Uplift Mke targets county’s unemployment challenges

Workforce Development

Source: 3rd Quarter Uplift Mke Narrative Report

In the first nine months of 2016, nearly 100 people from Milwaukee County’s zip codes with the highest unemployment rates found work with the help of Uplift Mke, a new program that’s a partnership between the county and Employ Milwaukee.

Another 30 people from around the county also found work. While the initial success of the program was enough for the county to more than double the program’s funding, it is just a small start for the 24,150 people the U.S. Census Bureau estimates are unemployed in the 10 zip codes targeted by the program.


“There’s still a ton more jobs to fill,” said Earl Buford, president and chief executive officer of Employ Milwaukee.

The Uplift Mke program was launched at the beginning of 2016 with $400,000 Milwaukee County allocated to the effort from land sale revenue.

The model for Uplift is fairly straightforward. Employ Milwaukee receives $2,000 for every person employed from the 10 zip codes in the county with the highest unemployment rates.

The organization receives $1,000 for every person hired from a zip code with an unemployment rate higher than the county average.

While much has been made of the need for large projects like the Milwaukee Bucks arena and Northwestern Mutual tower to employ and train county residents for construction careers, Uplift seeks to address needs in other areas. Jim Tarantino, Milwaukee County’s director of economic development, said the county saw plenty of money and energy going toward construction jobs.

“Where we saw a big blind spot was there was no real intentional efforts at connecting people with end-use jobs,” he said.

Milwaukee County’s Uplift Mke program incentivizes Employ Milwaukee’s work in the 10 zip codes with the highest unemployment rates (represented in orange) with a $2,000 payment for each person hired. Employ Milwaukee receives $1,000 for those hired from zip codes with unemployment rates higher than the county average (represented in yellow).
Milwaukee County’s Uplift Mke program incentivizes Employ Milwaukee’s work in the 10 zip codes with the highest unemployment rates (represented in orange) with a $2,000 payment for each person hired. Employ Milwaukee receives $1,000 for those hired from zip codes with unemployment rates higher than the county average (represented in yellow).

The Uplift Mke program includes the manufacturing, health care, retail, hospitality and financial services sectors in this category.

Employ Milwaukee is tasked with coordinating training efforts among organizations like Milwaukee Public Schools, Milwaukee Area Technical College and other training groups. At the same time, Buford and his team also coordinate among employers, gathering data on job projections and openings across all the industries.

For Buford, the beauty of Uplift Mke is in the flexibility it affords to Employ Milwaukee. Most funding sources the organization goes after, especially those from the federal government, come with specific restrictions on where and how the money can be used.

Uplift, meanwhile, has a pay-for-performance model that rewards Employ Milwaukee for connecting potential employees with available jobs across industries.

Through the first three quarters, Employ Milwaukee had earned $220,000. Performance is tracked at the participant level and average wages for each quarter have ranged from $14.26 to $15.03 an hour.

“We are way ahead of the contractually expected pace,” Buford said.

Tarantino said the program has been “a huge success” so far and noted the county’s investment has been leveraged into millions of dollars in wages.

Uplift has been enough of a success that the county’s 2017 budget includes an additional $500,000 in funding for the program. Combined with the remaining initial funding, the program could result in another 340 to 680 jobs, depending on where the residents come from.

“The greatest way to get someone out of poverty is access to a career,” Tarantino said.

Uplift also is connected with some of the largest employers in the county, including Harley-Davidson Inc., MillerCoors LLC, the Milwaukee Bucks, WEC Energy Group, The Marcus Corp., Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, and the area’s major health systems through the Center for Healthcare Careers of Southeastern Wisconsin.

Participating companies agree to share their job projections, post open positions with Employ Milwaukee and interview qualified candidates who were trained through Employ Milwaukee-supported programs.

Buford, who previously ran WRTP/Big Step, said the biggest difference between the construction industry and those covered by Uplift Mke is the focus on career pathways. He noted construction has a lot of apprenticeships and both labor and management work on training.

“These other industries don’t have that,” Buford said.

But he also noted any industry can draw on the apprenticeship model to improve training. He said Principal Financial Group has developed a three-week apprenticeship class for new financial planners and the hospitality industry has increasingly focused on developing career pathways. The Center for Healthcare Careers was started with the idea of helping to develop the region’s workforce.

Source: 3rd Quarter Uplift Mke Narrative Report
Source: 3rd Quarter Uplift Mke Narrative Report

Buford’s focus is on finding ways to scale ideas for developing the region’s workforce. Corporate, public and nonprofit funding alone can’t raise individual programs to the level of impact the region needs. With its built-in flexibility, Buford believes Uplift Mke can be part of a blended funding model moving forward.

“This is a way to make an investment in the citizenry,” 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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