Students describe confusion, uncertainty in launch of new Foxconn program

MOUNT PLEASANT -- A love of numbers and puzzles drew Tammy Hoffman to her accounting major at Gateway Technical College. But her biggest - and most frustrating - puzzle of the semester wasn't in any textbook.

"I would just like an opportunity for information," Hoffman said. "Just don't leave me hanging."

Hoffman and three other students who spoke to the FOX6 Investigators say Foxconn hired them at Gateway events; weeks later, after their tentative start dates passed, they still could not get information about where and when they were supposed to report to work, or even what kind of work they would be doing.

After the FOX6 Investigators started asking questions, Hoffman and her classmates started getting answers.

'Earn and Learn'

Foxconn's Earn and Learn program is a partnership with Gateway Technical College, Chippewa Valley Technical College, and University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Students are hired as full-time Foxconn employees with paid time off for classes.

"I was excited," Hoffman said. "Not a lot of people get an opportunity to get out of school and get a full-time job with a company that's new to the area and growing. I knew there was some back press, but I was hoping there were good things involved, too."

Hoffman says she went to a Gateway event in October and was hired for Foxconn's Earn and Learn program on the spot. She says the company promised to send more details about her job description later, but she knew it would be in the "non-technical" category, like business development or accounting.

Hoffman showed FOX6 the email with her attached October offer letter, which said she was "tentatively scheduled" to start work the week of December 2. She says she signed the letter and sent it back to Foxconn.

A few weeks later, things got more complicated.

'Left in the dark'

As Hoffman's tentative start date approached, she started to get worried that she had not heard anything from Foxconn. She talked to her classmates and realized she wasn't alone.

"We really don’t know what’s going on," Gateway Technical College accounting student Jacob Larsen said. "We’ve kind of been left in the dark a little bit."

Larsen and Hoffman say they couldn't get answers to their questions about exactly when they would start their Foxconn jobs, which location they should report to on their first day, and what kinds of jobs they would be doing.

When the students spoke to FOX6 on camera, the week of their "tentatively scheduled" start date was almost over. They still had not started work and had not received answers to their questions.

"A lot of the students at Gateway I find are older like me," Hoffman, who is studying accounting after more than 30 years of being a hairdresser, said. "And they’re going to school full time or part time to support families."

"I was lucky enough that I have an employer that put me onto the schedule and I was able to keep my job and still continue on," Hoffman added. "But I know that there are other students that put their notice and that have quit their job in hopes of starting on December 2."

Hoffman said she understands that new programs often have "hiccups," but also said that a simple email update would have eliminated student confusion and uncertainty.

"I would love to work for Foxconn," Hoffman said. "It's a new and exciting company that’s coming in. It’s adding a lot of growth to the community and the area....just send me an email saying, 'Hey there’s been a snag and we’re not starting the program until January, February, March,' whatever. As long as I’m not left in the dark and as long as I’m not a statistic to be a hiring number."

Tax credits

In order to qualify for state tax credits, Foxconn is required to hire at least 520 certified jobs. A company executive recently expressed confidence Foxconn will meet the threshold; last year, it fell short.

A spokesperson for Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation would not say whether jobs created through the Earn and Learn program will count as the "certified jobs" Foxconn needs; that decision will happen after Foconn submits its jobs report, which is due by April.

On Friday, The Verge published a report saying the Evers Administration is threatening to withhold tax credits from Foxconn unless it renegotiates its deal with the state to reflect the now-smaller factory it is building.

Foxconn and Gateway respond

A few days after the FOX6 Investigators started asking Foxconn and Gateway Technical College questions, Hoffman and Larsen started getting answers.

Hoffman showed FOX6 an email from Foxconn human resources representative Bradley DeRosa. DeRosa thanked students for their "flexibility." The email did not provide a job description, but it included a new employment offer with a specific location, start time, and start date of December 17.

Hoffman received the email on December 11 and had until December 13 to sign the offer letter, giving her less than one week to give notice to her current employer.

She decided to "take a leap of faith" and take the Foxconn job. Her classmate, Jacob Larsen, said he decided to decline the new offer because of the stress and uncertainty he felt during the hiring process.

The FOX6 Investigators asked Foxconn and Gateway media representatives for on-camera interviews. Both emailed statements instead.

Gateway Technical College sent a statement from President and CEO Bryan Albrecht:

"Gateway is committed to providing all students with high quality education and career placement services. As the workforce buildout for Foxconn continues, we are working with both the Foxconn HR team members and Gateway students to align the education and training requirements for employment at Foxconn. Current students in the Foxconn Earn and Learn Program are in the process of being notified by Foxconn as to their scheduled onboarding date and Gateway is partnering with Foxconn for the related FELP training."

Foxconn Technology group sent a  statement saying there was "overwhelming" interest in the Earn and Learn program, and some students originally who received offer letters were "not selected" because of the competitive process. Click here to read Foxconn's full statement.

The FOX6 Investigators called representatives for the other schools partnered with Foxconn for its Earn and Learn program. A spokesperson for Chippewa Valley Technical School said she was not aware of students having any issues; a spokesperson for University of Wisconsin-Parkside did not return FOX6's call.