Meet Bill Krugler
Krugler, a finalist for the PNC Navigator Award, is fighting chronic adult unemployment.
“I felt this yearning to do something where I felt maybe I was making more of a difference,” Krugler said.
An active member of his church and international mission trip-goer, Krugler was no stranger to the call to help others. But it was a headline he remembers seeing in 2010 that compelled him to do something more.
“I remember the headline came out that Milwaukee was the fourth most impoverished city in the United States. And that really struck me because I worked downtown, I lived in Whitefish Bay and I thought Milwaukee was the proverbial great city on a Great Lake, and that had been my experience,” Krugler said. “I had no idea that we had so many people living in poverty, so that really stuck with me.”
Krugler recognized an existing landscape of organizations and initiatives addressing poverty and then researched strategies. He found that many solutions focused on youth education while few focused on chronic adult unemployment.
Krugler’s belief in reducing the barriers to long-term employment inspired the founding of Milwaukee JobsWork, an organization that partners with community businesses to provide training and resources to assist people who have experienced poverty and unemployment.
According to the website, “Milwaukee JobsWork is a collaborative of dedicated business and community leaders who offer a new pathway to alleviate chronic unemployment in our city… We’re not a job service that helps people find a job and then walks away.”
Being there for participants in the program begins long before any formal training, however. Krugler said starting with the tenet of hope reinforces the idea in participants that they are worthy of holding a job and have a purpose in the world.
“Our society tends to label people by all the things they’ve done wrong in their life, and this premise of hope is really about teaching them to separate who they are today as a human being from whatever happened to them in the past,” Krugler said. “We really emphasize that you can be somebody, and give people hope.”
In order to give participants the confidence they need to have hope and go through the training, JobsWork sets high expectations. Krugler said this is intentional and a very important part of the programming.
“We’re here to help, we’re not here to do it for you,” Krugler said. “By setting high expectations for people, that goes hand in hand with ‘We believe in you, we’re setting these high expectations because we believe you can achieve them.’”
Jeff, a member of JobsWork who has gone through times of experiencing homelessness, spoke to how these heightened expectations allowed him to understand his potential.
“JobsWork impacted my life in a way where it gave me more confidence in myself and to never let the world put a ceiling on what I can accomplish,” Jeff said.
The holistic aspect of JobsWork is the understanding that having a job — and keeping a job — is not just a matter of applying and getting hired.
“We came to understand, people are struggling to succeed in employment because they have all these issues, challenges, barriers in their life that are standing in their way of long-term employment success,” Krugler said. “So we go deeper with the individual to really understand all the issues that they’re facing… and then we stay with them on their journey much longer.”
“A lot of times organizations are asking questions because they want to find a reason not to work with you,” Krugler said. “So the people tend to be a little guarded about opening up about the challenges in their life, so we have to build this trust so that they can know: ‘There’s nothing you can tell us that’s going to cause us to not want to work with you.’”
All the elements of a traditional job training organization — such as mock interviews, resume building and application processes — are embedded in JobsWork. But the core of the organization is “built more on the softer side of things,” Krugler said.
“It’s about getting people to start to think about themselves differently,” Krugler said.
By the end of 2019, 189 members of JobsWork had gained employment, Jeff being one of them. He didn’t just gain a job, he started buying Christmas presents for his children, he was able to be more present in his family.
“They showed me I’m worth more than I once thought,” Jeff said.
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