For George Hempe, 58, the problem is simple. A disconnect exists between what employers need and the skills workers have — not just in Southeastern Massachusetts, he says, but nationwide. Part of the problem is due to timing issues, part is from a lack of resources, and part is just human nature.
The Texas native, who was born in Mexico City and raised in Brownsville, Texas, became head of the Greater New Bedford Workforce Investment Board in July, replacing Len Coriarty, who now leads a regional manufacturing initiative.
A strong believer in the power of partnerships, and someone who eschews the need for credit, Hempe believes WIBs can be a neutral broker and facilitator to bring all stakeholders together. It may not be an easy job. Hempe joins a WIB environment that includes a divided board and a mayor who is pushing for more partnerships and greater effectiveness.
He brings a unique perspective to the greater New Bedford region with experience in three of the sectors that collectively make a workforce system work – workforce boards, having worked for WIB related programs back before the Workforce Investment Act passed in 1998; education, overseeing a shift in curriculum tailored to employer needs for the Texas state technical college system in the late 1990s; and the private sector, having worked most recently in the hospitality industry, but also in health care and information technology.
As such, Hempe believes he has earned the right to make the tough statements about what works and doesn’t work for moving beyond the existing disconnect. He shared some of his thoughts about addressing regional workforce challenges and opportunities here.
On WIB’s role: We’re starting to talk about partnerships and collaborations and how do we add value to the other person? How does our board add value to the economic development corporations, the chamber of commerce, the one stop centers and the mayor’s initiatives? One way is by being a neutral broker and being a facilitator and bringing them together.
On WIB resources: There’s a huge disconnect in the resources for workforce development. As a board, we’re doing what we’re mandated to do…We need to make a concerted effort to bring all the resources together because it’s very difficult to find one single area or group to really do it all themselves. It doesn’t work that way.
On the career center: One day every week, I go to the career center and I’ll be working there one day out of every month. All day I’ll be there, and that’s so we don’t lose touch with what is happening. Because that’s where you really learn. That’s where companies come. That’s where people come, and that’s where you hear it.
On critical WIB report: There are some very good recommendations in that report and so those recommendations have been incorporated into the (GNBWIB) strategic plan…(For example,) that there’s a lack of coordination among the stakeholders number one and number two that there are a lack of specific partnerships and alliances, or I should say, that there are not enough partnerships or alliances.
On regional approach: There are nine other communities, in addition to New Bedford, (in the WIB service area.) Now New Bedford is the largest, but those other communities all add value, not only to themselves but to the New Bedford region as well. People commute, they come back every day … so taking a regional approach or perspective really is good for everyone.
On existing disconnect: The employers are saying, ‘We cannot understand why you just can’t teach what we need. We will hire the people.’ This has been going on for decades…I find that the more you are directly involved with the input from the private sector, regardless of whatever the industry is, and you teach to that, the closer you get to hitting that (hiring) target and the greater it’s going to be in terms of hitting the needs.
On New Bedford High School academy plan: Now at the (NBHS) academy they’re going to be having internships in the summer for kids who have been studying specific focused occupations…We’re going to be working with this…placing them in businesses around the area. We really need the businesses to step forward and they will tell us, ‘We don’t have that many positions or it’s a lot of work.’ (But) these kids are going to be trained. They’re going to be able to do a lot of that work, just on their own. So we’re going to need 640 spots around the region to train these people and…if you do an internship with them, they will see exactly what you’re doing and they’ll come out of high school ready to work for you because they will have worked for you.