YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
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May 2017

By Jamaal Smith, Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

The Jobs Gap: Story Behind Vagueness

Update on YWCA Community Readiness Assessment

In our 2016 report, “Bridging Employer Readiness and Employee Willingness”, we conducted multiple interviews of job providers and job seekers to discuss the struggles of the “jobs gap” in Milwaukee. While conducting the Community Readiness Assessment (CRA) within five different sectors (manufacturing, construction, health care, financial services, hospitality), it was determined that employers were at a level of “Vague Awareness”. In essence, companies are aware of efforts to address workers with limited soft skills and/or irregular work histories, but lack the motivation to act or have little to no confidence in change occurring. However, there is one critical question necessary for the conversation: why do companies feel change cannot happen? Is there another component beyond irregular work histories and limited soft skills that’s being ignored?

The city of Milwaukee is comprised mostly of people labeled as minorities, with Blacks leading at nearly 40% of the population. According to Marc Levine’s report, “Race and Inequality in Milwaukee”, Milwaukee is among the top five cities in poverty (2nd highest) as well as in the bottom five cities in male (5th lowest) and female (4th lowest) employment rates for Black people in the nation. In addition, Milwaukee is the most segregated metropolitan city in America, leading to limited opportunities for some in comparison to others. We have met and discussed with many job seekers in underserved communities whose common stance is, “If I can just find a good job with living wages and benefits to take care of my family, that would be great!” I would imagine that seeing these numbers and actually hearing these testimonies would be enough motivation for companies to act as this becomes a negative reflection on Milwaukee as a whole. Yet, community outreach for front line job recruitment opportunities has been at a minimum. Although a concentrated effort to develop job seekers to be prepared for the workforce is essential, the impact of potential explicit hiring discrimination based on implicit biases presents another challenge. How can Milwaukee be potentially revitalized if the necessary resources vital to its job seekers are being denied to them?

As next steps, the YWCA will be creating sector-based cohort groups within the aforementioned five areas geared towards partnerships and strategic planning that support quality job opportunities within Milwaukee’s most marginalized communities. That starts with building a strong, consistent, and committed presence in those communities that otherwise would not have access to job resources and/or opportunities. Given our focus to bring peace, justice, and dignity for all, what better place to ensure that happens than in employment. We must change the narrative that suggests people, mostly of color, in under served communities are not actively seeking employment and so choose to live in challenging conditions.