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Re-Envisioning the New York City Workforce System

With so many New Yorkers unemployed or working in low-paying jobs with no chance of advancement, job creation for all New Yorkers is a top priority. So a few years ago, with a mayoral election approaching, the NYC Workforce Funders took steps to ensure that the new administration was informed about the need for workforce development reform initiatives.

Improving Lower-Level Jobs Boosts Economic Stability

Among the 30 occupations expected to have the largest employment growth during the next decade, 23 require only a high school diploma or less. This means “good jobs” continue to be relatively scarce. So it’s not enough to build the ladder to better jobs for low-income workers. Other strategies include re-balancing workforce development strategies to improve the quality of lower-level jobs—raising the floor.

Raising the floor strategies can provide hundreds of thousands of low-income worker a level of stability and dignity. Examples of outcomes include improved compensation and benefits, full-time and predictable hours of work, coaching and peer mentoring programs, and higher safety and training standards. For employers, such a strategy can result in higher productivity and lower recruitment costs.

“A better-trained worker doesn’t create a better job; employers create better jobs,” says Steven Dawson, co-author of Re-Envisioning the New York City Workforce System. “We have to incentivize that behavior change—and show how to make entry-level jobs themselves better, not just as a stepping stone. We have to raise the floor.”

New York City’s workforce development system, though significantly improved over the past several years, has focused on placing New Yorkers into jobs—any jobs—as quickly as possible, rather than preparing workers for quality employment, with little emphasis on training. Many of these placements proved to be short-lived. For the economic health of the City and its residents, a new, vibrant vision was needed: one that focused on long-term value.

In 2011 the Workforce Funders and The Clark Foundation convened a conference in Cooperstown, New York. One of the initiatives supported by the Workforce Funders was the Re-Envisioning the New York City Workforce System,  co-chaired by workforce development experts Steven Dawson and David LaGreca. The goal was to identify reforms and strategies for the next mayor to strengthen New York City’s workforce system. The resulting Re-Envisioning report proposes “a more integrated, labor-driven workforce system, with the mayor providing the leadership necessary to align public, private and philanthropic resources.” A second report offers strategies for implementation.

The reports have influenced the City administration’s job creation initiatives, helping to provide a blueprint for a newly designed workforce development system. Shortly after taking office in January 2014 Mayor Bill de Blasio created the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development and convened the Jobs for New Yorkers Task Force.  

In November 2014 the Task Force issued its strategic report, Career Pathways: One City Working Together,  to articulate goals for a new workforce system. The report recommended adoption of a Career Pathways framework, expansion of industry partnerships like NYACH, and a greater investment in bridge programs and skills training. The Task Force also recommended creating a formal partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development and the NYC Workforce Funders to implement the Career Pathways concepts.

Moving forward, this partnership will help structure a job market in which every New Yorker can work and thrive.



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