Bay Area Workforce Development Board: The Future Comes

One might be excused for expecting a dry conversation with the director of an organization called the Bay Area Workforce Development Board (BAWDB), but one would be wrong. Talking with Jim Golembeski is a little like talking with a college professor; the discussion is riveting, wide-ranging and thought provoking. Golembeski is a self-described “resigned Catholic priest” who works closely with 120 manufacturing companies, can site a myriad of statistical studies on the psychology of Millennials, and waxes philosophical on issues of worldwide economic import.

As the executive director of BAWDB, Golembeski is responsible for carrying out the organization’s mission to enhance the quality of life of individual workers and meet the needs of employers in an 11-county district by increasing workforce job skills and education. He stresses that a big emphasis of BAWDB is helping people take responsibility for their own employability.

“It used to be you could ‘fall’ into a job and be taken care of for the rest of your life. That isn’t the case anymore,” he said.

To shore-up the local workforce, BAWDB works primarily with five groups of potential employees. One is students in the K-12 system. Golembeski points to a successful program created by the NEW Manufacturing Alliance.

“These employers recognized that manufacturing had a bad reputation. Jobs in manufacturing were considered dirty and noisy and undesirable. They’ve got to change that perception to attract new workers. They’ve worked really hard at rebranding themselves. Jobs that once were low skill/high wage are now high skill/high wage.”

The NEW Manufacturing Alliance is currently reaching out to high school students with a series of extremely successful and well-received Get Real Math videos that were filmed in factories. In conjunction with producing the videos, the Alliance held a math teachers appreciation night that drew more than 200 area teachers.

A second group BAWDB works with is the unemployed. Golembeski notes that with unemployment at 4.2 percent, many of the unemployed have “serious barriers” to employment. He says, “Even a nicotine addiction can be a barrier. Nicotine addicts are known to cost employers more; their health care is higher, they take more breaks and they have more sick days.” He sites success with offender re-entry, working with people who have come out of retention centers with skills. “Sixty-five percent of them go back to inner-city Milwaukee. If we could get them to stay here, that would be helpful.”

A third group is existing workers.

“We’re working to fast-track this group, to get the word out that with an investment in education — sometimes just a 12-week training course — you may become employable at $15/hour or more. That’s what we’re helping people shoot for, a minimum of $15/hour.”

BAWDB also attempts to attract workers from outside of Wisconsin. Golembeski concedes that this has not been very successful.

Finally, they target the underemployed or unhappily employed. “There’s a subset of workers who took jobs during the recession and are ready for a change. We’re here to work with them.”

Golembeski addresses numerous community groups and was recently approached by a man at the local YMCA.

“He said, ‘Something you said the other day has stuck with me.’ That made me worry because I say a lot of things! What he referenced, though, was a statement I made that the answers to our problems aren’t in Washington, D.C. or Madison; they’re here.”

Golembeski believes that while the economy is getting more global, the solutions are very local. When asked who the leaders with solutions are, he directs all of us to our mirrors.

“Americans had it very good after World War II. We were the only economy left standing and companies could afford, for a long time, to provide health benefits and pensions. Couple that with the fact that people didn’t live as long and didn’t draw as much from their retirement plans. Today, companies can’t afford that kind of care. You have to be much more in charge of and accountable for your own health and you have to manage your own retirement. In some ways, that kind of personal responsibility is not a bad thing.”

A Changing Paradigm

Golembeski is often the link between employers who belong to the Baby Boomer generation and the Millennials they are hiring.

“In just five years, Millennials will make up about 50 percent of the workforce. They have different values and a different way of viewing the world.” He likes to reference two diagrams, one that depicts the Baby Boomer World and one the Millennial World. The first is top-down and information is shared hierarchically on a need-to-know basis.

The second is a web of interconnected relationships, each a source of information and knowledge that’s shared instantly via technology. When asked if he sees this shift as positive, Golembeski says, “Mainly…yes.”

He then shares another one of the statements he’s known for:  “The future comes whether we like it or not. We may as well get ready for it.”