Jim Golembeski

Posted on Apr 1, 2009 :: Face Time
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photograph by Shane Van Boxtel/Image Studios for Insight

Jim Golembeski has been executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board since 1992 and has seen multiple changes and transitions in the regional jobs economy. He’s also experienced a fairly major career transition himself, having left the Catholic priesthood in 1989. He sat down with Insight Associate Editor Rick Berg to discuss the career-changing challenges workers face in today’s economy.

I’m 20 years out from a career transition out of the priesthood and that’s about as dramatic a career change as you can have. I grew up in a lower-middle-class catholic culture. I think every young man, especially those of us who were Academically talented, were encouraged to think about the priesthood. I went to St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota and graduated with a master’s degree in theology in 1981.

I went to St. John’s Parish in Antigo for five years, taught high school at Lourdes Academy in Oshkosh for two years and ran the Newman Center at UW-Oshkosh for a year. Those last three years took a lot out of me and so in 1989 it was time to get out.

After awhile I started to look to see what I was going to do. I came back to Green Bay area and contacted another friend, and it was one of those things where networking worked. So I moved back here and within a couple of months was running the Jobs Plus program in Menasha, a welfare to work program, for what used to be called the Northern Lake Winnebago Private Industry Council.

I was able to run the Jobs Plus program for two years and that gave me a chance to get settled and learn some things and get away from the identity I had before. Then my current position opened up and I got the job in November 1992 and have been here ever since.

I do feel sorry for some people who just don’t seem to belong in this century. A lot of 45- to 60-year-olds are left out in the cold right now because this world has changed so fast. The world is being run by Blackberries. The demands that the world of working makes on us have changed so much.

I ran into a guy at the Job Center the other day, a 50-something guy. He had a degree in electronics from NWTC in 1971. Imagine how things have changed since 1971. He had been working as a salesman at a machine company for over 30 years and he got laid o?. He walked into the Job Center absolutely shell-shocked. The whole world he had lived in was gone.

There was this 59-year-old woman at the Job Center who wanted to be a receptionist, but her vision of what a receptionist was today was so far away from anything in the real world. She thought she was going to sit there answering phones and smiling at people. It doesn’t work that way anymore.

Georgia-Pacific has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in these two facilities locally over the past four years and that just means technology upgrades. You don’t just come out of high school today and walk into one of those jobs. You’d better know computer numerical control, program logic control, blueprint reading and that sort of thing. We’re doing a lot of that today with workers.

We have two really deep-seated problems at the moment. The first problem goes back to the origin of this, which is the credit market. For example, the whole wind energy business, for which Northeast Wisconsin manufactures parts, has come to a screaming halt. A year ago it was booming. The reason it’s coming to a screaming halt is because the end customer who buys the wind turbines can’t get credit to do it.

You obviously have to get credit flowing again, and that’s proven to be a much more complex problem than it originally seemed. But if credit could be ?owing today, there would be more jobs.

The second problem we have, as I suggested earlier, is that a huge segment of our workforce is just hopelessly out of date. The basic level of skills needed to succeed in this workforce is only going to increase across the board.