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Milwaukee Jobs Partnership Trains Workers to Meet Employer Needs (Continued)

Partnership Efforts Begin by Assessing Employer Needs

The WRTP/BIG STEP partnership has been successful in working with minority or marginalized populations. The majority of its clients are African American or Hispanic, said Earl Buford, the partnership's executive director. Forty-five percent have been referred by officials from the Department of Corrections, or otherwise have some kind of criminal background.

Despite their pasts, Kelliher says the employees who come from WRTP/BIG STEP’s programs often do well. "Once we get these individuals on, they stay until they go through the apprenticeship application," Kelliher says, adding that Jagers still is a rung below apprentice, at the "unindentured" level. "We have every intention of keeping him on until he’s an apprentice."

Such a classic "win-win" situation is exactly the goal of WRTP/BIG STEP, which places an average of 500 people in jobs every year.

"We are an employer-driven, worker-centered organization that focuses on sectors of the economy where there is a need," Buford said. "We're not really a training organization; we're an intermediary. And the role of an intermediary is to bring all the parties together."

Many traditional job training programs focus on applicants looking for work, and try to place them where their interests fall, whether that's in retail, office work, animal-training or acting. Such a wide range of interests can be hard to manage.

"We do it backwards," Buford says. "We start with the jobs first."

Leaders at WRTP/BIG STEP spend time assessing where the needs are in the labor force. If there are shortages in hospitality jobs, or in the health care industry, then classes, outreach and programming will focus on those areas. Recently, the areas most in need of workers have been the industrial, manufacturing and construction skilled trades.

"By knowing where the jobs are we can develop our programs and curriculum around what their needs are," Buford said. "We're helping employers rebuild their workforce, which helps with market share and helps makes them valuable. And, on the other hand, we are helping connect people to job opportunities and career opportunities which are generally family-sustaining, which helps the tax base and everything else."

"We always include both sides of the coin, Buford continued. "We feel it's a full circle. You can't have good employers if you don’t have a good workforce."

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