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Sappi, college work for a better-trained workforce

Imagine attending Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College for two years and getting a job straight out of school with a starting salary of $60,000.

That could become reality for students enrolled in the Electrical Utility Technology program at FDLTCC, thanks to a donation of $50,000 by Sappi Fine Paper North America, and an equal commitment of $50,000 by the college. The money will pay for "industry-standard" technology equipment purchases and "innovative instruction" for the Electrical Utility Technology program. Graduates of the program could be qualified for an entry-level position in Sappi's maintenance group, should there be openings.

It's a win-win-win: A win for the college; a win for the students and a win for Sappi.

"It is exciting to announce this gift and think ahead to the immediate enhancements we will make to our existing curriculum and hands-on lab applications," said FDLTCC president Larry Anderson. "We have a great employer and educational partner in Sappi."

Jim Skrbec, the human resources director for Sappi Cloquet operations who reached out to the college to discuss changing the program, said there are currently not enough local candidates with this type of training.

Sappi employees and FDLTCC staff worked together to figure out what the program needed to fit the needs of a modern workforce.

"This donation will help them enhance the program and support the training for the type of needs we have," Skrbec said. "These are very high-demand jobs and highly skilled."

Skrbec said Cloquet High School Principal Warren Peterson was also part of the collaboration, explaining that high school administration is planning some "pre-program" offerings that will give students a taste of the college program.

"Strong collaboration between Sappi and the local educational institutions reflect Sappi's commitment to supporting the community and the community's commitment to providing the necessary training for future potential employees for the long term benefit of both," said Rick Dwyer, managing director Sappi Cloquet operations.

In short, in a year that's seen other paper companies close down or file for bankruptcy, the enhanced program could help keep Sappi in Cloquet in the future, as will the recently completed Sappi Cloquet mill conversion from producing paper pulp to chemical cellulose and coated paper investments.

Of course, having graduates trained on industry-standard equipment will benefit more than Sappi, Skrbec pointed out, noting that the type of electronic instrumentation these students will

know how to repair can be found in everything from printing presses to the giant paper-making machines inside Sappi.

The Sappi gift to Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College is the largest donation in the college's current effort to increase partnerships with local industries and businesses.