RACINE — A multitude of jobs promise to come with Foxconn, and a new job-training program has arrived to help make filling those positions a little easier.
The Wisconsin Regional Training Partnerships/Big Step program officially opened Monday in Gateway Technical College’s Technical Building, 1001 S. Main St.
Big Step is a nonprofit group whose aim is to help underemployed, underserved and underrepresented people succeed in well-paying careers by responding to the industry’s workforce needs.
Thus far, the program has been successful in Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis and will now expand to Racine County as a result of increased demand for skilled workers for the Foxconn Technology Group development.
“We have a lot of passion inside our organizations for what we do,” said Mark Kessenich, CEO and president of WRTP/Big Step. “We know what we do, and we do it really well. We are proud of that. Our mission might be to build a qualified skilled workforce for today and tomorrow, but we are committed to the principle of partnership.”
The program is open to people who are typically underserved in the community, many of them living in poverty and earning less than $9,000 annually. The program develops partnerships with industry professionals to determine workforce needs.
“This is what drives us every day: to have a qualified workforce to take complete advantage of this opportunity, and Big Step is going to help us with that,” said Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave. “They are a big part of making sure that we have a diverse, qualified workforce, which is so critical to fill the thousands and thousands of jobs coming here in Racine County.”
During the ceremony, many community leaders told a roomful of attendees their hopes for the program.
“This is about our commitment to our partnerships; this is about our commitment to getting this done; this is about our commitment to building the strongest workforce in the region in this community,” said Kessenich.
Gateway President and CEO Bryan Albrecht commented on the number of people in the room and said it spoke volumes about Big Step and what the organization has done for other regions. Last year, the organization placed 900 workers into jobs in Milwaukee and Madison, most earning starting wages of $15 to $20 an hour.
“Mark, I think by today’s attendance, it should be a pretty powerful message that our community stands behind you, behind the work of Big Step and will provide gridiron support for the workforce — not only for Foxconn, but for all the needs of southeastern Wisconsin,” Albrecht said.
During the event, the Wisconsin Building Trades Council donated $100,000 to Big Step as a show of commitment and support to the training that the new program at Gateway will offer.
“This is a sign of our commitment to get this thing done and build it right,” said Terry McGowan, a member of the Trades Council and Wisconsin Technical College Board.
Many officials spoke about the impact Foxconn’s arrival will have on the greater Racine community and the opportunities it will provide in the area.
“We are a turning point in Racine County’s history,” said Delagrave. “We have been talking about this for months, and the opportunity that has come along is now becoming real. Our community is at the beginning of an exciting new era.”
Racine Mayor Cory Mason cited recent skepticism in a published report about the possibility of Racine County residents not being the ones to take advantage of Foxconn jobs. But he said Monday’s event proves people wrong.
The program’s goal is to help participants gain skills and provide them with a pathway to careers with family-sustaining wages.
“This is about making sure that our generation will hand on to the next generation the opportunity to achieve the American Dream right here in Racine, Wisconsin,” Mason said.
“This is what drives us everyday — to have a qualified workforce to take complete advantage of this opportunity, and Big Step is going to help us with that.” Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave