WRTP partnership works to increase diversity in construction trades

MILWAUKEE — Tiffany Tillis worked as a bartender and server for 10 years. Then the pandemic hit.

“Because of COVID, I was looking for something essential and had just been laid off,” Tillis said.

That’s when she came across Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) | BIG STEP, a workforce intermediary offering pathways to and through apprenticeships in construction and manufacturing.

“People can not only access our services, but also complete these training programs quickly and enter the career of their choice as early as eight to ten weeks,” said WRTP | Lindsay Blumer, President and CEO of BIG STEP.

The organization led Tillis to an apprenticeship as a bricklayer.

“Masonry was just something I took to right away,” Tillis said.

Dwayne Sampson also got his start as a sheet metal worker via WRTP.

“It’s a different challenge every day and I like that,” Sampson said.

The organization is also working to address the lack of diversity in the industry.

“Traditionally, manufacturing construction trades have not been as diverse and WRTP | BIG STEP seeks to reverse that trend,” Blumer said.

According to the Bureau of Labor, 11% of construction workers are women and less than 7% are African American.

“We weren’t as exposed to the industry as a white male or female would have been,” Tillis said.

The WRTP hopes to provide some of this exposure. Of the 2,000 people the organization serves each year, 70% are people of color and 15% are women.

“It’s a white male-dominated industry, but that’s changing,” Sampson said. “We need more workers, regardless of color. Things need to be built all the time.”

Blumer said jobs in the industry can also help reduce disparities in generational wealth.

“These areas offer a wide range of benefits, including health insurance, paid vacations, collective bargaining, pensions and retirement accounts, which is a way for people to build generational wealth and send their kids to school, people can buy homes in our communities,” Blumer said.

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