By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
March 16, 2020 is a day that will go down in history. For the United States, it will be remembered as the day when the coronavirus quarantine began, but for Chytania Brown it will also go down as the day she returned home to Employ Milwaukee.
Brown’s journey with Employ Milwaukee began over 20 years ago. Her first position with the nonprofit organization was as career counselor, but these days, she’s the president and CEO.
“It feels like I returned home,” Brown said. “I’m excited about what we’re going to do and where we’re going. We’re going to take it to the next level.”
For Brown, the role of CEO isn’t just about making decisions for the company but about having an influence on the community. Prior to Employ Milwaukee, Brown worked at the
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in various positions under both the Walker Administration and the Evers Administration.
She said that working on the state level gave her a voice and better understanding of how the system works and the role of politics in workforce development. She’s combined her state experience with her boots on the ground experience to better anticipate what the community needs.
Brown explained that the organization made the decision to go remote the day she assumed office. About 96% of the team was ready, she said, and the remaining 4% worked with the IT team to make the transition viable.
One of her biggest concerns was making sure students would be able to continue their work. The organization teamed up with Milwaukee Area Technical College to make it possible.
Throughout the pandemic, Employ Milwaukee has found ways to continue to serve. It has helped people apply for unemployment, it continued with the City of Milwaukee’s Earn & Learn program and it created the Community Resource Navigator program.
The program is a humanitarian effort, Brown said. It’s connecting people with resources such as health care clinics and providing employment to those in search of work. Earlier this year, it held a drive-thru job fair, where attendees received resource bags.
The organization has thought outside of the box, she said.
Currently, about 25% of its essential staff are working at the office. Since the spread of the virus has remained high, Employ Milwaukee has held off on implementing its Phase II for employees to return to work.
As CEO, Brown is committed to building a positive agency culture. Since assuming the role, she’s emphasized the ‘one agency’ notion and is making sure everyone collectively works together. This means working on the agency’s direction, inclusiveness, equity, respect and more.
As Brown and the organization prepare for 2021, she’s making sure the internal makeup is strong. It’s important that the team understands she’s human, she said. Brown used the opportunity during a faith-based summit, which took place virtually this year, to celebrate her new role.
Her goals for the years to come include focusing on two populations: the youth and those reentering society. This means removing barriers for reentry groups and investing in the Earn & Learn program.
“I believe you can have the greatest impact on this groups in the shortest amount of time,” she said.
Additionally, she plans on expanding the agency’s virtual programming, continuing fundraising, building partnerships with technical colleges and universities, creating industry partnerships and strengthening the agency’s relationship with Milwaukee.
She’s committed to building a more equitable society through the agency as well. Part of Employ Milwaukee’s core mission is racial equity and inclusion, she said.
Every worker deserves a fair shot at economic stability, she said. Employment plays a role in economic equity and social equity, which by extension are connected to racial structures. She intends to continue to offer perspective through the workforce development lens on the necessity of equity.
As Brown prepares for the year(s) to come, she hopes people realize the role that workforce development can play in solving some of Milwaukee’s problems and the impact Employ Milwaukee can have on this city.
If the past nine months are any indication, Brown has already proved her value to the organization. She not only took on the job and the responsibilities it entailed but did so during a pandemic.
Milwaukeeans can look forward to seeing Brown continue to transform Employ Milwaukee and foster its growth.