As demand for workers in every industry grows, the nonprofit Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program (WRTP BIG STEP) is expanding its programs.

The organization assists people in skill-building for jobs in trades and manufacturing. It operates mainly in southeast Wisconsin.

WRTP BIG STEP first began in the 1990s and has continued to serve workers seeking jobs with family-supporting wages in manufacturing, construction, transportation and logistics. Not only that, but the nonprofit places an emphasis on expanding access to manufacturing jobs for underserved populations, including women and people of color.

“Our talent pipeline is not going to look the same as it ever was. It is changing, it is dynamic, and it will continue to change as demographics change within the state of Wisconsin,” said Lindsay Blumer, president and CEO of WRTP BIG STEP. “Women make up half the workforce and yet are not half the workers represented in certain sectors as well as people of color.”

As a part of their effort to reach those populations, WRTP BIG STEP offers ongoing “Women in the Trades” education days and works with girls as young as second grade to expose them to opportunities in construction and other trades.

Other educational offerings include programs in many Milwaukee-, Madison- and Racine-area high schools.

Pre-apprenticeship programs allow high school juniors and seniors to learn practical skills and begin their technical education while in school. This enables them to enter an apprenticeship as soon as they earn their high school diploma.

“Apprenticeship is one of the most equitable ways to access a career and has equitable wages no matter who you are,” said Blumer. “It also offers safe, on-the-job training and continual training.”

In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic created a shift to more hybrid training options, with a mix of virtual and hands-on trainings, plus trainings on nights and weekends to make classes more accessible.

The pandemic has also prompted employers to become more engaged in the training process. Companies have started to work with WRTP BIG STEP to design customized training opportunities and on-site career fairs, certification classes and trainings.