Business Journal: Wisconsin jobs program awaits continued funding

Elvin Montgomery works on injection molding components at Pereles Bros. Inc.

Photo by Scott Paulus for The Business Journal.

Feb. 1, 2013

by Jeff Engel

Funding for a statewide transitional jobs program will sunset at the end of June, but local advocates and state officials would like to continue a version of the program, at least in Milwaukee County.

The Transitional Jobs Demonstration Project was created within the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) through the 2009-11 biennial budget and continued in the 2011-13 budget.

Initially funded through $34 million in federal stimulus dollars, the project is designed to help low-income individuals who are not eligible for W-2 — such as fathers without custody of their children or young adults leaving the foster care system — gain new skills and work experience.

It also has helped the chronically unemployed and those with criminal records earn jobs, local officials said.

The program funds participants’ pay, at minimum wage, for up to six months. It allows employers to test out a worker at virtually no risk or expense, while giving disconnected and marginalized workers a pathway to employment, said Conor Williams, secretary of the Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collaborative.

The program has served individuals in 38 Wisconsin counties, the lion’s share in the Milwaukee area. Of the 3,980 people statewide who participated in program orientation, 1,780 went on to earn permanent jobs, according to DCF data through December, provided by Williams.

The project is scheduled to end June 30. DCF has proposed a similar program serving solely Milwaukee County for the 2013-15 biennial budget that would apparently fall under the umbrella of Gov. Scott Walker’s Transform Milwaukee initiative.

The Department of Children and Families has requested $3.75 million in state funds for the Transform Milwaukee Jobs Initiative in fiscal 2014 and $5 million in fiscal 2015, according to its budget request submitted in September.

DCF and a Walker spokesman declined to comment, citing Walker’s budget that will be introduced in February.

Walker, in a recent interview, alluded to putting additional money into DCF for the transitional jobs fund as part of his Transform Milwaukee initiative, which was introduced in the heat of the recall election on April 30, 2012.

He wants to spur investment in the 30th Street industrial corridor on Milwaukee’s north side as well as in other targeted areas such as the Menomonee Valley, downtown, the Port of Milwaukee and the area around General Mitchell International Airport.

“One of the other things I want to address is, to get investment in the corridor, we’ve got to address work force issues,” Walker said in an interview with The Business Journal Jan. 29. “If we’ve got a good supply of workers or potential workers who are getting trained in the skills they need, that makes it more attractive not only for our investment but other investments as well.”

But Williams and other local advocates would like to see the transitional jobs program continue statewide and have met with Wisconsin legislators and Walker administration officials, Williams said.

“Any continuation of the program on any level is a real benefit for the people who need it,” said Joanne Coleman, director of human resources at Hentzen Coatings Inc., Milwaukee, which has hired employees through the program. “I would like to see it increase for both Milwaukee and would like to see it reinstated for the state if at all possible.”

Williams said it’s not just an urban issue.

“There’s hidden joblessness and economic distress in rural areas also,” said Williams, who also is an economic policy analyst with Milwaukee-based Community Advocates’ Public Policy Institute. “Many of these individuals, when given the opportunity to work, are very good stewards of that opportunity.”

Fourteen program participants have worked in temporary entry-level jobs at Pereles Bros. Inc., a Milwaukee injection molder, and the company has hired one permanently, said president Ted Muccio. He feels the program is deserving of state funds.

“When I look at the people that did come through, they were very thankful they had an opportunity to get a job and to learn something about manufacturing,” Muccio said. “It’s needed to give people a chance to find out what it takes.”

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