The City's Pathways

In late November, the Jobs for New Yorkers Task Force, described by Mayor de Blasio as “a diverse group of stakeholders determined to broaden opportunity for New Yorkers from every borough and background and foster a stronger and more equitable future for the city,” published a major report and affiliated website that I somehow missed, and want to call your attention to in case you did too.   

The report is called “Career Pathways: One City Working Together,” so right away you know I’m a fan of the orientation.  The Task Force, comprised of representatives from businesses, organized labor, educational institutions, service providers, philanthropy, and government, had their work cut out for them: to bolster city businesses by enhancing the skills of our labor force and to make recommendations for refocusing $500 million to transform New York City's workforce system and help workers secure good-paying jobs in fast-growing economic sectors.  And for their next act, they’ll cure cancer!  Yes, the scope of work is vast and challenging—and of vital importance to realizing the equity agenda that the de Blasio administration so nobly espouses, and that I so fervently pine for.  

The report is a wonderful primer on the state of workforce development in this city, chock-full of charts that help visualize the current landscape and depict future trends.  The report targets structural weaknesses in the labor market that need to be rectified if the City is to prosper over the long term, and delves into the human capital implications, honing in on three key policy areas, making 10 sharp policy recommendations and including concrete short, medium, and longterm goals for each of them (pp 63-67.)

The issues are stark: While NYC overall has had a relatively quick and robust recovery from the recession in terms of total employment, new job creation has been concentrated at the far extremes of the skills spectrum.  Most new positions are in low-wage, low-skill sectors, and compensation in low-skill jobs has actually decreased in real terms. Nearly a million working New Yorkers—almost a quarter of the total labor force—earn less than $20,000 per year. Because these workers rarely possess the qualifications they need to advance to middle-class jobs, many of these individuals have no escape from poverty.  

Problematically, New York City’s workforce system is currently not configured to address these challenges. Over the past 20 years, the workforce system has shifted away from job training to focus almost exclusively on job placement without any strategic focus on high-value economic sectors.  While there is a pragmatism in such placements, the long term dividends are pretty dismal.  For example, a recent analysis from the Human Resources Administration (HRA) revealed that one out of every four Cash Assistance recipients who left the welfare rolls for employment was receiving assistance again within twelve months. 

Currently, about two-thirds of the $500 million spent annually on workforce services is allocated to programs that connect jobseekers to entry-level positions with low wages and limited advancement prospects. By contrast, only about 7% of this budget supports training programs that can provide skills that lead to career-track jobs with opportunities for advancement.  Sadly, most publicly funded workforce programs are not designed to deliver longer-term value, offer few follow-up services, and place little to no emphasis on long-term career advancement.This minimal investment in skill building serves neither jobseekers, who have few long-term prospects in low-skilled occupations, nor employers, who cannot turn to the workforce system for the talent they need to grow.  The limited investment in skill building is depicted sharply in the chart below (Employment Services focuses on attachment to those entry-level positions.)

Workforce Dev Service Levels & Funding by Program Type.png

Overall, the Task Force has done yeomen’s work in tackling the challenges in the report.  I’m heartened to read their recommendation for “an unprecedented full-system shift toward a Career Pathways model and public-private Industry Partnership initiatives to ensure that workforce training is directly linked to employers' talent needs.”  Hear hear and hallelujah!  Now how to do it…  Commitment is of course an important first step, and the Mayor expresses the administration’s intention “to work across agencies to create new models for skill development and high-value work experiences; connect hiring and training opportunities to the City's sizable economic development investments; and engage employers to improve the stability and dignity of low-wage work.”  Right on.

While I fear that some of the recommendations may be more pie-in-the-sky aspirational than coming-soon-to-an-employer-near-you operational, I applaud the intent.  I hope that formulating and publicly articulating such recommendations can become a self-fulfilling prophesy and that industry and community partners will rise in response.  That said, to quote Ronald Reagan (no, I won’t be referencing trickle-down economics, which is like Waiting for Godot…), we must “trust but verify.”


