Blackhawk Tech smart to start training nuclear technicians

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In Saturday's Gazette, two officials from Blackhawk Technical College seemed to contradict each other in discussing a new program to train nuclear technicians.

“Part of the reason for offering the program this fall is making sure the time frame lined up with SHINE's (opening),” said Diane Nyhammer, vice president for learning.

SHINE Medical Technologies, based in Middleton, is seeking regulatory approval to build an $85 million factory on Janesville's south side to produce medical isotopes used in diagnostic tests. NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes wants to build a plant in Beloit to produce the isotopes using a different process.

However, when The Gazette emailed Gary Kohn, Blackhawk's marketing and communications manager, to ask whether the new program had anything to do with SHINE and NorthStar, he replied: “No. This is an area that is growing fast throughout the United States.”

Maybe some at Blackhawk fear tying the program directly to the two nuclear medicine companies in case the factory plans fall through. It matters not, however, that Nyhammer and Kohn look like they're on different pages in the public relations department. What matters is that Blackhawk is creating a valuable new program in a cooperative arrangement with Lakeshore Technical College, based in Manitowoc County.

Hospitals, universities, labs and waste management companies are among the many places that need nuclear technicians, Kohn continued in his email.

“We see great potential in this program, and we're thrilled that we can partner with Lakeshore Technical College to give our district students a chance to pursue a career field where the median pay right now is $68,000 a year or about $32 per hour.”

Those are family-supporting wages, and Rock County needs more such jobs.

“The employment possibilities are many,” said Nyhammer, who told The Gazette that academic planners started crafting the program because nuclear medicine is “a growing field.” She added that the plans of SHINE and NorthStar to open in the county spurred interest in launching the program.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for nuclear technicians to surge 14 percent by 2020, Blackhawk said in a news release. That's reason enough to start the program, regardless of potential benefits to SHINE and NorthStar.

SHINE President Greg Piefer previously stated that his company has discussed with Blackhawk Tech a program tailored to supply SHINE with trained workers.

Nyhammer says Lakeshore already has a successful nuclear technician program, making it easier to start this partnership. Students will take 32 credits at Blackhawk before finishing their degrees through interactive online courses provided by Lakeshore. The first students in the four-semester program should graduate in 2015. That would dovetail with SHINE's plans to open in 2016 with 150 employees.

That's good for interested residents, good for the isotope companies and good for Blackhawk.


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