WRTP/BIG STEP’s History
WRTP was initially created to renew our traditional industrial base in the Milwaukee area during the 1990s. The recovery of manufacturing, retirement of an aging workforce, and diversification of the regional economy created a growing skills shortage by the end of the decade. In response to this threat to economic growth and prosperity, we created our successful model of pre-employment training for job seekers to qualify for family-sustaining jobs in the industrial sector.
The development of our industry-driven model coincided with the implementation of Wisconsin Works (W-2) by Governor Thompson’s administration. Our program offered an opportunity to former welfare recipients and other low-income central city residents to acquire the skills they needed to qualify for family-sustaining jobs. The program has promoted the goal of helping community residents achieve self-sufficiency.
WRTP received funds from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop a model program in manufacturing training in 1997. In 2000, WRTP was awarded a demonstration grant from the United States Department of Labor to replicate the program in other sectors. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation selected WRTP for a national Sector Employment Impact Study in 2003. The results of the study showed that those who participated in sector-specific programs fared much better than those who did not across a variety of measures. Highlights from the report include:
- Program participants were more likely to find work and worked more months than those who did not receive sector-focused training.
- Program participants earned significantly more than control group members. On average they earned about $4,500 more than members of the control group during the two-year study. While some of these gains can be attributed to working more hours, participants also earned significantly higher hourly wages.
- Program participants were significantly more likely to get jobs that offered benefits. They spent an average of 11 months working in jobs that offered benefits (health insurance, paid sick leave and tuition reimbursement) – about a month and a half longer than members of the control group.
WRTP & BIG STEP — The Partnership
The collaboration between WRTP and BIG STEP began during the Department of Labor grant term when construction was one of the industry sectors selected for replication. With their own highly successful histories, WRTP and BIG STEP partnered to facilitate more effective coordination of employer-driven worker readiness to best ensure that individuals preparing for employment gained the skills and experiences that employers needed.
The success of these programs gave WRTP/BIG STEP the status of a national leader in developing sector-based, creative workforce solutions by bringing together both resources and partners in their efforts to help their members. With a dual-customer approach, the model is not just about retaining jobs in a community but also about maintaining the competitiveness of the companies that provide those jobs.
Launching the Center of Excellence for Skilled Trades & Industry
WRTP/BIG STEP launched the Center of Excellence for Skilled Trades & Industry in 2006 to develop and expand programs for several major projects in the region and to address the reemergence of the skills shortage in the industrial sector. WRTP/BIG STEP’s strategies effectively increase minority (60%) and female (14%) representation in the skilled trades.
The Center of Excellence for Skilled Trades & Industry is located at the heart of Milwaukee’s central city. More than just a physical location, the Center of Excellence serves as a clearinghouse for the assessment, preparation, and placement of job-ready candidates for careers in construction, manufacturing and other emerging sectors. Not only does the facility serve as a single location providing career pathways for job seekers, it also meets the needs of employers/unions looking to hire a diverse set of qualified candidates, as well as those of community partners seeking to place their clients in family-supporting jobs.