Sheboygan County EDC seeks to attract Milwaukee high school students

New pilot program launched with Vincent High School

Jerome Smith, pastor at Greater Praise Church of God in Christ speaks to students and media members as Tom Bair of Nemak and Sara Spicer of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation look on.

The Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. will work with seniors at Milwaukee’s Vincent High School in a pilot program aimed at exposing students to career and job opportunities in the Sheboygan area.

Jerome Smith, pastor at Greater Praise Church of God in Christ speaks to students and media members as Tom Bair of Nemak and Sara Spicer of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation look on.
Jerome Smith, pastor at Greater Praise Church of God in Christ speaks to students and media members as Tom Bair of Nemak and Sara Spicer of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation look on.

Sara Spicer, SCEDC attraction marketing specialist, said the organization has had success working with Sheboygan County high schools, but “it’s time to start extending the hand to other areas because we have such a workforce need.”

The fact that the high school on Milwaukee’s far northwest side is a one hour drive and nearly 55 miles from the heart of Sheboygan is not a determent. Spicer also said the organization didn’t pick Vincent because of its demographics, the school is 93 percent black, but because there is a need for additional opportunities.

“Milwaukee has a need for jobs and we’re just trying to fill that need,” Spicer said.

Vincent principal Daryl Burns said he was initially nervous about sending students to a primarily white population, Sheboygan County is 92 percent white, but came away from tours of several companies satisfied that they would be able to blend cultural differences.

He said he could see his students benefiting from the environment if they were to get jobs with the companies after graduation.

The program is also not meant to deter students from college, Spicer said. Instead it is focused on those who aren’t going to college or may not have a post-graduation plan.

“This will never be a program we push upon you,” she told students.

Spicer said SCEDC staff will be at Vincent on a regular basis working with students to expose them to opportunities with area companies. The exposure will include meeting with companies, preparing resumes, job interview training, tours of companies and the community and mentoring.

The program is being offered at no cost to Milwaukee Public Schools, students or their families.

“We are just out for the best interest of everyone involved,” Spicer said.

Sheboygan County has seen substantial job growth in recent years and faces a shortage of available workers. Spicer said there are as many as 3,000 job openings in the county. Sargento Foods and auto parts maker Nemak are among the companies that have signed on and Spicer said SCEDC is discussing the program with others.

The SCEDC has launched other initiatives aimed at attracting employees to the area, including a new marketing campaign and working with Greater Praise Church of God in Christ on the Joseph Project, which transports Milwaukee residents to jobs in Sheboygan.

Jerome Smith, the church’s pastor, will be working with the SCEDC and Vincent to provide transportation and mentoring services.

Smith reminded students attending the announcement of the program that they would need to pass a drug test and Spicer said students could be kicked out if they do not maintain their grades.

“They’re also just looking for somebody with a good attitude,” Smith said.

Tom Bair, Nemak human resources manager, said the company has added 100 new positions in the last year and has a number of openings at its entry levels. The positions pay $15 with a formal schedule to reach $19 an hour within a year.

He acknowledged the work would be repetitive and require lifting 25 to 50 pounds, but he also said there are opportunities for training and advancement.

“Essentially what we’re looking for is someone who is reliable, determined (and) persistent,” he said.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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