MILWAUKEE — Tiffany Tillis worked as a bartender and a server for 10 years. Then, the pandemic hit.
"Because of COVID, I was looking for something that was essential and I had just been laid off," Tillis said.
That's when she stumbled upon Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP)| BIG STEP, a workforce intermediary providing pathways to and through apprenticeships in construction and manufacturing.
"People are able to access not just our services, but get through those training programs quickly and enter in to their chosen career in as early as eight to 10 weeks," said WRTP | BIG STEP President and CEO Lindsay Blumer.
The organization led Tillis to a brick layers apprenticeship.
"Masonry was just something I took to right away," Tillis said.
Dwayne Sampson also go his start as a sheet metal worker through WRTP.
"It's a different challenge every day and I like that," Sampson said.
The organization is also working to address a lack of diversity in the industry.
"Traditionally, the construction trades of manufacturing have not been as diverse and WRTP | BIG STEP is looking to reverse that trend," Blumer said.
According to the Bureau of Labor, 11% of construction workers are women and less than 7% are African American.
"We haven't been as exposed to the industry as much as a Caucasian male or female would have been," Tillis said.
WRTP is hoping to provide some of that exposure. Of the 2,000 people the organization serves per year, 70% are people of color and 15% are women.
"It's a white male-dominated industry, but that's changing," Sampson said. "We need more workers, no matter what color. Stuff has to be built all the time."
Blumer said jobs in the industry can also help address disparities in generational wealth.
"These fields offer a wide array of benefits, including health insurance, paid time off, collective bargaining, and pensions and retirement accounts, which is one way that people can create generational wealth and they can send their kids to school, people can buy homes in our communities," Blumer said.