Industrial Maintenance Boot Camp Upskills New Hires

November 03, 2022
  • Gretchen Schultz
    By Gretchen Schultz
    Director of Workforce Development
    Tooling U-SME

Individuals and manufacturing companies are reaping the educational benefits of Moraine Park Technical College’s Industrial Maintenance Boot Camp, a 13-week course that includes eight hours of lab work weekly as well as four hours of online instruction from Tooling U-SME.

Students take the online classes before heading into the lab, ensuring that everyone has the same basic knowledge at the point hands-on training begins — making time spent in the lab more efficient and effective.

Held biannually every spring and fall, the boot camps are geared toward individuals who have general manufacturing experience, and are looking for industrial maintenance training to pursue an apprenticeship or move into the industrial maintenance field — one of the most in-demand fields in manufacturing.

Boot camp students — who are sponsored by their employers — learn how to use systems thinking to solve problems, operate and maintain electromechanical and automated equipment, install and work with program logic controllers, and identify and troubleshoot systems.

Training Mechanics

Based in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin — an area heavily populated with manufacturing companies — Moraine Park started offering the short-term, accelerated training in Fall 2017. According to Mindie Boynton, associate dean of customized training for the college, the course fills up faster than any other boot camp class at Moraine Park. “It’s usually within a month,” she says. “We only have 12 seats per class.”

The seats are typically occupied by employees from Moraine Park’s business partners — mid-sized manufacturing companies that are within the college’s four-county district. “We have regulars who are always sending people,” says Craig Schwanz, industrial maintenance instructor for economic and workforce development at Moraine Park, who teaches all the Industrial Maintenance Boot Camp classes.

Employers pay for their employees to attend the camps, which cost $4,300 per person. Some companies receive grant funding, which covers approximately 50% of the cost of the program.

Students range from recent high school graduates to older workers, many of whom are transitioning from production line work to maintenance. “Companies are using our boot camps as a way to build their maintenance positions through employees who have already showed that they are going to stay with the company,” says Schwanz.

Designed with employer input, the boot camp — one of several operated by Moraine Park — helps combat the skilled worker shortage by providing skill development through a structured career pathway into the field of industrial maintenance.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for 2020, employment of industrial machinery mechanics is projected to increase 19% from 2020 to 2030 — much faster than the average for all occupations. That percentage increase translates into 95,200 more industrial maintenance jobs during a period of 10 years1

In addition to being a fast-growing job sector, industrial maintenance offers a good wage — and it doesn’t require a college degree. The median pay for industrial maintenance workers in 2020 was $54,920.2

Closing the Skills Gap

According to Boynton, manufacturers need to get people trained as industrial maintenance workers to keep up with business demand. Part of the reason for increased demand is the manufacturing talent shortage, which has led to increased process automation. Another reason is industry’s increased adoption of sophisticated machinery, which has led to the need for more mechanics to keep machines in good working order.

“Companies need mechanical aptitude to be able to fix equipment,” says Boynton. “They can’t afford to have any down time.” On top of that, says Boynton, it’s very difficult to find qualified applicants for industrial maintenance positions. “We partner with the Northeastern Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, and they have identified this as one of the Top 10 hardest manufacturing positions to fill,” she says.

Because of that, manufacturing companies are paying a lot of money to other organizations to fix their equipment, and they’d like to reduce those expenses. In comparison to what companies are paying outside vendors to repair their equipment, the cost of the boot camp is minimal.

Given the shortage of skilled manufacturing workers, investing in employees by paying for their training is a great way to help retain them. In response to the often-asked question, “What if you pay to train employees and they leave?,” Boynton says, “They’re going to pay one way or another. It’s really more damaging for companies to have someone who’s not trained than to risk losing them.”

To combat the threat of down time caused by non-functioning machinery, Boynton says a lot of the companies who send their employees to boot camp “always have someone in the queue. Typically, they have one or two people identified for the next boot camp. I’d say probably 80 to 90% of the businesses return.”

According to Boynton, the hiring manager for one of those businesses just reached out to her after filling a position that had been open for a year and a half. “She said, ‘I finally have someone to send to the industrial maintenance boot camp,’ so she already knew that as soon as she hired somebody, she was going to be sending them,” says Boynton.

Measuring Success

Moraine Park measures success of the boot camp in several ways.

“The industry-based credentials and college credits are important to us; we want people to be successful and complete the program,” says Boynton, adding that most students do complete it — although some occasionally drop out after leaving the company that enrolled them.

As of October 2022, 104 students have completed the boot camp, earning six associate degree credits. Participants who complete the appropriate combination of courses equaling six credits are eligible to earn an Introduction to Industrial Maintenance local certificate. They also have received wage increases, promotions and advancement opportunities. For employers, measures of success include increased productivity and decreased costs to outside vendors.

For example, Grande Cheese Co. has benefited in several ways from the boot camp. “We have many successes and outcomes from our partnership, not only financially but professionally,” says Aundrea Coon, training manager at the company. “Our maintenance teams have gained more skilled associates who are more confident in their trades.”

Another way success of the boot camp is measured is with an economic impact survey completed by participants at the end of training. Moraine Park’s most recent post-boot-camp survey, the 2020-21 Wisconsin Technical College System Economic Impact Survey, showed that:

  • 97% [of participants] were very satisfied or satisfied with services provided.
  • 100% would utilize Moraine Park Technical College services in the future.
  • 99% would recommend Moraine Park Technical College services to others.

Continuing Education

Once they complete the boot camp, students can use it as a stepping stone to an industrial maintenance career by putting the six credits they receive toward an associate degree program at Moraine Park. In addition, says Boynton, “We have one or two companies that use it as kind of a test drive before they commit to a four- or five-year apprenticeship program through Moraine Park.”

As for the Tooling U-SME portion of the boot camp, Moraine Park utilizes 22 online classes in both the English and Spanish versions. “We’re finding a lot of Spanish and migrant workers because of Tooling U-SME,” says Boynton. “Its capabilities in Spanish have really been an asset.”

All in all, the boot camp’s accelerated, short-term training — including its online Tooling U-SME and lab segments — has been a great marketing advantage for Moraine Park “Everyone’s looking for quicker, better and faster,” says Boynton.

To find out more about the Industrial Maintenance Boot Camp, click here. For more information about Tooling U-SME, click here.

1Industrial Machinery Mechanics, Machinery Maintenance Workers, and Millwrights: Occupational Outlook Handbook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov)

2Ibid.