Menomonee Valley Partners works to introduce young people to trades


One of Catrina Crane’s proudest moments at Menomonee Valley Partners came in 2019 when she helped bring a group of high school girls to J.M. Brennan’s offices in Milwaukee to learn about careers in the trades.

As director of workforce and business solutions at Menomonee Valley Partners, Crane’s main duties involve helping employers in the valley – which lies southwest of Milwaukee’s downtown – find the employees and talent they need for open positions. A side aspect of the job has her working with schools in Menomonee Valley and the rest of Milwaukee to interest students in construction, engineering, manufacturing and other careers that many might not consider otherwise.

Crane said the trip she helped arrange to bring students from St. Joan Antida High School to J.M. Brennan’s offices in the valley was memorable not only for the fact that everyone on it was a girl. It also stands out because of whom Brennan found to represent its various trades: All the presenters were also female.

Timya Jones, Wisconsin Lutheran High School, works on a computer

Timya Jones, Wisconsin Lutheran High School, works on a computer.
(Photos courtesy of Menomonee Valley Partners)

“It really was amazing for them to see people who looked like them in these jobs working, within this area,” she said. “For young women, that’s a really an empowering opportunity.”

Alaina Cartagena, a master plumber and plumbing-estimating manager who helped organize the trip from J.M. Brennan’s side, agreed that the event furnished some powerful examples for impressionable youth. She said she was particularly proud she was able to find female representatives of all three of Brennan’s three major trades: plumbing, steam fitting and sheet-metal work.

“These girls were really into it and had a lot of questions,” Cartagena said. “They were very appreciative of the opportunity and the people they got to meet. It was nice to explore these opportunities in an intimate environment instead of having a group of 40 kids sitting in front of a big screen.”

And the trip to J.M. Brennan – as memorable as it was – is only one example of the work Menomonee Valley Partners does every day to introduce young people to careers that promise to pay well without perhaps presenting the need to acquire the burdensome debts that often come with four-year college degrees. Crane oversees programs meant to pique students’ interest not only in the trades but also engineering, manufacturing and real estate. Most of these involve bringing young people in touch with companies in the valley – not just Brennan but also The Sigma Group, Zimmerman Architectural Studios and scores of others.

Crane said people too often are unaware of employment opportunities in “their own backyards.”

Students take part in a Rotational Engineering Internship

Students take part in a Rotational Engineering Internship. (Photos courtesy of Menomonee Valley Partners)

“I’ve had certain situations where kids will take these tours and go home and tell their parents and uncles and aunts,” Crane said. “And they’ll say, ‘I didn’t know about this. I do a job like this an hour and a half away. And this is three blocks from my house.’”

Menomonee Valley Partners also helps to arrange paid, six-week internships for high school students interested in engineering, architecture or construction. These typically have participants spend time at various employers in the valley, learning from mentors and trying their hands at different sorts of work.

Of course, some of these programs have had to be slowed down or modified because of COVID-19. But no matter the difficulties presented by a global pandemic, Crane is committed to helping young people find ways into careers that they might not have considered at first glance.

“I’ve heard so many students tell me, ‘I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. But now I’m seeing I can do this type of work, it has me intrigued.’”

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