Workforce development creates gateway to opportunity

sgrayScott Gray became president and CEO of the Minneapolis Urban League (MUL) in July 2009.

The next year, Gray along with three coworkers; Kennedy Barber, David Johnson and Shawn Lewis, were instrumental in creating the Gateway to Opportunity initiative.

“You have to create an integrated model to make sure folks are working,” said Gray.

Gateway to Opportunity has four existing components; health and wellness; college readiness and career development, workforce solutions and wealth accumulation.

Two of Gateway’s initiatives include Big Step and RENEW.

Launched two years ago and modeled after the Milwaukee Urban League program, Big Step is a partnership with labor unions Local 132 of St Paul and Local 563 of Minneapolis. After completion, individuals obtains a union card, which is valuable in seeking skilled labor employment.

“When we think construction, we think laborers and carpenters, especially in the African-American community,” said Barber construction program manager for MUL.

mul workforce david e. johnsonBarber oversees the Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP), which helps minorities and women receive apprenticeship opportunities.

LEAP has a 52-year history with the Minneapolis Building Trades, which consists of laborers, carpenters and other construction work components.

According to Barber, out of 40 LEAP program graduates, 36 have gotten jobs with major construction companies earning a starting salary of at least $24 an hour.

“But this is hard work and it’s not for everybody,” said Barber.

RENEW is another Gateway Opportunity program, training 30 participants a year in three emerging areas; green jobs, advanced manufacturing and building systems and construction.

“The RENEW program is a partnership through Minneapolis and St. Paul, which provide training upfront,” said Gray.

Participants work on projects along Highway 169, Interstate 694, and the light rail.

“MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) has been a real supporter of the program and is also a partner,” said Gray.

David Johnson runs the MUL Adult Placement program.

mul workforce kennedy barberThe Adult Placement initiative started in May of 2012 placing 28 participants in the past fiscal year. The MUL fiscal years began in May.

‘Regardless of background, we assist with resume coaching, cover letter instructing and job searches,” said Johnson.

Johnson says two main resources participants look for are housing and jobs.

“It doesn’t matter which one is first, they run parallel with each other,” said Johnson.

Gray said the recession hit many in the African American community hard. Ten to 15 years ago, people could come to the MUL and receive work.

“Those days are a little bit past us so we need a more customized strategy,” said Gray.

shawn lewis credit suluki fardanEven people with college degrees are having a challenging time seeking employment and housing.

“Imagine how tough it is for those with no schooling? We are trying to answer the call in this community,” Johnson said.

Orientation for Adult Placement is held each Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. A soft skill training session is provided.

“We are just scratching the surface right now. We want to advocate for more resources for the community. We want to prove people in this community want to work; they want a career, build wealth and make sure their neighborhood is a place they can live, work and enjoy. We just want to be the center of that at the Urban League,” said Gray.

For more information contact the Minneapolis Urban League at (612) 302-3100.

February 26, 2013
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