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Unique collaboration teaches in demand career skills to “hidden talent pool”

Pierre Page gives a speech during his graduation ceremony at Nicolet College.
Katie Thoresen
Pierre Page gives a speech during his graduation ceremony at Nicolet College.

As his name is called out by Nicolet College President Kate Ferrell Pierre Page walks across the stage in his cap and gown, receives his certificate, and shakes hands with the president and other Nicolet College staff.

It’s a quick moment, but one that filled Page with joy and hope.

“I’m feeling great. It’s a great opportunity to be here today. I’m enjoying every minute of it,” said Page.

Page and his nine fellow graduates are now certified after going through Nicolet College’s Heavy Equipment program.

The 7-week program taught them a wide-range of skills from welding to forklift operation.

It also taught Page a lot of life skills, you won’t find in any textbook.

“It taught me how to humble myself, to be patient, and learn things and open my mind to new things and seek a good future,” said Page.

That future is looking good. Starting salary in this field ranges from $27 to $30 per hour.

Workers with these skills are in high demand with more than 600 job openings in the region.

It’s a future Page is looking forward to, but one he didn’t always think was possible given his past, as he explained to auditorium filled with family and friends of the graduates.

“I’ve made some bad decisions in my past. They landed me in prison,” said Page.

Page and the other graduates are inmates at McNaughton Correctional Facility.

This is the fourth class of graduates from the program that is a partnership between Nicolet College and several other groups including the Department of Corrections and Department of Workforce Development.

The goal is better equip these men with in-demand skills to help them re-enter society. The graduates are expected to finish their sentences and exit the prison system within the next three years.

“What we’re trying to do is really invest in those hidden talent pools that have been historically underutilized to make sure that everyone who wants to enter our workforce can do so with the skills, training, and other assistance that they need to be successful,” said DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek.

The men can also start using this skills now through work release programs at the prison.

Toni Van Doren is the innovation center manager at Nicolet College. She’s been guiding the students through the program.

“I’m excited to see what they do afterwards. I know we have employers jumping to take them because their skills are by far above and beyond. Welding, hydraulics, and electronics, not just the heavy equipment operation. They’re some really talent folks that are going to do some awesome things,” said Van Doren.

All ten men that started the 7-week program finished it.

Van Doren says they were some of the most hardworking and motivated students to come through the college.

It makes her hopeful for their futures.

“I want to take the skills I’ve learned here back to society with me and work hard and utilize you taught me,” said Page.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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