The Latino Academy of Workforce Development’s mission is to educate and train underserved Latinos in Dane County ensuring family-sustaining wages and career pathways for generations to come.
“Our Latino community is getting trained. We are getting skills. We are overcoming those barriers,” says Baltazar De Anda Santana, executive director of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development. “These folks are becoming part of the economic development of our city and our county.
“We want to destroy that negative stereotype that Latinos are coming here to just get free stuff – all of the terrible stereotypes people may say,” he adds. “Our community is a hard-working community that is big part of the economic development of our city and our state. We are not a charity. We are making a real impact.”
The Latino Academy of Workforce Development hosted a graduation celebration for its Bilingual Construction Training Program on Nov. 16 featuring eight new graduates that gives them a total of 32 graduates so far this year.
“It was a great day to celebrate their accomplishments … celebrate the fact that they came to the training; they worked so hard and they left their families to come and learn about these skills,” De Anda-Santana says.
The Bilingual Construction Training Program uses an industry-recognized approach in training individuals to develop construction craft skills, combining classroom instruction and hands-on training on a job site.
“We partnered with one of the local gardens here that serves the senior community and on Saturday the graduates completed this big, beautiful flower bed with rails where seniors can sit,” de Anda-Santana says. “Right now, they have a number of certifications. They got their OSHA safety cards, their respiratory protection certificates. They also learned the basics of tape measurement. They learned about apprenticeships and about how to start a business in construction – that was in partnership with the Latino Chamber of Commerce.”
Numerous community partners were involved in this collaboration including Stevens Construction Corp. United Way of Dane County, City of Madison, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Urban League of Greater Madison the Latino Worker Safety Center.
“We are not doing this on our own. We need the support of the partners to be able to do this,” De Anda Santana says. “We have really great partners.”
The Latino Academy of Workforce Development’s primary goal is to create a safe, culturally competent space that empowers Latino adults to succeed and integrate into the economic and educational systems of Dane County. LAWD’s unique ‘education through community’ approach works closely with students, responds to the community’s education and employment needs quickly, and creates pathways to improved education and employment for the Latino community.
All of these eight most-recent graduates of the Bilingual Construction Training Program are men. De Anda-Santana says that in the near future they will be working, through a grant for Fund for Women, to get more women involved.
“We want to bring more women into construction. That has been a challenge for us,” he says. “One of the programs that the Latino Academy is going to start, as of Jan. 1, is a career development for women in the trades course. We are really going to be making an effort to introduce women to these trades.”
In the meantime, the Latino Academy will help find good employment for its recent graduates.
“What is most important is that we are going to be placing these folks into employment opportunities,” de Anda-Santana says. “I tell the students, ‘if you don’t get a job out of this training, we did not do our job at the Latino Academy.’ We need to make sure that we put you in employment opportunities where you can make $15 or more an hour.
“At the end of the day, it’s about employment … it’s about economic development,” he adds.