Connecting Minority Workers With Foxconn Jobs: The Key May Be Community Organizations

May 15, 2018

Foxconn is promising thousands of jobs in construction, and once the massive factory in Mount Pleasant is complete, in information technology and manufacturing.

Others are wondering whether people who need the jobs most will get them, like those on Milwaukee's north and south sides.

Tech colleges and workforce development organizations point to community organizations as the grassroots touchpoint to reach minority workers.

On a recent day, around a half dozen people are filling out forms at a job seekers’ workshop at the Milwaukee Urban League. It’s not a Foxconn-specific orientation, but there are people there seeking work in construction.

Lamar Donahue is one of them. He’s 22, lives at 11th and Burleigh, and has Job Corps training in concrete finishing and masonry work. Donahue is here for one reason: a full-time job. "To help my family survive," he says, "the ones that raised me. I want to give back.”

He says he has only heard a little bit about employment related to Foxconn. Donahue points out that he’d have some issues getting to Racine because he currently doesn’t have a car. However, he hopes to earn enough with his first full-time job to buy one.

These types of barriers aren’t new, says Brandy Carson. She's an employment specialist at the Milwaukee Urban League.

There’s currently no direct bus line that connects Milwaukee County with Racine County, Carson explains.

READ: Proposed Bus Service Would Get Milwaukee & Racine Workers to Foxconn Jobs

She says some of her clients also face barriers like lack of education, a criminal background or child care issues. "We do have clients that are addressing those barriers to make themselves more marketable and more employable," Carson adds..

On the education side of the puzzle, MATC's Director of Marketing and Communications, Tony Taglavia, says the tech school is trying to help companies like Foxconn. “We have an opportunity to reach people who are looking for work period and for the opportunity to reach people who are looking to skill themselves up,” he says.

And MATC leaders want people of color on Milwaukee’s north and south sides, where both crime and unemployment rates are high, to have access to those jobs.

Dorothy Walker, dean of MATC's School of Technology and Applied Sciences, says to change high crime and unemployment rates: “[You provide] opportunity for education, access to training so that people can be able to get jobs that change the economic conditions in our community.”

She believes the tech school could be a matchmaker, connecting employers like Foxconn with potential employees through community organizations like the Milwaukee Urban League and Social Development Commission.

“Those organizations have deep roots into the community, so the more we build relationships with those kind of organizations, that’s a good way of being able to touch the inner city of Milwaukee,” she says.

As for Milwaukeeans of color developing construction skills, Mark Kessenich, president and CEO of Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership says his local workers development organization is ramping up programs in Milwaukee by holding outreach events with the Department of Workforce Development.

And, he says that they’re also meeting monthly with African-American community organizations to get the word out. "Our goal as a collaborative is to really eliminate unemployment as we know it and to change the landscape of how Milwaukee looks in terms of racial equity, in terms of employment and wealth,” Kessenich says.

In the MATC cafeteria, union sheet metal worker Vontravian Harris is grabbing a bite. He’s on a break from his work on the Bucks Arena and says he might end up working construction at Foxconn.

Harris is hopeful others follow his lead. “My thing is to get the word out to African-Americans because it’s a good job to have. Good benefits. It’s a familyhood. You’ll always have a job. The union will keep you working.”