Job programs helping young adults break down workforce barriers

La Crosse County has the second-lowest unemployment rate in Wisconsin at 3.1 percent.

Although that is good for employees, it creates challenges for businesses looking to grow their workforce.

But one organization may have a solution for those businesses and those still looking for work.

Wisconsin Promise aims to help people between the ages of 16 and 21 who are facing certain barriers find employment.

The organization hopes to match up these young people with businesses in need of employees in what it believes is a win-win situation.

Vicki Markussen of the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce said 16-to-21-year-olds with barriers keeping them from becoming employed are one of the most under-employed groups of people in today’s workforce.

But next week the chamber is hosting a Wisconsin Promise community forum to hopefully change that locally.

“What it is is pulling together employers, pulling together families, pulling together different service providers and saying, ‘How do we take what is the most underutilized demographic, and how do we put them into the workforce?'” Markussen said.

Markussen said barriers could mean a disability, no work experience or someone recently out of rehab. A business may not take a chance on these individuals because of those barriers, but are still in need of employees. She hopes those businesses will take the advice of other employers at the forum sharing their success stories with these young people.

“For a lot of businesses, that’s really the piece that they want to hear. They want to hear and learn from the businesses that have already plowed that road for them,” Markussen said.

The Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse is trying its own approach to prevent similar problems at an earlier age through a second effort called the Career Launch program, which helps kids gain the confidence to believe in themselves.

“Where that barrier comes into play the most is this feeling of hopelessness at times or, ‘I can’t. I can’t ever get a good education, I can’t ever get a good job,’ and we’ve got to change that mentality (to) where kids feel confident that no matter what circumstances they come from, they still can get a good education, they still have the opportunity to get a great career in whatever their passion might be,” Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club Mike Desmond said.

Markussen said helping these young people with barriers find work could mean the difference between a 3 percent unemployment rate and a 100 percent employment rate.

“It’s really about placing the right people in the right positions and making sure they’re feeling supported so that it can be successful,” Markussen said.

Markussen said there are more than 6,0000 businesses in La Crosse County that can gain employees from this program.

Everyone is welcome to attend the forum next week. It takes place on Tuesday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce building.