Next-generation Manufacturing Skills Training Coming to Nicolet College with Building Remodel


Students in several manufacturing-oriented programs at Nicolet College will soon move into new, state-of-the-art labs and classrooms to learn the cutting-edge skills in such high demand across the Northwoods.

“It’s critical for the college to stay on the leading edge of technology so our graduates can make that seamless transition into the workforce,” said Jeff Labs, dean of Trade, Industry and Apprenticeships at Nicolet.

“This large-scale remodel of the Birchwoods Center will help them do exactly that. The skills students will learn are precisely what they’ll need to launch successful careers in a variety of industries and are also what area manufacturers need to be productive, efficient and profitable.”

Starting in the upcoming Spring Term, academic programs moving into the new facility include Welding, Electromechanical Technology, Industrial Maintenance Mechanic, Industrial Electronics Technician, and Industrial Mechanical Technician.

The college is also launching a new Metal Fabrication program this spring followed this coming summer with a new Forestry Maintenance program, both of which will also be housed in the Birchwoods Center.

In the past some these academic programs were located in different buildings across campus.

“It’s exciting to bring them all under one roof,” Labs explained. “There’s a lot of cross-competencies between programs, just as there are between jobs in manufacturing plants. By being in the same building, students will also get a baseline understanding of the different professions and how they can work in sync with each other to accomplish any given task.”

Along with providing new, clean and inviting spaces to learn and work, the project is also bringing in a serious upgrade in mechanical technology.

When planning the project Nicolet staff worked closely with manufacturers across the Northwoods to gain a solid understanding of the skills they need in their workforce.

“Technology is always changing and we came to realize the time had come to move on to the next generation of equipment,” Labs said. “Not that what we had was necessarily outdated, but rather recognizing the need to stay at the technological forefront of the equipment being used in modern industry. We had some equipment we could longer get parts for so it was time for those pieces to be retired.”

An example is the old water jet cutter, which for years students used to cut sheets of metal. It’s out. In its place students will now learn on a new, high-definition plasma cutter, which is significantly more precise and what Labs described as “as good as it gets and really takes precision cutting to the next level.”

Other new technology also includes the latest in metal rolling, bending and forming equipment as well as other specialized devices used in metal fabrication.

The approximately $2.2 million upgrade is being paid for with $1.5 million from college coffers and the remainder with grants the college was awarded from the Wisconsin Technical College System.

An exact date for the remodel to be complete has not been determined yet due to some equipment being on backorder, probably most importantly the interior fire suppression sprinkler system.

But Labs does expect everything to be complete sometime during Spring Term, which officially starts Jan. 5.

He also noted that many of the academic programs that will utilize the building have converted over to the highly-flexible Competency-Based Education (CBE) learning model, which features multiple start dates, typically once a month, for students to begin taking classes.

Once everything is ready, the college will hold an open house for the public to tour the labs and classrooms.

two people standing in a building that is being remodeled