From The Beginning…
WRTP was initially created to renew our traditional industrial base in the Milwaukee area during the 1990s. The recovery of manufacturing, retirement of an aging workforce, and diversification of the regional economy created a growing skills shortage by the end of the decade. In response to this threat to economic growth and prosperity, we created our successful model of pre-employment training for job seekers to qualify for family-sustaining jobs in the industrial sector.
The development of our industry-driven model coincided with the implementation of Wisconsin Works (W-2) by Governor Thompson’s administration. Our program offered an opportunity to former welfare recipients and other low-income central city residents to acquire the skills they needed to qualify for family-sustaining jobs. The program has promoted the goal of helping community residents achieve self-sufficiency. WRTP received funds from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop a model program in manufacturing training in 1997. In 2000, WRTP was awarded a demonstration grant from the United States Department of Labor to replicate the program in other sectors. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation selected WRTP for a national Sector Employment Impact Study in 2003. The results of the study showed that those who participated in sector-specific programs fared much better than those who did not across a variety of measures. Highlights from the report include:
Program participants were more likely to find work and worked more months than those who did not receive sector-focused training.
Program participants earned significantly more than control group members. On average they earned about $4,500 more than members of the control group during the two-year study. While some of these gains can be attributed to working more hours, participants also earned significantly higher hourly wages.
Program participants were significantly more likely to get jobs that offered benefits. They spent an average of 11 months working in jobs that offered benefits (health insurance, paid sick leave and tuition reimbursement) – about a month and a half longer than members of the control group.
BIG STEP – History
In 1976, a consortium of representatives of the building trades founded Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program (BIG STEP), evolving from the efforts started in 1967 with Vince Toran and Project Leap. BIG STEP was formed in an attempt to increase the number of women, minorities, and younger workers employed in the building trades.
In 1992, the formation of Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) was announced after the Commission on a Quality Workforce recommended the development of partnerships between business, labor, and government to renew the industrial base in the Milwaukee area. WRTP continued to grow, receiving funds from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop a model program in manufacturing training. In 2000, WRTP was awarded a demonstration grant from the United States Department of Labor to replicate the program in other sectors.
In 2002, WRTP and BIG STEP, both with their own highly successful histories, partnered to facilitate more effective coordination of employer-driven worker readiness to best ensure that individuals preparing for employment gained the skills and experiences that employers needed. WRTP became the fiscal agent for BIG STEP and BIG STEP became an industry driven funding source for WRTP with programming efficiencies achieved in both organizations. In 2005, with support from Governor Jim Doyle, the partnership established the Center of Excellence (COE) for Skilled Trades & Industry and BIG STEP is an integral part of WRTP.
In 2014, WRTP and BIG STEP formally merged their Boards of Directors into one board as they continue to move towards becoming one organization.
BIG STEP and The Construction Trades
BIG STEP works closely with the construction trades’ Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees to develop programs that help participants prepare for apprenticeships in the trade of their choice. Participating Construction Trades Include:
Sheet Metal Workers
BIG STEP Services Include:
Recruitment of qualified individuals for apprenticeship training and careers
Assessment of individual needs and strengths
Development of a plan of action to help participants receive employment
Providing test tutoring and other preparatory services (day and evening classes)
Placing participants in on-the-job-training programs leading to construction-related apprenticeships
Arranging necessary classroom training to prepare and place participants into higher paying employment opportunities
Providing case management services to assist candidates in becoming apprentices and/or retaining construction-related employment
BIG STEP Requirements
WRTP & BIG STEP —The Partnership
The collaboration between WRTP and BIG STEP began during the Department of Labor grant term when construction was one of the industry sectors selected for replication. With their own highly successful histories, WRTP and BIG STEP partnered to facilitate more effective coordination of employer-driven worker readiness to best ensure that individuals preparing for employment gained the skills and experiences that employers needed.
The success of these programs gave WRTP/BIG STEP the status of a national leader in developing sector-based, creative workforce solutions by bringing together both resources and partners in their efforts to help their members. With a dual-customer approach, the model is not just about retaining jobs in a community but also about maintaining the competitiveness of the companies that provide those jobs.
Launching the Center of Excellence for Skilled Trades & Industry
WRTP/BIG STEP launched the Center of Excellence for Skilled Trades & Industry in 2006 to develop and expand programs for several major projects in the region and to address the reemergence of the skills shortage in the industrial sector. WRTP | BIG STEP’s strategies effectively increase minority (60%) and female (14%) representation in the skilled trades.
