Monday, November 28, 2016

JobsFirstNYC Testifies at the November New York City Council Hearing on Disconnected Youth

Youth Services Committee Hearing on Oversight - Disconnected Youth: Out of Work and Out of School
Int. No. 708 and Int. No. 709

Good afternoon, Chairman Eugene and other distinguished Council Members of the Youth Services Committee. My name is Marjorie Parker and I am the Deputy Executive Director at JobsFirstNYC, a neutral intermediary focused on the issues of young adults who are out of school and out of work or underemployed.

For several years, JobsFirstNYC has been documenting the number of out-of-school, out-of-work young adults in New York City. Today, this includes more than 184,000 New Yorkers between 16 and 24 years old. Our work as an intermediary includes convening and connecting young adults, service providers, policymakers, public officials, philanthropy leaders, businesses, and advocates to improve outcomes for young adults and develop strategies to sustain our city’s future workforce.

As an organization committed to collecting data, creating and lifting up effective practices, and convening cross-system actors to benefit out-of-school, out-of-work young adults, those who serve them, and those who employ them, we support Intro 708 for the creation of a “disconnected” youth task force. We also recommend the development of a standing Advisory Council to advise the Mayor and City Council on issues surrounding this population indefinitely.

In addition to the stakeholders outlined in the bill’s Introduction, we recommend the inclusion of the following stakeholders:
·         Policy-focused intermediaries like JobsFirstNYC, United Neighborhood Houses, and Community Service Society; and, youth workforce private funders who have experience collaborating with providers to advance practice and policy for this population.
·         Representatives from CUNY and the business communities, as including their voices is integral in any effort designed to propel young people towards sustainable economic prosperity.
·         Young adults, community-based organizations, local and national systems-level actors both separately and together to offer feedback on the effectiveness of existing public programs for this population and to provide recommendations to guide the content and scale of any future investments.

We support the creation of any workforce development division dedicated to connecting out-of-school, out-of-work young adults to training and employment opportunities if it is targeted at reaching those young jobseekers who are not currently being served under OSY, as such, we conditionally support Introduction 709. Recent NY State Department of Labor data shows that DYCD WIOA contracts for Out of School Youth (OSY) programs have better education, employment, and certification outcomes than those achieved by the State overall, so clearly the agency is doing great work here with the population it serves. However, we think any effort to serve larger number of OSYs cannot be dismissed.

As such, we present the following conditional questions and recommendations:
·         How would this new division be different from what Department of Small Business Services (SBS) does through its new young adult programming in the Workforce1 Centers?

We urge the city to conduct a thorough review of the wide range of existing centers designed to serve young adults and other vulnerable youth populations, as options for serving more young adults who are out of school and out of work. The current centers include, but are not limited to:
o   the new SBS/HRA/DOE West Farms Workforce1 Career Center for young adults;
o   the Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON) Centers;
o   the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s CUNY proposals to develop Youth Opportunity Hubs in Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Lower Eastside.
While we were among the first advocating for these centers in our 2014 policy paper, the exponential growth of these mechanisms requires the city to evaluate and coordinate them to create efficiencies so that those with the highest needs are being served.

Furthermore, what system-level impact would result from the development of this new division – would it increase or decrease collaboration among SBS, DYCD, CYE, DOE, CUNY, and the Office of Workforce Development? The department has historically catered to older, higher-functioning, “work-ready” jobseekers. We recommend that SBS could best serve the jobseekers who still lack services through bilateral agency agreements, including some of the following examples:
·         Co-enrolling students in both OSY and SBS programs, so those seeking only employment have direct access to SBS services; Uncouple penalties related to co-enrollment.
·         Working with the Office of Adult and Continuing Education to serve more 21- to -24-year-olds, increasing their access to employment; and,
·         Partnering with workforce unit in CUNY to direct qualified college students to employment opportunities through the SBS mechanisms.

