Learn how Wisconsin workforce agencies are helping job seekers

The article below recently appeared as the cover story in the Milwaukee Business Journal. It highlights just some of the ways Wisconsin’s workforce boards support employers and job seekers. As the state’s association of workforce boards, the WWDA has created a unique opportunity for Wisconsin’s employers and trade associations to better engage the workforce development system through our Talent Development Council. We encourage you to reach out to Josh Morby for more information.

By Nick Williams – Reporter Milwaukee Business Journal
July 3, 2020
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Wisconsin’s labor force has been significant.
Since March 15, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has received more than 700,000 unemployment benefit applications, and in that time, the state has disbursed more than $2 billion in benefit claims. Between March 15 and May 10, 2.4 million weekly claims were filed in Wisconsin. For comparison, DWD received 311,000 weekly claims during this same period in 2019, representing a 670% increase.
As of the most recent data, there are still more than 371,000 unemployed people in Wisconsin.
And with the federal unemployment benefit of an extra $600 per week set to end in late July, and evictions and foreclosures expected to rise in the coming months, state and local agencies are diligently working to put thousands of Wisconsin residents back to work.
“We have an incredible sense of urgency and feel the weight of this historic economic crisis and have hundreds of people working overtime every week to resolve unemployment insurance claims,” said Caleb Frostman, secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
“The numbers are definitely pretty daunting,” Frostman said. “There’s going to be a lot of folks that need help, but I think we’re equipped to do that. Our team is really ready to help the people of Wisconsin.”
That comes in the form of job training, re-skilling workers, interview coaching, resume preparation and more, Frostman said. Through the Wisconsin Fast Forward program, the state provides dollars that fund enhanced training to produce new skills and credentials for those seeking employment. Those skill sets include food processing, health care or manufacturing, he said.
With Covid-19 limiting how DWD can serve people at job centers across the state, DWD has expedited its virtual services, placing those services in libraries and community centers to reach more people. DWD is training librarians across the state to access those training services online, Frostman said.
At the local level, organizations like Employ Milwaukee and Forward Careers Inc., formerly known as Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Workforce Development Inc, are also working to help residents prepare for their return to the labor force.
Chytania Brown, the new president and CEO of Employ Milwaukee, said the plan is to open its resource center in July, where residents can use the building’s computers to apply for jobs and receive assistance to find employment. Employ Milwaukee also connects residents with training programs, and three in particular help train people for careers in information technology, banking and construction.
Forward Careers used teleconference technology during the onset of the pandemic to provide webinars and tutorials for job seekers, but has since resumed in-person meetings at its resource center, but has installed protective shields between clients and staff, said Cindy Simons, the nonprofit’s president.
During those meetings, staff can assess a person’s skills and career choices and try to connect them with the appropriate training courses. Forward Careers provides tuition up to $4,000 for a year’s worth of training, she said, which also includes the field of information technology.
Frostman, Brown and Simons all said they’ve noticed a trend in people seeking different career paths, either because their previous place of employment won’t be able to hire them back, or because they want to work in a more stable industry that’s essential to the economy, especially given projections of another surge in Covid-19 cases.
“The safer at home order pushed many non-essential businesses to close or to operate remotely,” Simons said. “As businesses rebuild, we will see an increased use of digital tools and reduced footprints to minimize close human contact to cut labor costs and improve profit. As we see a rise in digital literacy skills, federal investment in the public workforce system will be needed to help unemployed workers acquire new skills and credentials to fill new jobs that require the use of digital tools.”
Connecting people to jobs
In May, various workforce development agencies in southeast Wisconsin held a combined virtual job fair that drew more than 2,000 participants and over 250 employers, Brown said. On July 15, the state’s workforce system will hold the first ever drive-through job fair in cities across the state, including Milwaukee, Sturtevant and Waukesha, where job seekers can stay in their cars to receive a to-go bag filled with information on career opportunities and job openings.
“With many of the job centers closed and nearly 400,000 people unemployed we had to do something,” said Anthony Snyder, executive committee chair of the Wisconsin Workforce Development Association and CEO of the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board in Neenah. “This coordinated effort of all 11 boards demonstrates the effectiveness of the local workforce development board system in Wisconsin.”
Those are among the many ways workforce departments are trying to connect people with jobs.
Through a partnership with the city of Milwaukee and WRTP, Employ Milwaukee is placing out of work individuals in short-term jobs at nonprofits and other organizations in immediate need of workers, or are “stretched too thin,” Brown said. Those individuals are paid $17 per hour for 25 hours per week between three and six months of work through Milwaukee’s Community Development Grants Administration block grant program, Brown said.
“It’s trying to give opportunities where opportunities were looking grim,” Brown said.
Those who are ready to re-enter the labor force right away can sign up for DWD’s Registered Apprenticeship program, which allows people to earn a wage while learning a trade. Those apprenticeships can be for plumbing, broadband technician jobs or information technology, Frostman said. DWD also offers a youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship, which help prepares people for the process.
Last summer, Employ Milwaukee put 1,200 youths to work. This summer, due to Covid-19, the workforce agency was only able to hold onto 500 positions. Maintaining some kind of work program for youths, Brown said, was essential.
Forward Careers offers a similar program, where employers are reimbursed for expenses related to providing on the job training, Simons said.
During the pandemic, about 90,000 resumes have so far been added to DWD’s Job Center of Wisconsin, the state’s free job marketplace, making roughly 250,000 resumes available on the site for employers, Frostman said. Employers can post jobs to the site, where there’s currently 59,000 listed. DWD has also added a new in-demand jobs page for employers that were considered essential during Safer at Home, Frostman said.
Preparing for a surge in job seekers
To meet critical demand in processing unemployment benefit applications and disbursements, DWD had to temporarily move 150 workers from other units into unemployment insurance, but as that stabilizes, the plan is to return them back to training and other career support fields, Frostman said.
“With increased demand, it’s possible to increase those positions,” he said.
Simons said a surge of job seekers may soon overwhelm workforce development systems, which will be in need of funding to meet demand.
“Much like the health care system has been overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases, we are now starting to see the impact on permanent job loss,” she said. “While the reason for the economic downturn is different from the Great Recession, I believe the American job centers will be the next system to be overwhelmed. In recent years, job training programs have been underfunded with staffing levels significantly low. Investing in employment and training programs will be critical to meet the demand of today’s record high unemployment rates.”

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