Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Commercial Construction / New WRTP/Big Step leader meeting workforce development challenges during pandemic

New WRTP/Big Step leader meeting workforce development challenges during pandemic

Lindsay Blumer

Lindsay Blumer

Industry recruitment has always been a big task in the Milwaukee area. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made it more so.

Lindsay Blumer, who took over last month as president and chief executive of the workforce-development group WRTP/Big Step, is well aware of the magnitude of the job before her. She brings to it both awareness of how much she has much to learn — she has scarcely been at WRTP/Big Step for two weeks — and a willingness to experiment. Like people in almost all walks of life these days, Blumer has found herself having to rethink how her work can best be conducted amid a global pandemic.

“We are not only intent on surviving this pandemic,” Blumer said, “we also have some new economic trends. We have a political transition. It’s a time we can use to take the stock of our mission and look at: How can we provide the best services? Let’s be clear about what about we are doing and let that be our North Star.”

Blumer, a graduate of UW-Madison, comes to her position after time working with various nonprofit organizations on everything from career readiness to social justice and combatting domestic assault and abuse. In her most recent job, she helped prepare Marquette University students for internships and careers. The work not only gave her experiences that will come in handy at WRTP/Big Step but allowed her to be in the Milwaukee area, where she grew up.

At WRTP/Big Step she’s succeeding Mark Kessenich, who left last year to become chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee. Blumer recently sat down with The Daily Reporter to discuss her plans for the organization she now leads and the special difficulties that come with trying to recruit workers during a pandemic. (This article has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

The Daily Reporter: What appealed to you about WRTP/Big Step?

Blumer: I think they are very innovative. And I think that, especially when we come into a post-COVID world, this organization will be perfectly positioned to provide the expertise we’ve gained in terms of working with the disenfranchised and creating many different pathways to family sustaining careers.

TDR: What are your plans for the organization?

Blumer: The staff here has such great relationships with clients and workers. Then when I think of our mission, we want to make sure everyone can have access to family sustaining careers. So it’s matter of asking: How do we do that?

We also want to make sure we aren’t being duplicate of what others are doing; we are helping job-ready individuals enter this new world. Industry is being innovative. So know we have to ask: What does 2021 hold for us? Industry holds diversity and inclusion to be priorities. So how can we play a role in that as well? I think I want to live in a community where everyone has access industry.

TDR: What obstacles — not necessarily related to COVID-19 — still stand in the way of workforce development?

Blumer: The infrastructure around workforce development has always been strong. But I think the challenge we have is a very ingrained belief that if we work hard and we do the proper training and get a job, that everything is going to be great. But for a particular population, that’s not the way the system always works. Instead of seeing that as a bad thing, and saying, ‘You are not following the right path,’ we are trying to talk about pathways. That’s why we always pluralize pathways here at WRTP. So it’s clear that there is on more way to engage people. The biggest challenge is finding how we can take this traditional idea and make it more agile, so more people can arrive at their career destinations.

TDR: How is the pandemic making all this harder?

Blumer: The challenges with COVID are two-fold. Being an organization that is high touch, we are working with workers and with industry and we are trying to provide the best opportunities and services possible in a socially distanced way. So we’ve tried to move a lot of our classes and training online. We are starting to do hybrids, as well, because you’ve got to get your hands on tools. But we’ve found we can do that in a very safe way and we’ve found we can mitigate the dangers of transmission by socially distancing and sanitizing everything that is touched, and I think we’ve done that very effectively.

The second part is that statistics show that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted different populations. Those are some of the long-term impacts that at WRTP we are going to have to acknowledge and industry is going to have to think about. I think that’s where we’ve already started a lot of those conversations. People perhaps in different socioeconomic statuses are being affected differently.

So when we are thinking of creating these career pathways, we need to be thinking of how can these pathways be sufficiently flexible to help people who are being disproportionately impacted meet their needs.

About Dan Shaw, [email protected]

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 414-225-1807.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *