Workforce Development program addresses needs of disengaged young people
As president of the Waukesha Ozaukee Washington Workforce Development Board, Francisco Sanchez doesn’t look at the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Program as a second chance for disconnected youths.
Sanchez characterizes the program, which started in the tri-county area July 1, as a first chance for young people who might not see themselves having much of a chance to make something of their lives.
The focus of the new program is to give young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who have not completed high school badly needed direction in planning for their future.
“This is not an entitlement program. We expect them to put in the effort needed to succeed,” Sanchez said last week from the Workforce Development Center offices on the campus of Milwaukee Area Technical College in Mequon.
“It is free to enroll in the program, but it is not a free ride. They are going to be held accountable.”
Sanchez acknowledged that many see the problem of unemployed and disconnected youths as an urban concern, but insisted young people are just as capable of squandering their opportunities in the affluent suburbs as they are in the Inner City.
“Ozaukee County is not insulated from these kinds of concerns,” Sanchez said.
The program is the outgrowth of federal legislation approved last year in a rare showing of bipartisanship. It is a dramatic reworking of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was made law in 1965 as part of the so-called “War on Poverty.”
The legislation eliminated 15 existing but overlapping programs, creating what proponents characterized as a “streamlined workforce development system.”
The WIOA Youth Program is an example of the flexibility local workforce development boards were given to address market-specific needs.
At the time the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was passed, federal labor projections indicated that by 2020 there would be an 11 million person gap in trained labor in the American workforce.
Today, in contrast, there are an estimated 5.6 million young people who were not in school or the workforce.
According to federal sources, 52% of adults lack the literacy skills necessary to identify, interpret or evaluate information, a basic ability for success in advance education and work.
The Youth Program is the local attempt to tap the underemployed youth sector to help fill some of those workplace needs.
There is adequate funding in the program to train 500 people in the tri-county area.
“There are no quotas for where participants come from, and obviously there are more people in Waukesha than in Ozaukee County, but young people from all three of our counties will receive services,” Sanchez said.
While the Workforce Development Center has a long history of providing career guidance, the WIOA Youth Program is the first attempt at a coordinated effort to reach struggling youths.
Participants who enroll in the program can take advantage of an array of career-enhancing services.
They can range from support in completing a high school GED; post-secondary education and training; paid and unpaid work experiences; leadership development; occupational skills training; and financial literacy education.
If needed, arrangements can be made for child care while the program participants receive their training.
“We will be working with the young people on the basics of becoming a good employee, and that includes social skills and such things as showing up for work on time and having the right attitude,” Sanchez said.
“Information is the key to every success. We intend to provide as much information as we can so they can become productive members of the workforce.”
Sanchez said case managers in the program will match participant placements with their own strengths and interests.
“There is a big push in areas like this to be college-ready, but college is not for everyone.
With program training, a mechanic can make as much or more than a college graduate and without the debt that comes with a four-year college degree,” he said.
Close to 1,000 employers have agreed to support the program, which could include paid training.
For more information about the WIOA Youth Program, contact Cindy Hinckley at (262) 335-5309 or email
Image information: WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT CENTER Operations Manager Laura Catherman (left) and Francisco Sanchez, president of the Waukesha Ozaukee Washington Workforce Development Board, discussed the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Program last week on the campus of Milwaukee Area Technical College in Mequon. Photo by Mark Jaeger