“When I went through school, I always thought it would be neat to be an instructor,” says Jason Robbins, a graduate of Southwest Wisconsin Technical College. So in 2010, he returned to his alma mater as an instructor to see for himself. Six years later, he knows he made the right choice.
Right after high school, Robbins enrolled in SWTC’s one-year Engine Machining program. That was followed by a year in the college’s Machine Tool program. At the time of his graduation from SWTC, “I wanted to start my own business,” says Robbins. “I started buying equipment, but I didn’t have much money.”
That’s when his parents stepped in to help him secure a loan and get a building for the business. Robbins and his younger brother, also a Southwest Tech grad, finally got their machine shop business up and running. After 11 years, “My brother got married and moved to Billings, Montana and it was the exact same time that the [full-time] job opened up at Southwest Tech,” says Robbins, who had been substitute teaching there in addition to running his business.
He returned to his alma mater where he is now a Precision Machining Technology instructor. He gets to experience first-hand his students, much like himself at their age, set out and accomplish their goals. “You get to see a student possibly go out and make $23 an hour. I had one student make $30 in overtime,” adds Robbins. “It’s neat to see somebody that gets out there and is doing well in their life. It lets you know that good is coming out of everything.”
Being an instructor isn’t without its challenges, especially where advances in the industry are concerned. “The hardest thing is keeping up with everything that’s new,” he says. “The CNC world is changing so quickly. The technology increases, and every year it’s different. Just trying to keep up with that stuff is tough.”
To increase enrollment and promote the industry, Robbins has set up dual-credit programs at local high schools. “I’ve been working with Richland Center, Shullsburg and Platteville,” he explains. “I run a one-credit course. I can deliver one credit of my program, and they’ll already have it after high school. It also gives them the chance to meet me, talk about what we do at Southwest Tech, and they get to learn the trade.”
Through the dual credit program, Robbins tells his high school students about the success stories at SWTC, including one of his most recent. “I had an 18-year-old student who had just graduated high school and came into my one-semester program in the fall and finished the class in December. He got a job right away making $21 an hour, almost $27 an hour in overtime,” he says. “He bought a new truck and was looking at buying a house. He’s 18 years old!”
When he’s not teaching, Robbins is a volunteer for the Benton Fire Department. In the summertime, he spends time Dirt Late Model racing at local dirt tracks throughout Wisconsin and goes fishing when he gets a chance. “I stay pretty busy,” concludes Robbins.