Leadership Spotlight: Earl Buford.

January 31, 2014

Earl Buford is president and CEO of Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP)/BIG STEP, an organization based in Milwaukee, WI, that brings together employers within manufacturing and construction to align training programs with the skills needed to fill open jobs.

He has been actively involved with National Skills Coalition (NSC) since 2007, and currently serves on the NSC Leadership Council. Earl’s career includes 17 years of experience in workforce development. At WRTP/BIG STEP, he has developed strong partnerships with national affiliates, Milwaukee-area businesses, labor unions, government agencies, and non-profit organizations to develop and sustain a diverse labor pool for regional workforce development projects.

Just today, Earl attended a White House “Opportunity For All” event focused on long-term unemployment. He participated on a panel, led by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, discussing employer-led sector partnerships.

In the interview below, Earl discusses the path that led to his leadership role with NSC and how his involvement has contributed to the work of his organization.

How did you get involved in the field of workforce development?

My father was an autoworker and always said, “Make sure whatever you’re doing in your life, you’re doing it to help others.”

I started out in the elementary education system and got involved with Step Up, the county-wide school to work program. This connected me to the local Workforce Investment Board (WIB) that ran the program, which was the first I knew of that coupled education with job readiness in the private sector. Through my work with the WIB, I was hired to resurrect the BIG STEP program.

One of the first partnerships we formed was with WRTP, and we became their construction arm. As the programs merged, it became what it is today.

When did you first get involved with National Skills Coalition? Why?

My predecessor, Eric Parker, was a good colleague of NSC Executive Director Andy Van Kleunen and others involved with NSC. When he passed away in 2007, I got a call from Andy saying they would love to continue NSC’s relationship with WRTP, and invited me to DC to learn more about it and get involved. That was my first Skills Summit in 2008, and I haven’t missed one yet. I thank Andy for reaching out to me.

What made you decide to take on a leadership role in NSC?

There’s a reason why National Skills Coalition was ranked the number one national workforce development nonprofit by Philanthropedia last year. The work NSC does, no one does it better or at the same level. It’s such an asset to our work to have someone who keeps us informed and is a voice in D.C. on workforce matters and things around that. It just makes sense for us, my leadership team and my board of directors, to want to not only support NSC but to play as big a role as possible.

Why should others become more active in NSC?

I tell as many of my colleagues as I can, locally and nationally, about NSC and all of the ways to utilize the services that you provide. I’ll tell anyone who will listen. We wouldn’t have most of our information without NSC, there’s just no way. Especially for someone like me who came in after the passing of a friend and colleague, to have the support of NSC couldn’t have been more helpful to me personally, and to my career and our organization.