The Milwaukee Model: An Intersection of Great Lakes Restoration and Workforce Development

By Chris Litzau

I attended several sessions at the Great Lakes Areas of Concern Conference in Milwaukee this year that generated spirited discussions about growing jobs with Great Lakes clean up and restoration funds.

For example, in Milwaukee, an environmental engineering firm partnered with local brownfield remediation job training and certification programs for disadvantaged young adults, to place training participants at the Kinnickinnic (KK) River sediment dredging project. I was impressed with the commitment made by the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and its contractor to permit trained and certified trainees to shadow and assist with the monitoring and oversight of the dredging project. The model was replicated at a subsequent PCB dredging project in Milwaukee’s Area of Concern, and led to the involvement and eventual hiring of dozens of training participants at water quality improvement, conservation and remediation projects throughout the region.

During the dredging projects, training participants interned at the site with GLNPO’s contractor. All participants completed the EPA’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) Program, which was funded with an EPA grant. By attending the training program, participants acquired the necessary Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 40-hour Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certification. The certification was a prerequisite for the trainees to be able to participate in the project.

It’s clear to me that the successes of the young adults – and the efforts of EPA and contractor staff – established a model for other clean up and restoration projects. Several workforce development programs such as the program that supported the Milwaukee Model are located within AOCs or near rivers, lakes, reservoirs and other bodies of water. I believe that these programs also offer a pipeline of young adults who can assist and learn at water quality treatment, improvement and remediation projects during future grants.

I think that the Milwaukee dredging project clearly demonstrates that consultants and contractors are able to cultivate knowledge and technical skills among a population of disadvantaged young adults, and – through the process – grow the future workforce. The KK River project in Milwaukee is proof that the Great Lakes Legacy Act combined with the EWDJT Program can stimulate the economy with a ripple effect that makes a lasting impact on the physical landscape and social fabric of the community.

About the author: Chris Litzau served as the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Community Service Corps for 12 years before recently leaving the organization to grow the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps (Great Lakes CCC) into a regional job training and education program.  The mission of the Great Lakes CCC is to leverage resources among Great Lakes communities to train and educate disadvantaged populations for credentials that close the skills gap, improve water quality, build habitat, grow the legacy of the original Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and make the region more competitive in the global economy.  In 1998, Mr. Litzau administered one of the first 10 grants awarded by the EPA through its nascent Brownfield Job Training Program.