WRTP/BIG STEP offers a model of youth career development that is closely linked to industry demands and gives young people access to high quality work experience. Over the past 20 years, as part of its role as a workforce intermediary, WRTP/BIG STEP has applied the industry-driven partnership model to youth career development. The result is a set of programs that are both consistent in their attention to industry demands and diverse in the types of services they provide and the youth they serve.

To read an in-depth report about youth career development at WRTP/BIG STEP, click here, or scroll down for summaries of our youth programs.

To contact our Youth Department staff, call (414) 342-9787 ext. 236, or click the names below to send them an email:

Youth Programs

Operation: High Expectations! (OHE!)

Operation High Expectations!One of WRTP/BIG STEP’s largest and most well-established youth career development programs, Operation: High Expectations provides individuals with assistance with high school completion, job readiness training, industry exposure, and career counseling.

Youth must be between the ages of 18 and 20, and must have an educational deficit (no high school diploma, significant barriers to employment). Participants take part in a range of training programs and are matched with an employer partner for a 20 hour/week paid work experience. They also receive a set of assessments to evaluate their skills and career interests, and receive tutoring to help improve their weak areas.

This program not only helps participants define their career interests and goals, but it connects them with a valuable job placement that gives them transferable skills and work experience that they can utilize in future employment opportunities. WRTP/BIG STEP’s name recognition and positive reputation in the Milwaukee business community opens the door for youth to employment opportunities in the particular industries of their choice.

Bridging Secondary Education to Skilled Trades Careers

Funded by the Caterpillar Foundation, this program simultaneously engages community organizations, business partners, high school teachers, and students to improve the bridge between secondary education and skilled trades careers in Milwaukee. The program is unique to WRTP/BIG STEP’s range of programs in that it partners closely with area high schools and middle schools and serves largely as a resource for those schools. In 2015, 236 students received career preparation training through the program and approximately 20 schools participated.

This program connects with private sector employers to understand their perspectives on industry’s future workforce needs and how to adapt youth career development programming accordingly. It also leverages relationships with teachers and trades instructors as a means of identifying promising students and providing resources for teachers to enhance their curricula, such as worksite visits, interview preparation and practice, career fairs, in-class presentations on careers in the trades, and job shadowing.

Oak Creek School Project

One example of how WRTP/BIG STEP bridges the gap between secondary education and careers in the skilled trades is the Oak Creek School Project. Since Fall 2015, students participated in a full house construction, received a range of certifications – OSHA 10, First Aid/CPR, Lead Abatement, Fork Lift License, etc – and gained personal career counseling. They worked side-by-side with professionals from the building trades and contractor firms to plan and carry out the entire construction process.

For more on this project, and to see photos of the home the students built, click here.

Construction Academy for Youth


Carried out in Summer 2015 as part of WRTP/BIG STEP’s increased presence in Madison, WRTP/BIG STEP partnered with the City of Madison, Madison Metropolitan School District, YWCA Madison, and the Building Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin to offer two one-week education and training sessions for Madison area students to learn about careers in the skilled trades.

Trainers from each trade designed a unique curriculum, and in addition to hands-on training, students received information about career development strategies and the apprenticeship model. The program reinforced ties between area schools and trade unions to encourage future collaborations and develop industry-based infrastructure in the Madison area.


WRTP/BIG STEP offered youth ages 16 to 19 the opportunity to participate in two week-long advanced training classes closely integrated with the building trades and formal apprenticeship programs. At the start of the week, students met at WRTP/BIG STEP’s Center of Excellence for orientation, job readiness training, and OSHA 10 safety training. The rest of the week was spent at union training halls where they learned about the apprenticeship process and got hands-on training in the different trades.


TechTerns provides Bradley Technical High School students with a comprehensive two and a half year project-based learning experience in the construction, healthcare, and architecture industries. This project is an intensive collaboration between WRTP/BIG STEP and Mortenson Construction, Cannon Design, Froedtert Hospital, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Bradley Tech.