Industry Led & Worker  Centered 

At WRTP | BIG STEP, collaboration is a way of life. Developing strong community partnerships around workforce development enhances our capacity to build a pipeline of skilled, qualified, and diverse candidates for apprenticeships and careers in the construction and industrial sectors throughout our regional economy.

Our History

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. You can download the full report here or the summary here.

Community Workforce Partnership

The Community Workforce Partnership (CWP) is a formal network of community based organizations that provide specialized services often needed to address barriers to employment for Milwaukee residents, including lack of transportation, childcare, education, employability skills, re-entry, and income support. Through this partnership, WRTP | BIG STEP coordinates with others to engage and support participant recruitment, screening, and employment readiness education and training activities, as well as job placement and retention services. With a shared commitment to the mission of building a diverse, qualified workforce in the Milwaukee area, members of the CWP are able to avoid duplication of services and maximize community resources to meet the full workforce readiness needs of our participants.

What Are The Goals?

The partners that comprise the CWP are committed to working together to achieve the following goals:

Coordinate with industry and employers in the construction, manufacturing, and emerging sectors of the regional economy to identify current and future employment opportunities. Assess industry’s workforce needs and jointly develop appropriate recruitment, assessment, training, placement, and retention strategies. Recruit unemployed, underemployed, and low-income workers to increase the number of women and minorities who qualify for employment and apprenticeship opportunities. Provide support services, career counseling, education, training, and advancement opportunities for participants. Assist industry and employers with the development of effective retention and advancement strategies for the current and future workforce. Recruit and train current employees to build effective workplace mentoring and peer adviser networks. Develop and align federal, state, and local resources to support current and new initiatives. MC3-HSED Program with Literacy Services of Wisconsin: An Example of a Partnership

Collaboration Is A Way Of  Life

The Community Workforce Partnership (CWP) model that we have developed in Milwaukee illustrates our commitment to building innovative workforce development strategies that can be replicated in other communities around the nation. The CWP meets regularly to align programs and services, enhance our inter-agency referral process, and coordinate outreach and networking activities to strengthen recruitment efforts. Learn more about the CWP here.

Our industry and community partnerships enable us to plan and facilitate a variety of community engagement events to inform members of the community about training and employment opportunities available in the construction and industrial sectors. From career exploration events for high school students, to recruitment events for direct hire opportunities, WRTP | BIG STEP’s strong presence in the community helps connect industry with a more diverse, qualified workforce.

WRTP | BIG STEP Locations

In Southeast Wisconsin, South Central Wisconsin, and Minnesota, we have developed robust networks of community partners to connect under-employed and under-served communities to career pathways and family-sustaining jobs.


    The Center of Excellence for the Skilled Trades is located at 3841 W. Wisconsin Ave. To learn how we can help put you on a career pathway in construction, manufacturing, or emerging sectors, call (414) 342-9787.


    WRTP | BIG STEP is now serving Racine and Kenosha. Find out about available training opportunities by calling (262) 619-6560


    WRTP | BIG STEP now serves the Madison area and hosts Construction Readiness Orientations on the first and third Friday of every month. For more information call Bill Clingan at (608) 255-0155.