Career spotlight


Carpenter apprentice

At first, working as a laborer at C.D. Smith Construction right out of high school was just a way for Austin Ferch to make money. The work wasn’t glamorous.

“My job was to watch and learn as I worked as a mason tender, mixing concrete, stacking brick, hauling, cleaning, sweeping and whatever else (I was) assigned,” Ferch said. “I performed many necessary and sometimes not-so-fun tasks.”

But as he observed the many skills that went into completing a project, the work took on more meaning. 

“Construction was a good fit for me,” Ferch said. “I like the outdoors and working with my hands. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishing something daily.” He also enjoyed the camaraderie.

Motivated to work hard and learn, Ferch was noticed by the project manager. C.D. Smith offered him an apprenticeship. Today, at 21, he is in his third year as a commercial carpenter apprentice and working on the Madison Yards apartment complex in Madison.

Organized through The North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters Local 314, the four-year apprenticeship involves a combination of on-the-job training and classes at the union’s Carpenters Training Institute. “You basically get an education while making money,” Ferch said.

Ferch also enjoys the variety. “You can go from forming up concrete – concrete decks, concrete columns, driveways, sidewalks – to building walls – steel studs, drywall, wood,” he said. Or there can be finishing work such as painting cabinets, setting countertops and windows and installing trim. 

Two recent assignments for Ferch were remodeling a cheese factory and building a connecting lobby and elevator shaft for two structures. “I have worked on multi-family housing units, manufacturing facilities, elementary schools and mixed-use and industrial ventures,” he said.

Ferch likes the many different directions he can go when his training is complete, anywhere from foreman to superintendent to starting his own company. The Training Institute offers ongoing educational opportunities for job growth. “You can always be advancing your knowledge in the field,” he said.

“My advice to someone interested in the construction trades is to be open to what is available,” Ferch said. “There are many aspects and careers to consider. Get on a job site and experience it.”

Carpenter apprentice

  • Great for someone who: Likes to work with their hands and feel an accomplishment.
  • Key skill: A good work ethic. Most skills can be learned over time.
  • Tips for success: Show up 15, 20 minutes early. Always try to stay busy. Communicate.
Colton Roesel
Courtesy Colton Roesel


Tool designer and 3D printing technician

It all started with a high school mechanical design class. Colton Roesel had an affinity for computers and had long been fascinated with the way things are made, so it felt like a natural fit. Sure enough, Roesel went on to take advanced design classes, earn certifications, and earn college credits even before he graduated.

Roesel used those credits to earn a mechanical design degree at Moraine Park Technical College. Today, at 22, he works at Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac as a tool designer, partnering with manufacturing engineers to design the tooling they need for manufacturing operations. “Examples of this tooling would include decal templates, assembly and machining fixtures, lifting devices, paint maskings, and various other hand tools to assist in the machining and assembly operations here at Mercury,” Roesel said. He also runs the plant’s 3D printing operations.

“The thing that I like about design is seeing an idea come to fruition,” Roesel said. “I put my old fascination to work when I design a tool that I get to see in use on the factory floor every day.” He likes the variety, too. “A typical design usually takes anywhere from one day to two weeks, depending on the complexity of the job, and then I am moving on to the next design. That helps keep every day fresh and interesting,” he said.

Roesel is hoping to eventually return to school for a degree in engineering or business, then work his way into management.

Anyone interested in tool designing should have a good understanding of machining/building processes, says Roesel. They also need the ability to think ahead to the next step after designing — “how is the toolmaker going to machine this?” 

Advice for someone who might want to pursue an occupation like his? “Never stop learning,” Roesel said, whether on the job or at your local technical college. “Take advantage of every chance to learn different CAD software, and also to learn more about your software of choice.” 

Tool designer and 3D printing technician

  • Great for someone who: Likes the latest technologies and learning something new every day.
  • Key skill: Being organized.
  • Tips for success: Take advantage of every chance to learn different CAD software and to learn more about your software of choice.
Hanna Gilbertson
Courtesy Northeast Wisconsin Technical College


Quality technician

When Hanna Gilbertson got a machine shop job, she was in high school and figured it would be a decent summer gig. She started at the bottom of the ladder as a polisher. 

“I stuck with it,” she said. “Then once I got the opportunity to start running the machines I thought, ‘This is really cool.’” 

The CNC machines fascinated her, and so did the opportunity to keep learning. Gilbertson stayed for seven years, continuously being trained. When she learned she could get a CNC technician diploma at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, her employer and scholarships defrayed all the expenses.

One opportunity led to another, and Gilbertson is now a quality technician at Carlson Tool & Manufacturing Corp. in Cedarburg.

CNC is short for computer numerical control. “A CNC machine reads numbers made by the programmer and does exactly what you tell it to,” Gilbertson said. “It is a key part in making products we use in everyday life. Almost every product we use started in a machine shop somewhere, and needed a group effort from the programmer, machinist, and many others to produce it.”

