David Bartholomew: On Cooperation, Competition, and Capitol Hill


By Luanne Crayton

Public-sector workforce boards and staffing firms sometimes regard each other warily, and often with disdain. But it shouldn’t be that way, says David Bartholomew, CEO of Staffmark. Bartholomew, who serves on the Workforce Investment Board of Middle Tennessee, says the relationship should be more like that between public libraries and bookstores.

“Libraries offer the same books that are available for sale in the retail market, but they don’t really compete,” he said at ASA’s Capitol Hill Day earlier this year, where he served on a panel that addressed how staffing firms can work with government employment programs.

He contrasted the services provided by one-stop centers and staffing firms. For example, career centers provide access to job postings, whereas staffing firms place people with employers. And career centers provide skills assessments to help job seekers understand their skills, whereas staffing companies match those skills with the requirements of a prospective employer.

“Career centers are more of an employment library, a resource center for employment information—including staffing service opportunities,” he explained.

‘We Need Each Other’

“The reality is that staffing services and career centers desperately need each other. We just haven’t learned to work together,” Bartholomew said.
He explained that the funding of workforce investment boards depends in part on their performance in three areas: employment outcomes (how many people go to work), retention (how many stay in their jobs six months or more), and wage recovery (how many earn a certain percentage of their previous wages).

He then explained how staffing firms can help the boards in each of those areas.

Employment outcomes: “Who can find people jobs faster than a staffing service?” he asked. “No one.”

Retention: “We need to let the local career center know that a good way to find a permanent job is by working a temporary assignment,” he said. “They don’t understand this, so we need to explain it to them.”

Wages: “In most cases, we are the largest employer in the local markets. We need to post our higher-wage jobs with them to help them with their wage performance issues,” Bartholomew said.

‘Get in the Game’

“Every market should have someone from the staffing industry on the local workforce board,” Bartholomew told the staffing professionals who attended Capitol Hill Day. “They need to hear from us at the same time they are hearing from organized labor and others. We need to protect our industry, but we also need to be good corporate citizens,” he said.
“Everyone in our industry should make regular visits to the local one-stop career center. If I were a commissioned salesperson, I would visit career centers once a week to see if I could fill the job orders. This is easy business.

“Are your jobs posted in the one-stop?” he asked. “They should be. The centers have candidates, and it doesn’t cost one dime to see if there is a match.

“Do you refer temporary associates in need of social services such as transportation or child care to them? You should because that is why they are there.”

According to Christine Bradley, executive director of the Nashville Career Advancement Center, Bartholomew walks his talk. “David provided the vision necessary to help move our workforce investment board beyond an oversight role to one of creating a workforce vision for our area,” she says. “Workforce development is much more than the operation of a one-stop. It’s chambers of commerce, employers, community service agencies, and others working together to improve the quality of our workforce, and as a result improve our community.”

“These local workforce boards are providing a service our country needs,” Bartholomew says. “We need to get off the sidelines and get in the game.”

Another View of the Hill

Capitol Hill Day was somewhat of a homecoming for Bartholomew, who served as a page in the U.S. Senate when he was 15. “I was Sen. Howard Baker’s page during the Watergate hearings,” he says, “so I worked on the Senate floor and in the hearings.” Baker was vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee.
Bartholomew and the other pages were unaware that they were in the midst of history in the making. “We didn’t have a clue what was going on,” he says. “We weren’t able to fully appreciate at the time what we were doing.”

Some of his tasks as a page were particularly memorable, like “running back to an office building to get lead for a senator’s pencil.”

He still remembers his home away from home. “I lived at 404 East Capitol Street in a house with eight other pages.” And he’ll never forget what time school started. “We were tutored in the Library of Congress, and we had to be there at 5:30 a.m. when the Senate was in session.”

“It was a great experience,” says Bartholomew. “I’m from rural eastern Tennessee, and it was like Gomer Pyle goes to the city.”

On the Go

“I travel a great deal for work,” Bartholomew says. “I believe that to be effective, you need to stay in front of the client, and understand and take care of the client’s needs. To be a good leader and represent your company, you have to be out there. I have to get out and sell the business just like we ask our salespeople to do.”
And when he’s not working, he still keeps moving. “I’m a sports nut,” says Bartholomew, who plays tennis and golf, jogs, and skis. One benefit of all that activity is stress relief. “I can jog four or five miles, and then I’m ready to go again,” he says.

“Because I travel so much, on weekends I spend time with my four kids, being a ‘soccer dad’ and watching their sports activities.” Bartholomew has one son and three daughters, ages 11 to 17.

“It’s fun to watch them grow up and excel. As a parent, when you see that, you don’t worry about whether it’s all worthwhile because you know it is.”

Gentleman Competitor

“David brings intensity and fun to the business all at the same time, says Bartholomew’s former business partner, Ted Feldman, now an executive with an international health-care staffing firm. “He has a serious, competitive spirit, yet people love to be around him.”
Adds Greg Barnes, president and chief financial officer of Staffmark, “We look to David as the captain of our team at Staffmark. He serves as an inspiration, and instills confidence and commitment. He’s a good coach.”

Bartholomew enjoys the successes of others. “I love to see the people I work with rise to a challenge and then be rewarded for it,” he says. “I love to see someone come into the business, succeed, and grow their market. In this industry, you see the fire that drives new people. They think they can do it, and when they do, it is so much fun.”

His adversaries might see his competitive spirit differently. “I’d be polite about it,” he says, “but they’d know I wanted to beat the hell out of them.”


ASA Workforce MonitorMore than three-quarters of employed U.S. adults (79%) are satisfied with their employers’ pandemic-related return-to-work plans. Download the infographic »

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