Friday, April 24, 2015

Creating a workforce development system that serves all of New York City's young adults

The numbers are sobering. Over 300,000 of New York City's 18- to 24-year-olds are currently out of school and out of work, or stuck in dead-end jobs. Many find themselves trapped, and either resign themselves to a life of poverty or get drawn into non-legal alternatives. Those who seek help through the city's public workforce entities more often than not discover a fragmented system structured to reward quick and dirty job placements over preparation for career-level, quality positions. 

In a recent insightful piece, Jako Borren of Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation notes the inadequacy of New York City's "transactional" based workforce development system enacted under the Bloomberg Administration. He cites a number of the system's shortcomings, including its overwhelming focus on the easiest-to-serve young adults at the expense of others, lack of coordination of resources and referrals among service providers, weak ties to employers, mismatch between training options offered and actual employer needs, and general inadequacy of supportive services that address the wide range of barriers young adults face.

Under Mayor Bill De Blasio, New York City has started to realign its workforce system toward higher-paying, longer-term jobs. Its Career Pathways initiative, announced last November, lays the groundwork for programs and services that, once fully implemented, will significantly improve results for low-income job seekers. But, as Borren notes, even this will likely not be enough to reach the thousands of young adults with persistent barriers. 

As an intermediary for youth development programs, JobsFirstNYC has been beating the drums of reform since our inception. We highlighted the scale of the young adult employment crisis in our report Barriers to Entry, and followed up with a series of concrete recommendations in Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent:

  • Sector-based partnerships between employers and workforce providers to create training and apprenticeship programs for young adults. (Since 2013, JobsFirstNYC has been underwriting sectoral collaborations through its Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project.)
  • Creation of a network of community-based Young Adult Opportunity Centers
  • A one-stop web portal that provides a comprehensive guide to career information and education, training and employment resources 

Borren mentions these and other potential reforms in his article. But as he aptly concludes,

Young adults out of school and out of work, and the unemployed and underemployed in general, need strong mentoring, coaching and proper guidance that will instill hope, spark inner passions and inspire a sense of ownership in their choices. Only after reshaping programs around the deep rooted concerns and real circumstances that face young adults will workforce programs be able to help them advance.

To read the full article, click below (PDF):
Jako Borren, "From Transactional to Transformational Policies for NYC Youth," Catalyst: Designing Policy for People (Issue 14, Spring 2015): 40-45.

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