Nicolet College holds graduation ceremony for McNaughton Correctional Center students 

For the Tomahawk Leader

RHINELANDER – Nicolet College recently held a commencement ceremony for ten men from the McNaughton Correctional Center who completed the college’s Heavy Equipment Operator certificate program.

In providing student reflections during the ceremony, graduate Pierre Page said he was second guessing himself when he first signed up for the program. He had been out of school for 20 years and was seriously wondering if he had what it took to complete his studies, a release from Nicolet said.

“I knew it was going to be challenging, but it turned out that that was exactly what I needed at this point in my life,” Page stated. “I had had very few skills coming into this, but now I have something to build on. The good part about this is I can continue to build on my education when I get home. All it takes is a little spark to turn into something big.” 

Nicolet College President Kate Ferrel praised the graduates for their determination to become college graduates. 

“Earning a college credential is a valuable accomplishment and one that each graduate will proudly carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Ferrel said. “They’ve demonstrated through hard work and dedication that they have earned this distinction. The skills graduates possess are exactly what they need to enter the workforce and enjoy successful careers or to continue their education and learn even more skills.” 

The ten students completed the seven-week program to give students entry-level skills required in running, maintaining and servicing heavy equipment used in construction, road work, logging, and other related industries. 

Funded by grants from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), the graduates completed classes in Gas Metal Arc Welding and Thermal Cutting, Hydraulic Components and Basic Electrical Circuits, along with customized skills training in earth moving and grading, site safety and equipment operation.

Students were able to take advantage of hands-on equipment training and operation onsite with the McCoy Group, a local equipment dealer, Nicolet noted.

In addition, students completed OSHA 10 training, First Aid/CPR and PIT Powered Industrial Truck (PIT) certifications. 

Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Deputy Secretary Jared Hoy praised the graduates for the commitment they demonstrated to learn the skills to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.

“DOC and Nicolet College, we provided the opportunity,” Hoy stated “We opened the door, but we cannot do the work. That was up to the men we are honoring here today. Today’s graduates knew it would be hard work, but they still took that opportunity and what they have done with it is inspiring.” 

Heavy Equipment Operator graduates can expect to earn anywhere from $16.50 to $27.00 an hour on entry-level jobs, with the potential of $36.00 an hour or more with experience. 

Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek also had high praise for the graduates. 

“We are celebrating the accomplishments of these men as they prepare for their eventual return to communities across Wisconsin, and we are raising awareness of an underutilized and highly motivated talent pool to fill Wisconsin employers’ needs for skilled workers,” Pechacek said. “At DWD, we are proud to work in partnership with the region’s workforce development board, the Department of Corrections, and Nicolet College to prepare Wisconsin workers for in-demand jobs in heavy equipment operation offering family-supporting wages. We also are pleased that the local workforce board is investing part of its Worker Advancement Initiative grant funding to maximize the impact of this training program and support successful outcomes for the graduates.” 

Several speakers at the event also extended a special thank you to Toni Van Doren, Nicolet’s Innovation Center manager, who led the effort to coordinate the numerous pieces and partners to make the program a success. 

This is Nicolet’s fourth graduating class from the McNaughton Correctional Center. Earlier graduates earned Nicolet College credentials in Welding and Mechanical Maintenance. 

Nicolet College graduate Pierre Page, center, receives a congratulatory handshake from Nicolet’s Jeff Labs, Dean of Trade and Industry/Apprenticeships. Far left is DOC Deputy Secretary Jared Hoy with Nicolet President Kate Ferrel at the podium. Photo courtesy of Nicolet College.
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