As a quality technician, she now works on coordinate measuring machines (CMMs), which are like CNCs but used for inspection. It’s essentially desk work, using a computer to program parts, make sure they’re accurate and help ensure that tool makers have the right specifications to create injection molds. Her goal is to one day be a quality manager.

Gilbertson thinks more people — including women — should consider work like hers. She has plenty of benefits to pitch: job security (there’s high demand and plenty of openings), decent hours (no weekends), good benefits (health insurance and paid vacation among others) and the chance to earn overtime pay. She stresses the many opportunities for training and growth and the varied paths to take. “You have quality, you have shipping/receiving, planning, purchasing, programming, engineering – there’s just so many directions that you can go.”

Gilbertson urges women who are curious, “Just go for it. Don’t be afraid. I have never been criticized or looked down upon. If anything, I’ve been praised for stepping outside of my comfort zone and getting the job done.”

Quality technician

  • Great for someone who: Loves working with numbers.
  • A key skill for this job: Ability to work with all sorts of people and keep an open mind.
  • Tip for success: Find machine shops that offer apprenticeships.
  • Biggest “aha moment”: “When I found a career, not just a job. I can see myself here long term and for the first time I can answer those ‘Where do you see yourself’ questions.”
Ian with his son at a Findorff job site.
Ian with his son at a Findorff job site.
Courtesy of Ian Bowers


Project engineer

Ian Bowers started his career with a commitment to learn: online classes, library books, apprenticeships, work experience, college credits where he could pick them up — even taking instruction manuals home to study. “I just took advantage of whatever I could,” he said.

His plan: break into the construction business. 

When Bowers heard about a pilot program in construction and remodeling at Madison Area Technical College, he made a tough but pivotal decision. It meant giving up a paid job. But the 4.5-month program taught him the essentials — tools, measuring, safety and more — and introduced him to professionals willing to give him advice. “It provided invaluable support and connections,” he said.

The Madison College program was designed for people who, like Bowers, needed a second chance after making mistakes that led to incarceration. Thanks to the professional contacts he made there, he landed a job at construction firm Findorff, starting out as an apprentice carpenter.

From that start, he worked his way up to journeyman carpenter and field engineer and is now a project engineer. His goal is to be a project manager. “It’s been an awesome journey,” said Bowers, 34. “I’ve had some challenges in my life and I was able to overcome them, put mistakes behind me. Findorff sees my value today, they don’t bring up my past.”

As a project engineer, his duties include coordinating timelines and schedules, bid analysis, permit processing, and anticipating risks and costs related to technical aspects of a project.

Bowers continues to take advantage of any training opportunity he can get. That means on-the-job experience, observing other professionals and asking lots of questions. He’s thankful for the internal training sessions Findorff has offered on topics ranging from scheduling software to handling contracts to managing change.

“It was like a slow climb in the beginning,” he said, but he stuck it out thanks to a strong work ethic, a passion for learning, and the company’s support. Chances to interview for better positions encouraged him along the way. “One opportunity came up as I was 60 feet up in a boom lift. My phone rang. ‘We got an opportunity, want to interview for it?’”

Bowers’ most recent job site was the CUNA Mutual project in Madison. Other projects he’s been a part of include the Bell Laboratories offices in Windsor, an addition to DeForest High School and the SHINE Medical Technologies headquarters in Janesville.

“I’m getting to be part of these big, beautiful projects. It’s awesome.”

Project engineer

  • Great for someone who: Likes to find creative solutions to problems, work with people and build relationships.
  • Key skills: Communication and active listening skills.
  • Tip for success:“Find something you like and build on it. Ask questions about it and get more involved in it. Eventually doors will open for you.”
  • Biggest “aha moment”: Understanding the magnitude of the decisions that project managers make behind the scenes.
Christine Lodes
Photo courtesy Sargento Foods


Maintenance technician

As a kid, Christine Lodes loved bringing lunch to her dad at the machine shop where he worked. She couldn’t wait to see the machines — “how they worked and all the different things they could create and produce.” She knew she’d want to do the same thing someday.

Lodes started making that happen in high school. She joined a Lakeshore Technical College Youth Apprenticeship program that allowed her to take classes there while attending high school. She also worked a part-time job that exposed her to many different aspects of manufacturing.

From there, Lodes landed other jobs in maintenance while collecting two associate degrees and one technical diploma at Lakeshore. Today, at 22, she’s working around machines of all kinds as a maintenance technician at Sargento Foods in Plymouth, and she loves her work. “I feel as though I am always learning something new,” she said.

Lodes’ duties at Sargento include mechanical, electrical and automation work. “I take calls when a line is down to ensure our machines are ready to run at the start of the work week,” she said. 

She enjoys the variety of her job. “Every day is different (and) always changing so I never get bored!” she said. “One day, I might be replacing a chain on a belt and the next day I could be making sure a robot is operating properly.”

