By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The nation’s economy took a hit when the pandemic began, and Milwaukee was no exception. The federal government is hopeful that the American Rescue Plan Act will help give cities the boost they need to get their economies rolling.
Mayor Tom Barrett is submitting a proposal to the Common Council regarding ARPA funding and which programs and issues it should go toward. Barrett is hoping to fund workforce development; and announced his intention to invest $13.8 million to promote job readiness and employment opportunities during a press conference on Monday, July 12.
Milwaukee is receiving just over $390 million through ARPA and the city received the first installment in late May, Barrett said. So far, $3.8 million dollars has been allocated for summer youth employment, but this is only the beginning.
“Without a doubt, workforce development and job readiness are two key challenges that we face here in the City of Milwaukee, particularly coming out of the pandemic” Barrett said. “It is for that reason that my Recovery and Resilience Plan will invest $13.8 million to promote job readiness and employment opportunities.”
The goal, he said, is to get money back into the community by connecting workers to family supporting jobs and career opportunities.
Part of the proposal includes the plan to use $6 million for the job training project, which will equip workers with lead abatement certification. This has duo purpose: to give residents jobs and to remove lead.
“Lead abatement without a doubt is one of the major issues we face as a community whether it’s our aging infrastructure but also our lead paint,” he said.
A skillful transition project will receive $3 million in funding through the Recovery and Resilience Plan, Barrett said. This project will be aimed at individuals between the ages of 19 and 29.
Other projects include $2.7 million for a clean jobs project in Century City, advancing technology employment opportunities and apprenticeships.
Employ Milwaukee, which received funding for the aforementioned youth summer employment program, will be helping out with workforce development initiatives.
“We see this as a historical opportunity to make impactful long-term change in our community,” Chytania Brown, CEO of Employ Milwaukee said. “By providing our residents with upscaling opportunities, wages and enhanced support services that connect them to family supporting career pathways and fields.”
This vision must be equitable, she said. This means using technology and offering technology training to ensure that no one is left behind.
Lindsay Blumer is the president and CEO Wisconsin Training Partnership Building Industry Group Skilled Trade Employment Program (WRTP BIG STEP). The programs that were proposed are innovative and scalable, she said.
“They take our expertise and that of our partners to connect residents to in demand opportunities right now,” Blumer said.
If investments in the trades such as manufacturing and construction are made now, the dividends will be seen for the decades to come, she said.
Laura Bray, the vice president of College Advancement and External Communications at MATC, noted that prior pandemic employers spoke of a worker shortage and high demand skill positions and that the region was known for its wage disparity rate and unemployment.
The skills gap paradox remains, she said, and it could be argued that it is more profound. That is the core of the mission at MATC – to train workers and lift them up.
“This partnership will allow us to do more of this critical work,” she said.
She continued, “We’re not just trying to get someone a job but a career path that gets them employed and starts to work to address the issues of upward mobility.”
Bray believes that the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to jobs that they may not have considered before.
“It was paramount to me to find those programs and those areas where we needed to get the dollars flowing as quickly as possible,” Barrett said. “Workforce development and workforce readiness are at the top of the list.”