Assistance offered for laid-off Waukesha County workers
Area employer reaches out to those losing jobs

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

Sept. 11, 2015

WAUKESHA - Earlier this month almost 130 workers in Waukesha County learned they would be losing their jobs at GE Power & Water Distributed Power and Eaton Corporation- but also that the Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Workforce Development Board would help them with the difficult transition.

Elsa Travieso, employer relations manager for the WOW Workforce Development Board, said the Pewaukee Center staff met with GE employees at the St. Paul Avenue facility last Friday, the day of the layoffs.  Another session was held at the Pewaukee center Wednesday. On Aug. 31, GE announced it would lay off 46 production employees at the GE Power & Water Distributed Power in Waukesha.

Travieso said the WOW Workforce Development Board can help with training or help update a person’s resume if he wants to return quickly to the workforce. Last year the Wisconsin Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was passed, which provides funding for training and other services.

On Friday, Travieso said, they met with more than 30 people at GE, but those on third shift couldn’t attend based on the times the session was held. On Wednesday, another 25 GE workers attended a session held at the Pewaukee center, all of which enrolled in WIOA.

Coordinating with Eaton has been more difficult because it was getting funding through the Trade Adjustment Act, which means that WOW Workforce Development Board must coordinate aid with the state. The layoffs of 83 workers at Eaton also won’t occur until the end of October, said Laura Catherman, vice president/operations manager for WOW Workforce Development Board.

Travieso said staff has visited Eaton Corporation and did some presentations for the employees, along with state representatives. She said when the center learns there will be a significant company layoff, staff works with the employer to learn what level of service they want to provide for the affected employees, whether that’s Workforce Development Center staff dropping off information about its services or planning a mini job fair.

“It’s very important that they are familiar and aware of the services we provide,” Travieso said.

An exciting opportunity to grow the company’

Jay Walt, vice president for Automatic Entrances of Wisconsin, said his company reached out to WOW Workforce Development Board after learning about the layoffs at Eaton and GE in Waukesha. He said they have struggled to find qualified candidates to fill open positions and he thought those losing their jobs might be a good fit.

“Recently I read about Eaton and GE and immediately had our people reach out to GE and Eaton and hopefully provide the soft landing for the people who were put in a tough situation,” Walt said.

Automatic Entrances of Wisconsin is frequently looking for applicants with a high school degree, who are 21 years and older, have a desire to work and have some mechanical ability. Walt said Automatic Entrances invests in the training of its employees and will provide them training for mechanical, electronic and trades in the field.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to grow the company,” Walt said, adding it Automatic Entrances has never had any layoffs during its existence.

Walt said he never heard back from Eaton or GE regarding his offer to help the affected workers. Then, he contacted WOW Workforce Development Center in Pewaukee, which he said took the company’s name and number but did not return the call. Walt said it wasn’t until after he reached out to state Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, that he got a call from a center employee who said his call was noted.

“We are not alone in our search for young people who want to work in Waukesha County,” Walt said. “There are excellent opportunities in building trades that are absolutely going unfilled and there is no emphasis within the Waukesha community beyond manufacturing.”

Catherman said a WOW Workforce Development Board staff member did speak with someone at Automatic Entrances on Tuesday, although it was not Walt. She said that person explained the center is waiting to hear back from the state regarding Eaton still being under the Trade Investment Act before the center’s staff can act.

“As always, Eaton will work with each affected employee to ensure they receive assistance and are treated with respect during this transitional period. All individuals impacted by these changes will be offered severance and off-placement assistance. Affected employees will also be encouraged to apply for open positions within Eaton,” said Holly Mueller, manager of external communications for Eaton, in an email.

A spokesman for GE Power & Water did not return a call seeking comment before deadline.

Catherman said WOW Workforce Development Board measures how successful it is by how many job seekers are served, how many people come through their doors to use their services and how many employers they work with. In addition, surveys of the employers’ level of satisfaction with the Workforce Development Center’s services are also collected. Those surveys are then regularly reviewed by the Workforce Development Board, she said.

Issues that may arise as a result of a survey are addressed individually, Catherman said, and staff meets on a regular basis to discuss policy and practice.