United States Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, along with U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan and dozens of local leaders, made a stop at the Latino Academy of Workforce Development on Oct. 26 to learn more about how the Latino Academy has contributed to strengthening the economy.
Baltazar De Anda Santana, co-founder and longtime director of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, tells Madison365 that it was “an amazing opportunity” for his organization. As the head of the United States Department of Labor, Walsh controls the department and enforces and suggests laws involving unions, the workplace, and all other issues involving any form of business-person controversies. He was sworn in as the 29th Secretary of Labor on March 23, 2021.
“Senator Tammy Baldwin had recommended for Mr. Walsh to come in see the work that the Latino Academy was doing because she came and visited us back in February when we were talking to her about the Regional Transportation Training Center, so she was very very impressed,” De Anda Santana remembers. “So when they were looking for another group, she recommended Latino Academy, and you know, obviously, we were so excited that this really happened.”
Amy Pechacek, the Secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway were also in attendance along with over 30 Wisconsin leaders.
“Having Secretary Walsh visit the Latino Academy was such an honor and opportunity to showcase the incredible work being done by the Latino Academy and, as importantly, how much more can be done with additional targeted resources to support community-centered and culturally and linguistically appropriate workforce development,” Shiva Bidar, the president of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development’s board of directors, tells Madison365.
During the meeting, Secretary Walsh, Congressman Pocan and other Wisconsin leaders learned how the Latino Academy has contributed to the workforce in the Dane County region and how the organization has been an important mechanism for solving the workforce shortage issues. It was also an opportunity for the Latino Academy, who has supported more than 10,000 individuals and provided the region’s only bilingual and culturally competent workforce training and adult education services, has contributed to strengthening the economy.
“This was a recognition at the national level of the work that the Latino Academy is doing,” De Anda Santana says. “One of the things that was very important is the compassion and the understanding that Secretary Walsh has when it comes to immigration reform. He’s someone that understands.”
There was also a presentation on the Latino Academy’s new Regional Transportation Training Center (RTTC) which will address the statewide shortage of commercial truck drivers by providing Latinos and non-Latinos in south-central Wisconsin with comprehensive CDL training, support, and placement with the region’s employers.
RTTC, De Anda Santana says, will address two of Wisconsin’s biggest challenges: workforce development and supply chain.
“During our meeting, Secretary Walsh did mention that we all have our own immigrant stories,” De Anda Santana said. “And he said that many people forget that we are immigrants and all of the struggles that communities have gone through and that we have the determination to support our families and have good jobs and strong communities.”
The event was also a chance for Latino Academy of Workforce Development graduates Laura Dunn and Miriam Morales to share their workforce success stories with Walsh and other leaders which De Anda Santana says “inspire us to build economic opportunities for everyone in our community.”
“Wisconsin’s untapped workforce is counting on Latino Academy. This is one thing that we are continually working towards — to make sure our untapped workforce is finally tapped,” De Anda Santana says. “At Latino Academy, we are driven to grow because that is what our students ask for. Their ambitions and dreams and hard work will keep us going until the Regional Transportation Training Center is a reality.
“We are grateful for this public recognition from Secretary Walsh, a national labor crusader who knows, as we know, how important good careers with benefits are for all of us,” he adds.