In helping the construction industry effectively invest in the next generation of skilled workers, officials with Employ Milwaukee have been busy building a strong workforce development system by planning, coordinating, collaborating and monitoring various initiatives with businesses and stakeholders at the local, regional and state level.
The goal: Ensure a skilled, diverse and productive crop of workers for the 21st century.
The group’s diversity efforts are on display everyday. It assists 14,000 people each year on average. Of those people who find assistance in some way thanks to Employ Milwaukee, 72 percent are African-American, 11 percent are Caucasian, 9 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are Asian.
Earl Buford, Employ Milwaukee president and chief executive, said coordinating the group’s efforts are no small task, especially when it comes to construction. Right now, they’re being asked to find talent for massive vertical projects such as the new downtown Milwaukee Bucks arena and the 44-story Couture mixed-use development near the lakefront. But beyond that, workers are also desperately needed in the residential market and for local and municipal work.
“So work is coming at us from all different angles,” Buford said.
Pete Coffaro, chief program officer for Employee Milwaukee, said his group estimates that over the next decade there will be a 13 percent growth in the demand for electricians, as well as a roughly 6 percent jump for plumbers and operating engineers.
To help meet those huge demands, Employ Milwaukee often turns to its industry partners. Buford pointed to the recruitment and training group WRTP/Big Step, as well as companies and industry organizations that sit on Employ Milwaukee’s construction industry advisory board.
“We’re depending on them to guide us on how to best provide resources to the industry,” he said.
Employ Milwaukee has also made it a point to work with a number of school districts in the area to encourage youth apprenticeship-type programs. The goal is to generate interest in the trades for high school-aged students.
Of course, the next big challenge for the industry is finding the 10,000 workers who will needed to build a $10 billion manufacturing plant for Foxconn Technology Group.
The Taiwanese maker of LCD screens plans to build the factory in Mount Pleasant, and the project will require a significant undertaking from contractors and workforce-development groups.
For those efforts, Employ Milwaukee is working with its counterparts in the Kenosha and Racine area to create a diverse and talented workforce. The shared resources are creating a regional partnership, something that’s necessary for such a massive project, said Buford.