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Tony Evers, Governor
Amy Pechacek, Secretary-designee

Department of Workforce Development
Secretary's Office

201 E. Washington Avenue
P.O. Box 7946
Madison, WI 53707-7946
Telephone: (608) 266-3131
Fax: (608) 266-1784
Email: sec@dwd.wisconsin.gov

July 28, 2022
CONTACT: DWD Communications

Worker Advancement Initiative: Helping Refugees Drive Toward Employment Opportunities

APPLETON – Somali and Afghan refugees are steering themselves toward family-sustaining employment in the transportation industry thanks to training through the Hidden Talent Project by the Bay Area Workforce Development Board and its partners. The project is funded with more than $1.6 million from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development through the Worker Advancement Initiative, which was announced by Gov. Tony Evers late last year.

The Hidden Talent Project connects underrepresented racial/ethnic populations, justice-involved individuals, and long-term unemployed individuals with services and programs designed to assist them in reentering the workforce or improve their current employment situation.

"It is exciting to see how the workforce boards are using the funds to make a lasting impact at the local level," DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek said. "In the Bay Area, the funds are being used to connect Somali and Afghan refugees with employment opportunities, training them for in-demand jobs in Wisconsin to meet business needs."

The board partnered with COMSA, a community-based organization that provides critical resettlement support to Somali and Afghan refugees in the greater Green Bay and Fox Valley areas.

"Partnering with COMSA significantly strengthens our existing workforce development system and will lead to increased workforce participation, adding desperately needed talent to our local employer base," Bay Area Workforce Development Board Executive Director Matt Valiquette said. "The funding we received allows for tremendous flexibility to provide wrap-around, comprehensive services to trainees, and everything we're doing with the Hidden Talent project can be sustained indefinitely through our traditional workforce development programs and services."

Pechacek met with Valiquette and leaders from New North, African Heritage Inc., and Abaxent to tour the J.J. Keller Transportation Center at Fox Valley Technical College where six Somali and Afghan refugees are currently receiving commercial driver's license training. Their training includes 12 hours of permit class instruction and behind-the-wheel training with college instructors. A final test is administered and trainees who pass earn a Class A commercial driver's license.

“By partnering with our local workforce board, we are helping address a gap in the transportation industry by delivering a specialized truck driver training program for populations with untapped potential," Fox Valley Technical College president Dr. Chris Matheny said. “We are uniquely qualified to provide this training and look forward to training Afghan and Somali newcomers as they earn a Class A commercial driver’s license; positioning them for a successful career in this in-demand field.”


Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development efficiently delivers effective and inclusive services to meet Wisconsin's diverse workforce needs now and for the future. The department advocates for and invests in the protection and economic advancement of all Wisconsin workers, employers and job seekers through six divisions – Employment and Training, Vocational Rehabilitation, Unemployment Insurance, Equal Rights, Worker's Compensation and Administrative Services. To keep up with DWD announcements and information, sign up for news releases and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.