MATC co-op program helping to shrink skilled worker shortage

Mark Feldmann,

January 21, 2022

MILWAUKEE — Companies in two Milwaukee business improvement districts are getting urgently needed skilled workers thanks to a cooperative education partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College.

MATC’s JobUp Milwaukee pilot program ( pairs employers in the Havenwoods and Menomonee Valley business improvement districts with MATC students, who get good-paying jobs and on-the-job training in their area of study for at least two semesters. The program is being piloted with funding from JP Morgan Chase, Bader Philanthropies and Greater Milwaukee Foundation. 

“JobUp is providing businesses in our area workers with the essential skills and vital talents needed right now,” said Laura Bray, MATC’s vice president for College Advancement and External Communications. “The current workforce shortage is real and the skills gap is real. This coordinated approach can help develop the untapped workforce in our city, impact hiring practices, transform lives and bring success to the community.”

Hentzen Coatings and HellermannTyton, which are both manufacturing companies; Accent, a property restoration company; Advocate Aurora Health; Badger Truck; and PPS Professional Placement Services have signed on as partner employers. So far, 10 students have been placed and are gaining skills that align with their academic studies. Additional employers will be added. 

“Employers in the program build their talent pipeline, increase productivity, evaluate prospective employees under real working conditions, and reduce recruitment and training costs,” said Courtney Kelly, MATC’s coordinator of the JobUp Milwaukee program. “It's like an extended job interview while ‘growing your own’ employee who will have a degree soon.” 

“It’s a real win-win. Employers get workers now. Students get paid to work in their areas of study,” Kelly said. Students also enhance their résumés, expand their professional network and gain valuable insight into their career pathways, she said. 

“The goal is to provide learning through jobs and academics,” Kelly said. “JobUp is to assist students with the skills they need in their field prior to graduation. These are paid positions, which means that our students, who are mostly non-traditional, usually need to work. Now they do not have to decide — should I work or attend school? They can do both and build time of service with a company in their field.” 

JobUp also can be used by community residents and incumbent workers who are thinking of returning to school or enhancing their current skills with education and training, Kelly said.

Bray said MATC often sees students delay or even stop their education to pursue jobs that pay well. But by not completing their degree, those students can lose chances at longer-term wage growth and career advancement.

The JobUp Milwaukee program offers a chance for employers to engage untapped talent and provide a path to middle-skill positions in the future, Bray said. 

“We’re opening career pathways for our students,” Bray said.

And companies certainly need the help. According to projections, 60% of jobs in Milwaukee County require a degree beyond high school, but only 37% of the county’s adult population have a postsecondary degree. 

“We can’t rely on a pipeline of talent coming out of high schools to address that gap,” Bray said.

JobUp Milwaukee also offers the opportunity to provide under-represented groups greater access to innovation-economy jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing economic disparities for people of color in the region, Bray said. “This is a beneficial way for companies to ‘walk the talk,’ get involved with MATC and grow their diverse talent pipelines.” Fifty-five percent of MATC students identify as people of color.

YWCA Southeast Wisconsin is also a program partner and is providing diversity, equity and inclusion training to partnering employers in the business improvement districts.

“At this moment in time, companies need to look at changing the things they’ve done before and changing the status quo of how they get talent,” Bray said. “We believe it’s important to add co-op (education) to the mix. We have to throw everything at this.”

MATC leaders and program partners began envisioning this program just before the pandemic. After a successful pilot, a program scale-up beyond the two business improvement districts will be planned.

The JobUp Milwaukee program was inspired by the Chicago Apprentice Network, an initiative driven by employers in conjunction with Chicago City Colleges, which grew during the past four years from three companies offering non-traditional apprenticeships in the professional services sector to more than 50 employers across 18 industries, offering more than 1,000 apprenticeships in Chicagoland.

For more information about MATC JobUp Milwaukee, contact us at or visit

Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.