We recommend that the Council consider these additional actions that can reach more out of school, out of work young adults.
·         Explore expanding the services of Pathways to Graduation/District 79 to serve young people up to age 24; This could lead to greater amount of OSOW gaining access to education and employment services
·         Enhance and expand resources to support current existing OSY programs to serve more young adults and provide additional post-program supports.

We believe that the creation of any new division should be under the purview of the department or departments with the experience and knowledge necessary to support out-of-school, out-of-work young adults at all levels who need a variety of training, education, bridging, and placement options. We also believe that any new division should target its resources towards the vast number of out-of-school, out-of-work young adults who are not currently receiving support through the array of other programs already available through DYCD and SBS.

Thank you,

Marjorie Parker

Deputy Executive Director, JobsFirstNYC

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Statement from JobsFirstNYC on the 2016 Presidential Election

Dear Colleagues,

In the days that have followed last week's historic election, JobsFirstNYC has spoken with the field about what this outcome means for the national workforce and training system, and what opportunities and challenges a Trump presidency presents. In one of our most intense and polarizing elections, we are at a highly uncertain crossroads.

Creating and sustaining a qualified national workforce that effectively meets both supply and demand is not a Democrat or Republican issue, it is one that affects every citizen. While federal spending for workforce has been on a steep disinvestment curve for many years, this new administration will present an important opportunity to examine the question of our national work-preparedness and competitiveness. Voter results in this election also demonstrate that many Americans believe that the workforce system is simply unable to propel them on a path to economic security. One major element in ensuring the workforce system's effectiveness is the thoughtful inclusion of employers, which is also central to the mission of JobsFirstNYC and organizations like ours.

Early thinking from our national policy colleagues suggests that the new Administration's likely focus will be on expanding the quantity and quality of middle-skills jobs, implementing a broad economic stimulus with refinements in trade policy and business deregulation, and addressing our country's infrastructure. These are all issues around which our field can and should develop a unified policy and action agenda. Creating more intentional training opportunities for domestic manufacturing and infrastructure-related jobs is a specific example of where our priorities could potentially align with that of the new administration.

However, one thing must be made and kept explicit in our movement forward: there can be no space in the national workforce and training agenda for ableism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia, all of which were keenly manifested in the rhetoric of this election cycle throughout the past several months.

JobsFirstNYC will never have a neutral position on these issues, because of the young people we are called by our mission to serve. Many young Americans are very concerned about the outcome and consequences of this election. For young immigrants, young men and women of color, young people impacted by the juvenile and criminal justice systems, young people who identify as LGBTQ, and young people with hidden or visible disabilities, we must affirm our commitment to their equitable treatment in our society through both our words and our actions.

In the weeks and months ahead, it is critical to have a more inclusive strategic discussion among our national leadership about how to ensure that many of our recent gains notably those focused on equity and social and economic justice, are preserved so that all young Americans can fully engage in our country's future.

While we need to carefully reflect on our political circumstances and how the world is responding to them, we also need to forge ahead with an aligned advocacy effort in order to build an economy that is inclusive of all of America's young people.
Central to this effort will be a focus on supporting and investing in young leaders as change ambassadors and systems advocates, and you will be hearing more from us in the coming months about how we will put that plan into action.
In the weeks and months ahead, we have much to do and we need your support:

1. Stay engaged in the discussion. We need a full range of conversations about policies and practices that can ensure all Americans have a place in our country's economic future. Join us to be an active part of the conversation that involves open, constructive debate.

2. Join in the effort. Volunteer your time and/or donate resources to any cause that will advance opportunities for young people. Support businesses and institutions committed to affording such opportunities.

3. Plan and organize. As we build on our advocacy for effective and inclusive economic policies, join us and other organizations at the forefront of this effort to ensure that such policies are a core focus of the new administration.
We welcome and need your input and involvement as we collectively proceed, and we re-affirm our absolute commitment and resolve to ensure that every young person has the opportunity to fully participate in and benefit from the economic life of our great City and our great country.


