment.

Finally, integrate the new processes and technologies, stabilizing the process as you go and collecting data that indicates if things are moving in the right direction.  Involve employees in all stages so that they buy in to the changes. Don’t forget your “front office” and end processes such as storage and shipping, to ensure they are not left behind by what is happening on the factory floor. In most cases they will also have to adapt so that bottlenecks are not created inadvertently.

The Manufacturing Outreach Center (MOC) at UW-Stout works together with companies who want to analyze and improve their business.  More information is found at www.uwstout.edu/moc .

Phillips lead into the second part of the program by discussing the relevance of Wisconsin DWD’s Youth Apprenticeship Program.  It gives high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to explore career paths while still in high school.  It combines hands-on experience with relevant technical education, so that graduates leave high school with marketable skills and valuable work experience.  While earning high school (and perhaps college) credits, students also get paid for their training.  Pay is minimum wage or higher, providing at least 450 hours of supervised learning per year.   About 80% of the 27,000 YA graduates are employed after graduating high school.   Many work for their original employers while attending college.

Apprenticeships are formed via an education/ training agreement signed by the apprentice, their parent, the employer, the school principal, and the local DWD YA coordinator.  Apprentices are paired with a mentor at the workplace.  Each type of apprenticeship offers a list of competencies that youth are expected to develop at the workplace.  These are shared with employers prior to hiring the apprentice.  A total of 450 hours are required per internship, 250 of which has to be related instruction time.  These hours can be completed during the academic school year, vacation times, and summer breaks.  Because YA is a bona-fide internship program, child labor law restrictions do not apply.


Internships can be for any industry, including:

  • Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
  • Architecture and Construction
  • Arts, A/V Technology and Communications
  • Finance
  • Health Science
  • Lodging and Tourism
  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Manufacturing
  • Marketing
  • Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)
  • Transportation, Distribution and Logistics


More information on Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeships available at www.ya.wi.gov.