Honoring the legacy of Donald Sykes

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Recently, Donald Sykes announced his retirement as CEO and president of the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board (MAWIB). During his tenure, Don brought his nationally recognized leadership in workforce development to what was the Private Industry Council to reorganize and re-launch the organization as the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board. As we look to MAWIB’s future under the leadership of new CEO and president, Earl Buford, we are building on a legacy of success that Don has built for MAWIB and the entire community through his years of significant service and accomplishments in workforce development and human services.

Prior to his tenure with MAWIB, Don established deep roots in the Milwaukee nonprofit community, where he led the Social Development Commission (SDC) as the Executive Director of Community Relations before assuming a national role in the Clinton Administration as Director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Community Relations. Over the years, Don used the insights and skills he gathered in these roles to enhance community leadership and engagement on a local level through mentorship and professional development. Don has mentored some of the community’s most respected and highly qualified leaders.

Thanks to his broad, comprehensive experience, Don was chosen in 2006 to lead a community-wide planning process to establish a Workforce Investment Board (WIB) for Milwaukee. Thanks in large part to Don’s leadership, planning, and strategy, MAWIB was formed to leverage existing state and federal resources, develop additional government resources, and contract and monitor the delivery of workforce development services. Eight years later, workforce development in Milwaukee has made significant strides with a new approach to grow the workforce system.

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Under Don’s leadership, MAWIB set out to fund and coordinate targeted programs for populations most in need of employment solutions, address the needs of local employers, and positively impact Milwaukee’s economic development – all while making the most of limited resources.

Early on, MAWIB celebrated significant victories. In 2010, the organization was awarded a $16 million Health Professionals Opportunity Grant (HPOG) grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. The grant funded a one-stop central city health care employment and training facility in Milwaukee. Additional successes were achieved through key partnerships, like MAWIB’s work with The Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) to address the growing demand for manufacturing workers.

Additionally, Don was committed to diversifying MAWIB’s funding and increasing its partnerships. Under Don’s leadership, MAWIB successfully increased workforce investment in the community from $11.5 million in 2007 to a high of $22 million in 2013 by leveraging more than 25 different funding sources, including generous philanthropic support from the Helen Bader Foundation and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Thanks to diversified funding and making the most of limited resources, MAWIB invests an average of $20 million each year to deliver workforce development services.

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From the start, Don had a plan and a vision for workforce development in Milwaukee. He set real, measureable goals and set out to meet them. He didn’t disappoint. In his eight years leading MAWIB, the organization has dramatically increased its capacity to serve job seekers and work with the business community. The number of Milwaukee County residents receiving MAWIB services has more than doubled since 2005.

Don’s leadership was absolutely critical in each step of MAWIB’s establishment, growth, and success. He can be credited with strengthening state and regional collaboration, as well as increased involvement on a national level. It is impossible to look to the future of workforce development in our region without bearing in mind the foundation that Don has developed. The need for ongoing commitment to workforce development continues to be great for both employers and jobseekers. As the demand for skilled workforce continues to grow. However, we are confident that thanks to the legacy Don Sykes has created, and the vision Earl Buford has for MAWIB’s future, we will continue to meet the needs of Milwaukee’s workforce.

MAWIB is an employer-driven nonprofit organization working to create a thriving economy by ensuring Milwaukee County’s workforce has the skills that match employer needs and will lead to self-sufficiency.

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Tom Barrett is Mayor of the City of Milwaukee, John Kissinger is President and CEO of GRAEF and Chairman of MAWIB.


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