Milwaukee Job Corps Center addresses skills gap

The Milwaukee Job Corps Center celebrated its first class of graduates in January, just one year after the school began accepting students.

Students graduating from the Job Corps Center have attained a GED level education and have also been equipped with not only basic independent living and employability skills they have also received advanced career technical training in manufacturing, construction, HVAC or the health care industry.

“Our goal is to help place these students into the workforce,” said James Roberts, director at the Milwaukee Job Corps Center. “We want to be another link in the chain that can help local employers find the workers they need to help bridge the skills gap.”

Construction on the Milwaukee Job Corps Center, located at 6665 N. 60th St., Milwaukee, was completed in July of 2010. The center surpassed its student capacity of 300 in June of 2011, Roberts said.

“Our enrollment as of today is 315 students,” he said. “The facility is designed for 300 students, but we are able to serve more than that if we want.”

Approximately 68 percent of the center’s enrollment is from Wisconsin and 57 percent is from the Milwaukee area, Roberts said. Initially, there was a six-month waiting list for students to get into the center, but the waiting list now is two to three months.

The center is one of more than 100 job corps centers across the country established by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Students, ages 16 to 24, apply for admission into the Job Corps Center and many live on the campus year-round. The Milwaukee Job Corps Center has 270 of its 315 students living on campus in dormitories.

“It’s different for every student, but most students wake up for the 6 a.m. roll call and start classes at 8 a.m. and end at 3:40 p.m.,” Roberts said. “Depending on the student’s academic training, they split their time between academic and vocational skills classes.”

Students who already meet the academic requirements of the Job Corp Center are able to complete their Job Corp training faster than students who must split their time between academic classes and trade classes, Roberts said.

The Milwaukee Job Corps Center specializes in three vocational clusters: the manufacturing cluster, the construction and masonry program and the health trades.

According to Roberts, the manufacturing cluster consists of training as manufacturing technicians, trade welding and material handling and the construction program trains students in building principles and HVAC installation and training. The health trade cluster trains students in nursing assistant and medical office support skills.

“We have an industry council at the center that meets regularly with our business partners to critique the curriculum we are using to make sure it is designed to specifically meet the needs of our business partners,” Roberts said. “Our goal is to provide a continued supply of qualified, skilled workers for our community. If the community shows an increased need for a particular skill or trade we can adapt our curriculum to reflect that.”

GenMet Corp, Palermos Pizza, Genco Inc., Monarc Construction Inc., Grainger Inc., and Hickory Park Assisted Living facilities in Greenfield all have partnerships with the Milwaukee Job Corps Center, Roberts said.

“We have what we call a work-based learning curriculum,” Roberts said. “Our students all receive unpaid positions onsite at workplaces in the community that could potentially turn into full-time employment upon completion of the Job Corp Center program.”

The Job Corps Center program is a self-paced curriculum, but the average completion rate for students is 10 to 11 months, Roberts said.

As students graduate, new students are accepted. It’s always a revolving door so Roberts does not expect the center will need to expand in the near future.

“We do not have plans to increase in size as of right now,” he said. “What plays a bigger role is the adaptation and evaluation of the skills and trade offerings we provide for our students. We’re in a position where we can quickly and easily adapt or expand the vocational skills offerings we have to meet the needs of the community. We’re here to support the business community and their needs.”

Twenty-five students from the January graduating class have already been placed in full-time careers. The Career Transition Placement contractor and the center are working with the remaining students to assist them with being placed. Per the policy, a graduate has a nine-month window to place a student and an additional 12 months of follow-up services after placement.

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