Maintenance technicians are critical to any manufacturing operation because they help keep machines running constantly. “A lot of people think, oh, you’re in maintenance. So, you clean toilets? No, I don’t do anything with toilets,” Lodes said, laughing. “I’m working on the machines that are making the cheese, cutting the cheese, packaging the cheese, boxing and moving the boxes of the cheese. It’s kind of insane all the different things I’m able to work on every day.”

Lodes works with three other female maintenance technicians and would love to see more women pursuing this career. She credits Sargento for its commitment to a workplace that welcomes all kinds of people. “They don’t care who you are or what gender you are or color you are, as long as you’re willing to learn,” she said.

Maintenance technician

  • Great for someone who: Likes to be challenged daily.
  • Key skill: Time management, ability to work well with a team, and a willingness to constantly learn.
  • Best thing about the job: “I am always learning something new!”
Brian Ell
Brian Ell
Courtesy of Moraine Park Technical College


Business owner, CNC machinist / programmer

Brian Ell attended a private high school that offered barely any courses in the trades. While his classmates were prepping for four-year college degrees, he wasn’t feeling it. To him, that just meant lots of loans and a career he didn’t want.

“I was always a tinkerer, working on cars or building things or just learning how things work,” Ell said. So, after high school he decided to take classes at Moraine Park Technical College. That’s when it clicked: He could learn cool skills, make cool things, and have a good income too? “Well why wouldn’t I?” he said.

Ell went from being a so-so student to a motivated learner who kept asking for more projects. That drive persisted as he became an experienced CNC machinist/programmer and launched his own business. 

At Moraine Park, Ell learned the basics of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine programming, blueprint reading, two and three-dimensional computer-aided machining, computer aided design (CAD) and other skills he’d need to be a CNC machinist. After earning a technical diploma in CNC/Tool and Die Technologies, he landed his first job in a tool and die shop and kept looking for ways to grow his skills.

“The thing I’ve learned with this trade is the more that you can continually keep learning the easier your job gets, and it just opens up more doors,” Ell said.

Along the way, Ell was dabbling in road racing and purchased a small Formula Ford race car (it was in boxes and he reassembled it). He started noticing that other road racers used a lot of self-fabricated parts that were hard to replace. “I was thinking, man, I know how to make things. I have a lot of friends who need parts made,” he said.

Ell’s entrepreneurial instincts kicked in. He struck a deal to rent a corner of a machine shop and started making custom parts for race cars. As word spread, he kept getting more work. “It just kind of kept snowballing and snowballing,” he said. Today Ell, 32, owns Advanced Speed Components. 

What started as a hobby, then a side job, became a full-time occupation as Ell learned more skills and expanded to other markets. “I’ve had to turn away business because the demand is so high,” he said. 

Ell encourages anyone with curiosity about the field to give it a try. “The demand out there is crazy,” he said.

Business owner, CNC machinist / programmer

  • Great for someone who: Likes to build things and likes technology.
  • Key skill: The ability to visualize a creative solution and think many steps in advance.
  • Tip for success: Take initiative – reach out to machine manufacturers, ask questions, track down answers. “Doing that makes you really, really valuable.”
  • Best thing about the job: The creativity and satisfaction of solving a problem. “I like going from a concept to then having something in my hands.”


What’s your best tip for acing a job interview?

“Don’t be too nervous. Yes, you are there for them to interview you, but you are also there to interview them (about whether) you would like to be employed by them.” 

— Colton Roesel, tool designer and 3D printing technician

“Ask inquiring questions — like what’s the most challenging part of the job? What did you enjoy most about your career journey? Try to have an open discussion. Studying up about the job you’re interviewing for is important, too.”

— Ian Bowers, project engineer

“Do not stress yourself out about it. Practice, be honest, and be yourself!” 

— Hanna Gilbertson, quality technician

“Take a moment to think about the interview question you were asked — don’t just blurt out a random answer, think of an answer that will best represent your skills.” 

— Christine Lodes, maintenance technician

“Just be confident in your abilities. Be up-front and honest about what you’ve done and what you can do.” 

— Brian Ell, CNC machinist/programmer

What’s the best on-the-job advice you’ve gotten from a boss or mentor?

“Show up ready to work every day with a smile on your face.” 

— Austin Ferch, carpenter apprentice

“The same as I give to others: Never stop learning.” 

— Colton Roesel, tool designer and 3D printing technician

“To always try new things and to take risks. When I decided to leave my first job of almost seven years, my boss wished me well and told me I was doing the right thing by getting out there and exploring.” 

— Hanna Gilbertson, quality technician

“If you’re stuck on an issue and just can’t seem to find a resolution, take a walk and come back. A fresh look at a problem can tend to bring you to a quick resolution.” 

— Christine Lodes, maintenance technician

“Prioritize. You’re always gonna have a plateful. Deal with what’s hot and burning the most first.”

— Ian Bowers, project engineer

“Don’t dwell on your mistake. Just learn from it, figure out what you did wrong, and move forward.” 

— Brian Ell, CNC machinist/programmer