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Employ Milwaukee’s Buford departs amid growing worker demand

Earl Buford

Earl Buford

The president and CEO of Employ Milwaukee, the largest workforce board in the state, is stepping down for a new job.

Earl Buford is departing to take a position on a workforce board in Pittsburgh, leaving a vacancy at an agency that is at the forefront of the battle against Wisconsin’s labor shortage in construction and other industries. The change also comes as Employ Milwaukee and its counterparts are scrambling to find workers for the $10 billion manufacturing campus Foxconn Technology Group is building in Racine County. That project is, by itself, expected to require the labor of as many as 10,000 construction workers.

After announcing his departure on Monday, Buford came in for praise from his fellow economic-development officials. Mark Kessenich, who succeeded Buford in 2014 as president and CEO of WRTP/Big Step, a nonprofit skilled-trades training program, said Buford set an example by using innovative ways to cultivate the Milwaukee area’s labor market.

Whoever succeeds Buford will enter the job during a critical time. The next leader of the group will need not only love for Milwaukee but also an understanding of how to target the workforce needs of specific industries and knowledge of how national economic trends affect local companies large and small, Kessenich said.

“The nature of Foxconn is going to impact the entire regional labor market,” Kessenich said. “At its best, the workforce board will have an incredibly strategic role. Being a regional economy, this board has still a unique role in that.”

Employ Milwaukee has been charged with finding workers for both the new Milwaukee Bucks arena and the 44-story Couture high-rise, which is on pace to break ground this fall. The group has also been working with its counterparts in Racine and Kenosha to recruit the construction workers needed by Foxconn.

During Buford’s tenure, Employ Milwaukee worked with area school districts to encourage high school students to consider pursuing careers in the trades.

The agency helps 14,000 people a year on average, more than 70 percent of whom are black.

Buford is leaving for a job as CEO of Partner4Work, a workforce-development board in Pittsburgh. He will assume the role on June 4.

Beyond leading WRTP/Big Step in Milwaukee, Buford has served on several national workforce boards, including Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on effective workforce strategies. Attempts to reach Buford and officials at Employ Milwaukee for comment were not immediately successful Monday.

“With an impressive and substantial track record of innovation and success in his home state of Wisconsin, we are pleased to bring Earl Buford to Pittsburgh to continue Partner4Work’s strong momentum to drive workforce development activities, a key component of the region’s overall economic vitality,” said Mark Latterner, Partner4Work board chair, said in a news release. “With Earl at the helm, we will continue to build successful partnerships, innovate new ideas, pilot strategic solutions, and ensure the community and the workforce continues to thrive.”’

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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