by Eryn Moris, photos by Vince Bushell
In today’s economic climate, a good job can be hard to come by. It can be even harder for those without the education or resources to land a job that provides a living wage. That’s where Work for Wisconsin, Inc., (WFW) comes in. The non-profit organization, which recently moved its offices to Riverwest from downtown, partners with businesses and educational institutions to help low-income people get and keep career-track, family-supporting jobs. 90 percent of those who benefit from WFW’s programs are inner city Milwaukee residents. The YMCA Community Development Corporation (CDC) — Riverwest also benefited from WFW’s move to the neighborhood, as WFW is sharing office space and rent costs with the CDC at 604 E. Center St. Executive director Dhul Waqar Yaqub is the sole employee at the new Riverwest office. Yaqub has worked for WFW since 1995, when he moved to Milwaukee from Flint, Michigan. His background is in proprietary education, working with for-profit trade schools. Founded in 1979, WFW’s current focus is the Skilled Industrial Trades Recruitment and Retention (SITRR) program. The SITRR program provides training in welding, machining, construction, and Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC/R) installation and repair to qualified low-income job-seeking adults. The program also helps trainees find jobs and stay employed, offering continued guidance and “developmental education” to enhance critical thinking skills and self-directed behavioral change. When Yaqub began his work in Milwaukee, he found that a number of Milwaukee area public high schools had existing technical and trade resources that were either not in use or underused. To make better use of those resources, he works with individual schools and principals to negotiate training sites such as the welding shops at North Division and Pulaski High Schools, and the HVAC/R shop at Custer High School. He also works to secure grants to improve those facilities, as well as interacting with potential SITRR program candidates. The majority of people involved in the SITRR program are males between the ages of 27 and 50. Many are high school dropouts who work low-income jobs. WFW’s intent is for the SITRR program to create workforce development via the avenue of skilled trades; helping people without college educations find careers, not just jobs. “College is great, but we need to structure programs to accommodate people who are not college preparatory students,” says Yaqub.
In 2002, a grant from the Helen Bader Foundation made it possible for a private consultant to conduct an evaluation of the SITRR program. The study contrasted the performance of those who had completed the program with a comparison group who had received similar technical training. The study found that the developmental education component of the program increased feelings of confidence, self-worth, and self-leadership among participants. The SITRR group made an average of $3 more per hour in wages than those in the comparison group. 93 percent of the SITRR group reported being employed during the eight months prior to the study, leading researchers to conclude that hands-on skilled training increases one’s ability to remain employed, and that skilled jobs lead to higher employee satisfaction. Perhaps the most startling findings of the study were the social impacts the program had on its members. SITRR clients who were non-custodial parents reported an increased level of child support payments and more monthly visits compared to two years prior. 64 percent of those who completed the program have custody of their children today compared to 45 percent two years ago. Clients also reported an increased level of compatibility with family members, an increased level of bill-paying consistency, and a 10 percent rise in car ownership. There are currently 11 people enrolled in the most recent SITRR welding program. All 11 participants were recruited within three weeks of WFW’s February 1 move from its office at 231 W. Wisconsin Ave. Yaqub attributes the rapid enrollment and more “real-world” racial balance of the program members directly to the new location of the office. There are two welding programs per year, and Yaqub will begin recruiting for the first of two HVAC/R programs this year in April. If you are interested in becoming a member of the SITRR program or would like more information about Work For Wisconsin, stop in at the office, located at 604 E. Center St., or call Dhul Waqar Yaqub at 414-263-1380 ext. 10. WFW is on the web at http://www.charityadvantage.com/wfw/. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 4 – April 2003
by Eryn Moris, photos by Vince Bushell