The Urban League of Greater Madison COVID-19
Workforce Recovery Initiative
Virtually Open for Business
|Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr. has stayed well-protected against COVID-19
while keeping the Urban League running virtually to meet the needs
of workers and employers.
“I think COVID-19 is an awful thing,” Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr., CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison said. “But sometimes when you have these awful events
happen, there is a ray of sunshine underneath that or opportunities underneath that. Right now, companies who have not typically reached out to the Urban League
are reaching out saying, ‘Help!’ And that creates a unique opportunity for people who might not otherwise have been able to connect with these companies to get a
way in and at minimum, get some experience in these industries.”
The Urban League has been in operation since 1968. And while this is the first time that its offices on S. Park Street and McKenna Blvd. have been closed and the
lights turned off, it doesn’t mean that the Urban League is taking a holiday.
“We are still open for business,” Anthony emphasized. “We are still providing direct services. If there is any message that I want to come out of this conversation is
that although our two offices are closed, we are still open for business. Staff are available and we’re available to do some of the things that we’ve always done.”
In the area of job training people, the Urban League is still providing classes. The computer, commercial driver’s license and skilled trades training programs are
still happening online. In addition, the Urban League is seeking to start up a pilot training program for individuals not hooked into the Internet.
“We have a set of computers,” Anthony said. “We’ve got about 10 laptops that we will probably circulate for a cohort to train. We’ll loan them the Internet access
hotspots and the computers for some of the remote classes that we will do. Those individuals who don’t have computers at home can use one of our laptops and a
hot spot to participate in our remote trainings.”
One of the basic services that the Urban League provides is job application assistance. All of that can happen online without human contact.
“The employment specialists have an existing caseload,” Anthony said. “And when we first got into the remote situation, they spent that first week reaching out to
everyone who is in our existing caseload to say, ‘How are you doing? Are you working? Are you looking for work?’
They did that assessment and then let them know that we are still available to help them with counseling and all of the other things that they needed to do for their
job search. In addition, we are sending them job openings and letting them know that we can still help in the ways that they need to be helped. They have their
employment specialists’ phone numbers.”
However, the labor market is getting impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and so it is creating a decline in jobs in some sectors while increasing the number of
jobs in others. The Urban League is stepping up to take on this adjustment in the labor market.
“We launched the COVID-19 Workforce Recovery Initiative,” Anthony said. “One of the things that we do at the Urban League is we want to respond to the workforce
demand. I think it’s important that if you are going to have any type of training or any type of jobs program, that it is matched up to what’s real out there now, what
job demands are out there now because the last thing that we want is for people to train and at the end of the training, they can’t find the employment or they don’t
get the employment that they want. We have to be flexible and we have to pay attention to what’s happening in the workforce economy. And when we see changes,
we have to be flexible enough to change along with it.”
Knowing that there was a need out there, the Urban League reached out to different employer associations to get the word out that the Urban League was still ready
to help them find employees.
“We’ve entered into a partnership with all of the Chambers of Commerce in this area,” Anthony said. “First we reached out to MadRep and Paul Jadin because he
has the whole region. And then we reached out to the Madison, Sun Prairie, Verona, Fitchburg and Middleton Chambers. All of them have agreed to work with us to
refer those companies that are looking for workers to us. What we find in this COVID-19 environment is many companies who provide vital services have to scale
up. Companies that are making ventilators have to scale up. Companies that are doing food service and warehouses have to scale up. Those companies are
calling us. So far, we have 49 companies or organizations who have called to say, ‘Help, we need people.’”
Each week, the Urban League issues a jobs bulletin that informs people registered with the Urban League about available jobs in Dane County, which people can
apply for online. But job seekers can get a leg up by going through the Urban League for these jobs.
By Jonathan Gramling
During any recession — the telltale signs are there that Wisconsin is entering a recession
with 250,000 unemployment compensation claims since March 18 — the large picture
shows the decline in jobs and an increase in the number of people being laid off and
applying for unemployment insurance. It looks as if there are no employment opportunities
available as more and more people become idle. That is the macro picture.
But it is equally important to look at the micro picture as well. While the large numbers
show more people being laid off than being hired, within the small picture of Dane County, it
is true that people are being idled in some companies and industries. But it is also true that
other jobs are being created and employers are looking for people to fill those jobs. COVID-
19 is impacting Dane County’s economy, depressing it. But it has also altered Dane County’
s labor market so that job opportunities are shutting down in some areas, but opening up in
“People looking for jobs can come to us for this match-making service that we do,”
Anthony said. “And we can refer them after we do vetting and screening. Some of
the companies prefer that people come to us for vetting and screening because they
have this demand right now and they don’t have the time to do all of the vetting and
screening themselves. If we can help with the vetting and screening and know what
these companies want, we can help make it easier for the companies to participate
and we can also put the job seeker in the best position to get the job.
People are scared to come out of their houses and look for jobs. We have 40 or
more people looking for work when I last checked. We have more companies
looking to recruit people than people are willing to work right now. The number who
are looking for work is growing each week as people become more comfortable
getting out of their homes.”
In some ways, the pandemic has opened up the labor market to the Urban League
and the people it works with. And as the Urban League expands its contacts with
employers, it is also expanding opportunities for African Americans and other people
“We’re excited about having the partnerships with the chambers in this region. And
we think we can really help make a difference or add value in this way and the
companies have been super responsive. We need more people who are seeking
jobs to connect with us and help these companies out. The Chambers like the
program because what we offer is a one-stop shop where you don’t have to go
searching all over the place. We have all of those employers looking to hire people
Employers currently looking to hire people include HJ Pertzborn Fire and Plumbing,
Hy-Vee, Attic Correctional Services, Inc., 7-Eleven, Target, Domino's, UW Health,
Community Living Alliance, FedEx Ground, Festival Foods, Community Living
Connections, Woodman’s, Pick N Save, Quartz, Kwik Trip, Waste Management,
YWCA Madison, Progressive Turnout Project, Brown Sales, The Rodeo Wagon and
Opportunity always exists if you know where to look.
For help in finding employment, call Elizabeth Metz at 608-571-4724. If you are an
employer looking for job applicants, call Ray Allen at 608-729-1233.