The Helen Bader Foundation (HBF), a leading philanthropic Milwaukee-based foundation, announced today its Board of Directors has approved $855,000 in funding for 20 Milwaukee workforce development organizations. Of these 20 grants, 15 specifically address populations in Milwaukee facing unique employment barriers that are often overlooked, such as adults with disabilities, those with vision impairments, and low-income minorities.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) recently reported the metro Milwaukee area unemployment rate stood at 6.9 percent for September 2012, however, some segments of the local population have unemployment rates more than four times this rate.
According to Eric Grosso, Senior Economist at the DWD, the most recent unemployment statistics from the 2011 American Community Survey estimate that, in metro-Milwaukee, unemployment among the labor pool of adults with disabilities is 25.8%, for those with vision impairments is 22.4%, and among African American males is 29.4%.
HBF recognizes that while there are current unemployment initiatives and services that assist the general population, there are segments of the population that need a different approach in order to bridge the unemployment gap. This is one of the primary reasons HBF is concentrating its current workforce development efforts on serving populations within Milwaukee that face unique barriers to employment.
“We all know that people are unemployed, but the system treats unemployment as a one-size-fits-all situation and that’s not the reality of it,” said Jerry Roberts, program officer and manager of HBF’s efforts to address workforce development. “We need to address the many, many barriers to employment in our community in order to fully address the unemployment situation as a whole.”
The United Cerebral Palsy of Southeastern Wisconsin (UCP) is just one of the 15 organizations HBF has chosen to fund for its direct services to the unemployed. With nearly a quarter of Milwaukee’s disabled adults unable to find work, UCP plans to expand its existing program that targets six of the city’s poorest zip codes, to help job-seekers who have a range of disabilities find and maintain employment. As sole supporter of this expansion, HBF is taking on a unique opportunity to reach out to Milwaukee’s disabled population and focus on identifying those individuals who want to work, but for whom the traditional work search channels are not effective.
Similar to UCP, Wiscraft, Inc. provides workforce development programming for a population with a major barrier, Milwaukee County’s blind and visually impaired adults. Wiscraft’s “Beyond Vision” program provides skills training and personal development through its light manufacturing, machine shop, and other operations. The new HBF grant will enhance Beyond Vision’s approach to providing marketable, transferrable skills to these adults by expanding its call center and customer service operations, which provide contract services for a number of local corporations.
While many of the 15 programs that HBF is funding address specific populations that may have some job experience, Operation DREAM’s “Learning to DREAM” program attempts to reach Milwaukee’s African American males, ages 11-17, during the crucial stages of preparing and entering the workforce. This program provides education, mentoring, job training, placement and college visits. It also offers a safe haven for many of the youth and implements positive motivation through their development of skills and exposure to employment.
“It’s important that we reach youth well before they enter the workforce,” said Roberts. “The basic skills and positive attitudes they develop will not just prepare them for their first real job, but also help them build a solid career path.”