Alphachimp at Manpower's employment summit

Photo: Julie Fanselow

The international staffing service and employment company, Manpower, moved its headquarters from suburban Milwaukee to the Harambee-Brewers Hill neighborhood in September 2007, and it recently launched an initiative called Accelerate Employment Circles to help people in the immediate area talk about finding “A Place for Everyone in the World of Work.”

Addressing the December 17 gathering, Manpower CEO Jeff Joerres explained how – while the company is helping solve thorny staffing issues in China, India, France, and Mexico – unemployment remains high right in its own back yard. “We want to take the good things happening in this neighborhood, see if we can accelerate them, and take time and thoughtfulness to do so,” he said.

About 100 people attended the mid-December summit, and about 60 people – including a dozen or so members of the city-sanctioned Workforce Investment Board – spent three hours talking about what it would mean if everyone in the neighborhood had meaningful work. Using a guide developed by Manpower with the help of the Study Circles Resource Center (soon to be renamed Everyday Democracy), participants were asked to imagine a backpack containing the most important things people would need “to help them choose, prepare for, and obtain the right job for their talents and interests.” Items mentioned included opportunity, education, knowledge, self-awareness, trust, support, financial skills, and time-management skills. In one dialogue, participants noted the lack of a safety net of help with childcare, transportation, or simply the ability to take time off for an emergency.

As the circles worked, facilitators made written lists of ideas and observations, and graphic facilitator Jim Nuttle from Alphachimp Studio Inc. rendered the conversations into words and pictures. People spoke of barriers including racism, inadequate public transit, inflexible employers, the need for a living wage (working at or near the minimum wage is hardly worth it, some said), and the lack of gathering places where diverse people can meet and network. But they also spoke of assets including schools, the Milwaukee Area Technical College (whose president took part in a dialogue), non-profit organizations, and forward-thinking businesses.

After the dialogues ended, participants gathered to prioritize the action items proposed using keypad technology provided by Padgett Communications.