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Former Lt. Gov. Talks to The Build Out About New Role as Jobs Ambassador

November 14th, 2019 | Publish by NEW Construction Alliance

The Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) of Wisconsin announced this past Tuesday that Wisconsin’s former lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, has partnered with them as their “Jobs Ambassador.” The announcement comes in tandem with the launch of the 5th Annual National Apprenticeship Week.

“As lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch was a very strong advocate for promoting careers in the skilled trades. We are extremely pleased and fortunate that she will be continuing these efforts for ABC members and the entire construction industry,” stated John Mielke, ABC of Wisconsin president in a release on the new role.

In an interview exclusive to The Build Out, Kleefisch spoke about how her experience as lieutenant governor prepared her for this new effort: “We started our administration by climbing out of a deep hole left by the recession. There were so many people who wanted jobs, and not enough jobs for the people who wanted to be in the economy. We did some really terrific business development and recruitment, and we also made some changes to our tax codes, and the economic environment began to change. Businesses began to grow and workers began to get hired. In fact, it got to the point where our challenge began to reverse itself. All of sudden, about midway through that eight years, there were so many jobs being created and not enough workers with the right skills in order to take them.”

This led to the Walker-Kleefisch administration encouraging many seeking employment to consider the construction trades. It also meant a strong push in the education system—K-12 and technical colleges—to not only encourage the trades, but provide the training needed to secure these jobs.

“The average Wisconsin student is emerging from a four-year university with a debt load of about $30,000,”Kleefisch shared when explaining that following a career in the construction trades is almost completely upside.“In many cases, when folks choose an apprenticeship or a technical college or a career in the construction trades, you can emerge from your training, while you earn and learn at the same time, pretty much debt-free because you're paying only a few thousand dollars, versus the tens of thousands of dollars for a four-year college degree.That's a very big difference. Also, you have your middle-of-the-road construction trades starting salary at $77,000 a year. That's pretty darn impressive.”

The newly minted jobs ambassador is aware that one of the biggest roadblocks to recruiting more youth into apprenticeships and the construction trades are parents’ perceptions or, more accurately, misperceptions of this career track.

“You've got to reimagine what the American dream—what the Wisconsin dream—looks like for parents' wishes for his or her child. Do you wish for your child financial freedom? Because this is the way. Do you wish for your child’s skills that are valued and will never be out sourced? Literally a career and not a job? Well, this is the way,” Kleefisch offered.

And she believes passionately that the facts tell the tale parents will want to hear. Casting aside axioms about the construction trades being too “dirty” of a job or lacking upward mobility, Kleefisch said, “This is an industry where we're truly talking about careers. Once you have these skills, no one can ever take them away from you. In fact, they are very portable. So, if you want to start out working for someone else, and eventually make your way up the food chain or start your own company, that's, in all likelihood, something that can happen with a fair amount of ease in the construction trades. You can't necessarily say [that] if you're a coder, or if you work in a number of other industries. And so, I think that this skill set is not only valuable because these jobs will never go away. But they're also valuable because of the lifestyle it brings.”

Job security is often a key factor when considering any career, and Kleefisch argues that the construction trades offer ironclad security: “These jobs are not going to be outsourced to India or China or Mexico.

“When you are entering the workforce at $77,000 a year, and your income projection, because you've got a secure job that is not going to be outsourced to a different country, is even more than that, and you have the potential to one day be a manager or own your own business—your opportunities are limitless,” Kleefisch observed.

This week the nation observed Veteran’s Day to honor our men and women who have served our country. Kleefisch took time in our interview to give a shout-out to our vets and the important role they play in the skilled trades: “There is no group with better built-in soft skills than people who are veterans of our armed forces. People who know how to show up on time every time, know how to work under pressure and under deadline, understand followership and understand leadership.”

Her role as jobs ambassador is part of a larger program by ABC of Wisconsin called the Building Wisconsin Jobs project (see video below). For now, Kleefisch said she’ll be “heralding Apprenticeship Week because we know that the way to a good career that will allow you to live your American dream, live your Wisconsin dream, is through an apprenticeship and through careers like construction trades. And we need to recognize Apprenticeship Week as an awesome opportunity to reach out to young people and their parents, and also folks who may be looking for their next career in Wisconsin's economy, and make sure that they understand what a great opportunity these careers are.”

But she teased that,“We're working on a number of things underneath that project umbrella, things that we'll be excited to roll out in the near future.”

So stay tuned—we’ll bring you the latest in upcoming issues of The Build Out!



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