With a history dating back to the early 1990s, WRTP/BIG STEP continues its legacy focus on pre-employment training for job seekers to qualify for family-sustaining jobs in the industrial sector.
Through their relationship with the trades and the growth of a skilled workforce in the construction industry, WRTP/BIG STEP’s role has continued to expand. By being industry led, worker centered, and community focused, WRTP/BIG STEP helps under-employed, under-served, and under-represented individuals succeed in well-paying careers in construction and manufacturing.
As a “community focused” operation, WRTP/BIG STEP is located on one of Milwaukee’s busiest and most accessible corridors. Its building, aptly named the “Center of Excellence”, serves as a “one stop shop” for job seekers interested in career pathways in manufacturing or construction. For many underrepresented workers, access to employment in the skilled trades had traditionally been hampered by lack of access. WRTP/BIG STEP’s physical proximity in the City of Milwaukee and its deep and trusted relationships with employers and unions created the bridge that job seekers needed to help them cross over to family-supporting jobs in these industries.
Employ Milwaukee, member of MUS, has leveraged WRTP/BIG STEP’s partnerships and relationships with industry through its Construction Industry Advisory Board (C-IAB), which WRTP/BIG STEP co-chairs. Together, WRTP/BIG STEP and Employ Milwaukee established the concept for a Construction Careers Clearinghouse that would provide for the assessment, preparation, and placement of job-ready candidates for careers in construction, manufacturing and other emerging sectors.
This partnership has also allowed Employ Milwaukee to effectively connect and facilitate the development of new Registered Apprenticeships as was envisioned by the Department of Labor when it awarded $175 million in American Apprenticeship grants in 2016.
“Fellow MUS members interested in the success Employ Milwaukee has had, and learning how our collaboration of urban workforce development boards has led to and continues to lay the groundwork for success should contact me directly,” said MUS board member Earl Buford.
One of the most exciting success stories we like to highlight is the work of Milwaukee area metal fabricator Duwe Metal Products, Inc. When construction began on the world headquarters for Northwestern Mutual –Duwe Metal Products demonstrated its commitment to growing diversity, employing 40% of its workforce from City of Milwaukee residents. WRTP/BIG STEP championed this project and worked hand-in-hand with Duwe Metal Products to ensure that workers were appropriately trained, equipped, and supported to succeed.
And succeed they did! At peak production, there were 73 employees, all of whom were previously underemployed men and women who had no prior experience. Over the course of 18 months, these individuals assembled 2,600 frames which housed the glass panes that would eventually make up the windows of the Northwestern Mutual office tower. That work was supervised under the guidance of Benson Industries.
“It’s these types of success stories we love to talk about,” said Buford. “Collaboration between workforce boards locally and now regionally with the existence of MUS has been the differentiator.
“This remains one of the most recognized success stories for our local Ironworkers as well as the Ironworker Apprentices and Glaziers.”