The Center of Excellence for Skilled Trades & Industry is located at the heart of Milwaukee’s central city. More than just a physical location, the Center of Excellence serves as a clearinghouse for the assessment, preparation, and placement of job-ready candidates for careers in construction, manufacturing and other emerging sectors. Not only does the facility serve as a single location providing career pathways for job seekers, it also meets the needs of employers/unions looking to hire a diverse set of qualified candidates, as well as those of community partners seeking to place their clients in family-supporting jobs.
Why We Succeed
Supported by public, private, and philanthropic investments, WRTP | BIG STEP’s mission is to assist economically disadvantaged minorities, women, and youth (primarily from the central-city) develop the skills needed to participate meaningfully in the workforce and share in the area economy while ensuring that member companies have the skilled workers needed to prosper and grow in a competitive global economy.
As a workforce intermediary, WRTP | BIG STEP works with the public sector to develop resources, services, processes and programs for their member companies to expand employment and advancement opportunities by upgrading the skills of current employees; and recruiting, training and placing community residents in family-supporting jobs to meet their need for new workers.
The partnership between WRTP and BIG STEP combined the respective strengths of each organization. WRTP has specialized in the development of hands-on, group-size pre-employment training certificate programs, while BIG STEP focuses on individualized tutoring in academic skills for apprenticeship exams.
WRTP has rolled out a growing number of training certificate programs for trades such as carpentry, machining, welding, heavy highway construction, underground construction, and utility line construction, while BIG STEP has worked closely with the Joint Apprenticeship Committees in the area to prepare candidates for their respective exams.
WRTP has brought together an unprecedented array of public, private, and philanthropic partners to support the partnership with BIG STEP and development of the Center of Excellence for Skilled Trades & Industry.
Meet Our Senior Management
President & CEO
Mr. Kessenich is considered a national expert on workforce development policy and programs. He was recently elected to the Board of the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals. Click here to view his full biography
Director of Administration
Mr. Waltz has served in this capacity for 9 years, and under his tenure has helped to expand from one Milwaukee location, to five regional offices serving all of southern Wisconsin as well as providing technical assistance. Click here to view his full biography
Construction Program Manager
Laura Heller serves as WRTP | BIG STEP’s Construction Program Manager, where she oversees the day-to-day operations of the BIG STEP “apprenticeship readiness” program and other construction initiatives. Click here to view her full biography
Senior Programs & Partnership Coordinator
Mr. Anderson collaborates with business, labor, education, government and community organizations as well as industry coordinators, participants and community partners. Click here to view his full biography
Meet Our Staff
Roger Anclam – Manufacturing Field Representative
John Anderson – Senior Programs and Partnership Coordinator
Kyle Ashley – Youth Program Coordinator
Jerome Balsimo – Minnesota Program Coordinator
Joan Champion – Construction Program Assistant
Bill Clingan – South Central Wisconsin Program Coordinator
Otis Dunning – Manufacturing Program Coordinator
Carrie Geenen – Triada Coordinator
Demetrius Johnson – Program Assistant
Sherie Kubiak-Librizza – Accounting Coordinator
Jessica Liddell – Data Entry Specialist
Wanda Liddell – Executive Assistant
Stephanie Moreno – South Central Wisconsin Program Coordinator
Joe Nicosia – Manufacturing Industry Coordinator
Jessica Phillips – Operations Coordinator
Rick Schabowski – Instructor
Candace Seib – Financial Manager
Leslie Spencer-Herrera – Senior Planner and Development Coordinator
Janice Stricker – Operations Specialist
Maria Valencia – Data Entry Administrator
Amber Walczak – Construction Program Coordinator
Jacob Walton – Career Coach
Ronny Yang – Contracts & Compliance Coordinator
Meet Our Board of Directors
Mike Fabishak – Co-Chair
Chief Executive Officer
Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee
Anthony Rainey – Co-Chair
United Autoworkers, Region 4
Dawn Pratt – Secretary
Human Resources Manager
Payne & Dolan
Ross Winklbauer – Treasurer
United Steelworkers, District 2
Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council
IBEW, Local 2150
Director of External Affairs
Directing Business Representative
IAMAW, District 10
Hurt Electric, Inc.
Lou Ann Koval
Vice President of Human Resources and General Counsel
Hayes Performance Systems
Director of Labor and Employee Relations
Harley-Davidson Motor Company
Choice Construction Companies, Inc.
Laborers, Local 113
Executive Vice President
NECA – Milwaukee Chapter