Tech Learning

Teaching the practical skills employers seek

As the tech sector grows, it gets harder for companies to find qualified employees. Recognizing the need, area colleges and universities have stepped up with programs designed to quickly bring job-ready workers to the marketplace.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison works closely with the business community to understand its needs and includes business education in its high-tech majors. “Our biomedical engineering department is a great example,” says Charles Hoslet, director of the Office of Corporate Relations. “A couple of courses deal with entrepreneurship and technology. They perfectly position students to understand technology and help run a business.”

Engineering students can also enter competitions where they build real-world prototypes, and the G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition—along with its preparatory seminar—brings cross-functional teams of students together to learn what goes into a business plan and how a company succeeds. Some students prepare for their careers through a summer “Entrepreneur Boot Camp.” Others gain practical experience through internships, or by working for companies at University Research Park.

If they’re looking for certain practical skills, graduates from the UW and other four-year universities can enroll in Madision Area Technical College’s post-baccalaureate certificate program in areas such as biotechnology. “After taking the compressed, one-semester program, graduates have the lab skills high-tech employers are looking for,” explains David Shonkwiler, dean of MATC’s Center for Agriscience and Technologies.

Post-baccalaureate graduates then seek lab-technician positions and other tech jobs. “They’re competing with graduates of our two-year biotechnology associate program, but the expectation is they’ll advance more quickly through a company’s ranks. They have a broader arsenal,” Shonkwiler says.

For decades, Herzing College has been preparing students for careers in electronics and CAD drafting. It’s added other high-tech programs in the IT arena—the newest being gaming systems. “The gaming industry has exploded, and the underpinning of gaming is computer information systems and programming,” says the college’s president, Don Madelung.

The training pays off. Graduates in Herzing’s three most popular fields of study, the CAD drafting, computer software, and electronics technician programs, have 100 percent job placement, reports Jenny Malueg, career services specialist.

At Edgewood College, the Department of Computing and Information Sciences is among those aiming students toward high-tech jobs. “They usually start working in such positions before they even graduate, at companies like TDS, Epic Systems and Quest Software, to name a few,” notes Greg Alexandrian, associate professor and department chair. “We also have a Returning Adult Accelerated Degree program that helps adults retrain in IT, or to get the four-year degree most jobs require today.”

So if you’d like to change careers, why not go high-tech? Clearly, there are plenty of ways to learn how.

Madison Magazine - January 2009
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