The JobsFirstNYC Board of Directors and Staff

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Strengthening Employer Engagement Practices in the Youth Employment Field

Strengthening Employer Engagement Practices in the Youth Employment Field
by: Lou Miceli

There has been much recent discussion in our field around “cracking the code” of effective employer engagement. Employers have many options for filling positions, and workforce organizations often struggle to build the relationships that lead even to semi-regular hiring, much less continual placement of low-income job seekers. Making progress in this work can be slow-going for workforce organizations and programs, as it is often a challenging feat to connect to employers who best understand the needs of the people we serve, have a clear institutional value-proposition in terms of services they can provide to meet those needs, and are willing to make a commitment to support and prepare job seekers to be best matched to available employment opportunities. It can even be more challenging to do this consistently over time and with the quality necessary to benefit both employers and providers.

Challenges differ but are no less significant when we move beyond transactional job placements to look at the system-wide framework in which workforce development operates. These systemic challenges include: achieving scale to truly meet the needs of job seekers and employers, operating within the shifting political constraints, and fostering the relatively limited capacity of effective employer intermediaries that can help align workforce, training, and talent needs.

Throughout my career, I have held many roles in workforce and youth development. Some of my earliest were that of a job developer and a supervisor of job development, and then later as a trainer and mentor to many job developers. It is with those experiences in mind that I approach both the systemic and transactional elements of employer relationship-building in my own work at JobsFirstNYC, and which are central to our work overall in the workforce field.

Over the years, the training pendulum has swung from supply-side to demand-side focus on employer needs. This transition has been necessary and right. In an ideal world, individual organizations would collaborate to share resources and expertise to better meet the needs of bigger employers, thereby benefitting everyone involved. However, I still experience our work in the field as less coordinated and strategic than it should be, partially because fully-integrated employer engagement mechanisms are often complex, dynamic, and difficult to construct, especially in larger cities like New York where institutional individualism and political constraints are often well entrenched.

Employer engagement at the organizational or systems level is fundamentally about relationship-building and trust, often best taught through modeling and direct experience paired with training and effective practice exchange. This iterative process requires time. Organizations often make less-than-linear progress, and our field should build room to experiment with innovative approaches to doing this thoughtfully and well, while affording opportunities for errors and course-corrections.

Here are several steps the field can take to engage employers more effectively:

1. Strengthen the Role and Practice of Job Development
Job development represents a fundamental function for any workforce program, especially those with performance-based funding. Yet job development as a profession receives little formal attention. On the whole, job developers are underpaid, under-resourced and have surprisingly few opportunities for professional development. In a context where hiring standards are often low, stress to meet numbers is high, and turnover is endemic, it is difficult for organizations to develop sophisticated employer strategies. If we do not invest in this role, we will not see improvements in employer engagement at the transactional level.

Over the years, JobsFirstNYC has worked with Workforce Professionals Training Institute (WPTI) to convene thousands of job developers from across New York City and beyond to share effective practices and strategies, learn from field experts, and network directly with employers. WPTI is one of a handful of organizations we know of nationally that actually provides low-cost, high-quality training for job development staff. We need more examples of this kind of professional development in our field overall.

2. Strengthen and Support Job Development Supervisory Staff
Most job developers learn the skills of job development on the job. If you were like me and many of my colleagues, once you had some experience and reasonable success in working with employers, chances are you got promoted in your role, continuing to work with employers directly, but also supervising others doing the same.

Front-line job development is tough enough given pressures of meeting placement goals on performance-based contracts, but job development supervisors must also be adept at mentoring others while honing their own leadership and management skills. Supervisors must juggle contract / funder obligations and outcome expectations (often across multiple funding streams) while cultivating, leading, and sustaining a high-performing team. This is no small set of tasks, and like job developers themselves, little exists in terms of professional development or training to help develop and refine these skills. Supervisors also learn on the job, a process that inflicts significant opportunity costs on programs and organizations given high levels of turnover and attrition.

