Employ Milwaukee will lead a new group of Midwestern workforce investment boards that aims to address workforce issues in urban areas in 12 different cities through collaboration and sharing best practices.
The Midwest Urban Strategies Consortium includes workforce boards from Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Gary, Indiana, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Missouri, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Wichita.
“Milwaukee is leading this charge,” said Earl Buford, Employ Milwaukee president and chief executive officer. “Think about it, we’re working with Chicago and Detroit and they’ve asked us to lead this charge, that’s awesome.”
The consortium has already been working together over the last several years, using its size to help secure $13 million in funding. The grants have included training for middle- to high-skill jobs, an American Apprenticeship grant and a TechHire grant.
“We really do face issues where employers are frustrated because they can’t find workers and workers are frustrated because they can’t find jobs,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “Working with our workforce investment boards, we can really provide that bridge.”
Friday’s announcement further formalizes the consortium’s work. Buford said the initial goals for the coming year would be to create regional, sector-base advisory panels with business leaders from through the region; continue to take advantage of the scope and size of the organization to share information and secure funding; leverage the expertise of workforce leaders in the region; and extend the group’s capacity by engaging national and regional community groups like the Boys and Girls Club or the United Way.
Buford said the group is still working to define exactly what success will look like for the consortium.
“We’re going to look at how we measure ourselves in effectiveness,” he said. “Is it solving unemployment? Not sure. Is it increasing apprenticeship in this country? That’s a goal. So right now we’re not actually quite sure yet, but that’s why it’s so important that we collectively came together as effort to start defining what that looks like.”
Employ Milwaukee will be leading the administration of the consortium, an effort supported by a $100,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase announced on Friday. Bader Philanthropies Inc. is also supporting the build-up of Employ Milwaukee’s capacity to administer and fund-raise for the consortium.
Even with the additional support, it might be reasonable to be concerned that collaborating across the region could lead Employ Milwaukee to take its focus off work in the city and county. Buford said that won’t be an issue and the area will have access to resources it may not have otherwise received along with the opportunity to bring back ideas from other communities.
“The workforce needs throughout the Midwest are not confined to certain geographic areas,” Barrett said. “I think all of us share the vision of bringing back more family supporting jobs to Midwestern cities and this is an opportunity for us to do that together.”
The mayor added that Employ Milwaukee’s leadership of the consortium shows “not only is this workforce investment board good, it is great.”
Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele has asked Gov. Scott Walker to make him the head elected official of the Milwaukee area workforce board. Barrett said any issues with the board’s work can be handled at the local level and there is no need for the state to come in.
“I would hate for us to take a step backwards and have a different model that isn’t as proactive and aggressive and forward thinking as the leadership we have there right now,” Barrett said.
In a statement, Abele said returning to a focus on the entire county, not just the city “we can provide support for individuals who have specific barriers to getting and keeping a good-paying job.”
“Even though we do have great people at Employ Milwaukee, when the unemployment rate for African American men in parts of the city has been over 50 percent there is clearly much more work to be done to ensure economic opportunity for all,” Abele said. “That staggering figure doesn’t even account for the thousands of people who have completely given up on finding employment after years of searching.”