At BofA, workforce training starts early

Garofalo outlines plans to work with students

In one sense, Bank of America is no different than every other business in the state: It’s always on the lookout for new employees.

The bank, however, differs from others in its recruitment drive.

Bank of America New Jersey President Alberto Garofalo said the bank not only is making a strategic decision — and large economic investment — in developing workers in underserved communities, the bank is doing so with programs at both the collegiate and high school levels.

Garofalo, speaking at the ReNew Jersey Business Summit in Atlantic City last month, said communities in New Jersey need to rethink their workforce development and the active role they need to play in the process.

“Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is expecting a different outcome and continuing to do the same thing,” he told the crowd. “We’ve got to take a very different approach to this.”

Garofalo said BofA’s approach can be seen in a number of ways, starting with the $1.25 billion effort it announced in 2021 to address social inequality, racial inequality and economic mobility across the U.S.

Garofalo, however, said it’s important that those dollars have impact at a local level — that’s why he is most excited about the High School of the Future initiative that BofA is undertaking with the Liberty Science Center.

The High School of the Future is an innovative curriculum modeled on experiential learning that consists of a two-year accelerated regiment to develop basic STEM skills and job specializations. The program is targeted to launch in fall 2022 in two high schools in Hudson County. 

It will provide an opportunity to reach minority high school students who are not college-bound and provide them with skills/training and internships with employers leading to long-term career opportunities.

Garofalo said he is most excited that the bank is providing more than just funding. It will also play a part in developing the curriculum, and with all parts of the program.

“We’re going to oversee the program throughout the entire lifecycle,” he said. 

And Garafolo said BofA is committed to hiring those students when they graduate from high school, too.

It’s all about helping develop the workforce of the future, he said. And not just the future of banking.

Garofalo said he’s equally excited about partnerships the bank has created with nearly two dozen organizations that are based on teaching the skills necessary for the workforce.

The biggest is a $560,000 donation that Bank of America gave to the Career Services Center at New Jersey City University.

The unique grant is the largest single corporate gift and most significant investment in career development in NJCU’s history, school officials said. The investment is in the form of a four-year grant that will address racial, ethnic and income inequality.

Garofalo said it represents the bank’s desire to aid in the effort to help students of color successfully complete the education and training necessary to enter the workforce and embark on a path to success.

Access to good jobs and meaningful careers is key to closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap. Students of color often face daunting challenges, including financial hardship, lack of guidance in choosing courses that will help them achieve success and lack of internship and skill-building opportunities to prepare for career readiness.

For Garofalo, it’s part of a belief that the state needs to rethink some of its efforts in workforce development.

“It’s not just about the teaching, but how do we create a support mechanism that allows them to (provide) mentoring and guidance along the way?” he said.

Garofalo said he’s most proud of the wide-ranging efforts the bank is putting forward.

“We’re going all in on investing in these high schools, investing in these organizations, building the curriculum and then committing to hire them,” he said. 

Garofalo said he hopes other New Jersey companies will follow BofA’s lead of working from the ground up in an effort to ensure that there are more graduates trained for high-paying jobs, especially for those from low- to moderate-income communities.

“I think this has the potential to drive exponential improvement,” he said.