Supervisors of job developers should be trained to lead effective teams. This includes building their own leadership teams, creating effective account management teams, and using team approaches to continuously support and strengthen staff. Team work in employer engagement is crucial to transcend the old school mentality of “I keep my employer contacts in a locked safe,” and enables organizations to provide a more seamless set of services over time for any employer based relationship. As we develop such teams, we also need to be mindful about how such teams are incentivized and credited for shared job fulfillment efforts. There are interesting models we can learn from, especially from high-performing direct service providers.

3. Transcend Individual Connections
I often hear concerns from workforce leaders about just how challenging it is to sustain employer relationships when people on either side make transitions. If a job developer leaves and relationship goes with him or her, the organization is back to square one with that employer. Given that staffing changes and attrition are inevitable, I am surprised that there is not more discussion and writing about this phenomenon in our work. We need to do more to lift up examples of favorable solutions and workarounds.

The account management model is one relatively simple way to minimize institutional learning loss, especially for larger organizations. “When the phone rings, anyone on the team should be able to pick up the line and help the customer” is a long-established mantra in the sales world, and one our field could learn from. While one cannot always control for changes in HR leadership -- and yes, even if you have a relationship with the CEO of the company, it does not mean that will be the go-to person who will be responsible for managing the relationship on the employer side -- one can control for changes on the workforce side by training and supporting small teams of account managers to work together in a shared strategy.

4. Create and Leverage Board-Level Relationships
In recent years we have seen an increase in board-level involvement in organizational efforts to engage employers, and I believe that there needs to be much more of this in our field. For community-based organizations, there is a understandable challenge in doing this well given that many are led by boards that represent many issue areas and disciplines relevant to the mission of the organization, which may be more expansive and varied than just workforce training or job placement.
The best workforce organizations not only recruit business leaders at the board level, but also leverage those relationships to ensure the resources and connections they bring have maximal impact on the organization. While the door-opener for this may be commonly through corporate social responsibility, it can evolve to incorporate an integrated strategy where such relationships are leveraged to bring many different types of benefits to workforce organizations.

A thought on employer advisory boards: I am yet to see more than a handful of truly impactful organization-specific employer boards or advisory groups. Most that I have had direct experience with are in name only, or struggle with focus and enthusiasm. Employer advisory boards can be difficult to sustain for many reasons, but what I learn most commonly from employers is that the direct service organization cannot meet the scale or variety of talent needs required over time; that limitation impacts whether employers are willing or able to stay involved.

5. Build Multi-Organizational Collaborations
Perhaps one of the most promising ways to realize value for employers is through collaborative partnerships. In my years at JobsFirstNYC, we have helped develop several such initiatives, and have benefitted from the innovative and inclusive work that organizations can do when they bring together complementary capacities, resources, personnel, and data.

This is especially true for cracking the hiring processes of medium and larger sized employers, where staffing needs may be variable, customized, and at greater scale than any individual organization can meet alone. It is this type of strategy that has helped to make a national model of the Lower East Side Employment Network (LESEN), whose members have a keen sense of what they can and cannot deliver and work collaboratively to create a more organized, comprehensive approach to sourcing talent. 

Through another collaborative, the Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project, we are beginning to see very creative and effective ways to meet employer talent needs that transcend the typical set of services that workforce organizations can provide. YASEP brings together CBOs and employers to craft specific training programs to create a pipeline of highly qualified candidates for specific positions in high-growth fields.  Employers benefit from involvement in pre-hire preparation, and workforce organizations see high placement rates.  This project has become a national model.

The goal of workforce development is to remove the barriers that keep low-income job seekers out of the labor market.  Ultimately, meeting the demands for our services means embracing the needs of employers as much as job seekers – and engaging employers in a way that leads to repeat, frequent hiring over the long term.  Without fundamental changes to the way most job development happens, we may fall short.