It’s important not to overlook some improvements in workforce development made in the last decade, and this report doesn’t.  It notes that NYC has made commendable gains in engaging previously skeptical employers to hire from its workforce programs, citing the impressive growth of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) in increasing its number of annual placements from just a few hundred in 2004 to 36,558 in Fiscal Year 2014, as well as the 17,227 placements made by the Human Resources Administration’s Back to Work program in the same period.  It also notes promising trends in philanthropic investment in workforce development in the city, from $18.4 million in 2004 to $64.7 million in 2013. 

At the same time, it doesn’t pull punches in articulating the massive magnitude of problems in the workforce development system (which isn’t really a system…)  I really appreciate the central focus given to calling out the degree to which programs have not been adequately connected to each other or to the City’s economic development priorities.  The workforce system must embrace a common set of processes, metrics, and definitions that support job outcomes instead of stopping at job placement.  It is no easy feat to forge the connections, but Awareness and Commitment are the first steps, and perhaps Badges can be the next (a new ABCs)?  I like that the report commits the City to taking appropriate responsibility for using its wide range of levers—from procuring goods and services, to initiating public maintenance and infrastructure projects, to selling and leasing City-owned land—in order to help New Yorkers access good jobs. 

The Task Force has really thought systemically and comprehensively and, while raising the bar, has taken into account the needs and challenges of the lowest skilled jobseekers, not forsaking them in shifting to a Career Pathways framework.

The report recognizes how ambitious/audacious —and expensive—the goals are (see pp 69-71): “The changes to New York City’s workforce development system proposed by the Task Force represent an unprecedented philosophical and operational shift. No large city ever has reset its entire workforce system along a Career Pathways framework, nor has any workforce system of this size been oriented toward a demand-focused, sector-specific model. Increased system coordination is another departure from the status quo. For the first time, City agencies and programs will function as part of a larger whole, rather than as mostly autonomous entities.”  As the old saw says, set no small goals for they lack the power to stir one's soul.  My soul is certainly stirred by calls to action like this.

And yet I also have qualms about realizing the goals.  The report confidently notes that between private funding partners and the added flexibility of federal workforce funds to support training under the recently-revised Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA), prospects are bright for a deeper shared investment in skill-building workforce development initiatives.  I’d love to think so, but fear that much more is needed.

I like the character composites on p 39, which humanizes and grounds the report—and the dimension of need.   See snapshot below.

That said, they feel a bit lofty and aspirational—what “guarantees” will there be?  How will the Leilas and Edwins of the world find out about pathway opportunities, what support will they have in progressing along the pathway, and what recourse will they have if there's a blockage of some sort?    How will Leila’s college to become an RN be paid for?  How do we know Antonia will be interested in switching from Retail to Tech?  They’re QUITE different.  What engagement and education strategies will be undertaken to make the case with her and to support her through?

The report includes an incredible Snapshot of the NYC Workforce System (online, and in the Appendix on p 71-99) providing information about existing workforce development programs, including information about the agency, program descriptions, populations served, tracked outcomes, and service and funding levels.  I had no idea what a wide range there are, providing valuable raw material to weave a fuller fabric of workforce support.  Many of them are pretty small and it would be great to ascertain the ones with the best outcomes for expansion.  Of course, right now, they seem quite disparate and disconnected, with predictable results…

I couldn’t but be struck by the fact that of the 90 programs described in the Snapshot, only ONE includes students below age 16 (DYCD's Summer Youth Employment Program, supporting students age 14-24.)  This may be because youth programs were not the focus of the report, but my sense is that there are few programs to profile, and fewer still that lead to pathways.  But why wait until students become (more) disconnected at age 16 rather than target younger youth through the things they’re passionate about and support them in parlaying passions into pathways?

The Taskforce notes that there are several important topics that are outside the scope of their report, including the City’s broader job creation strategy and improvements to K-12 education (though it does address connections between workforce, education, and economic development initiatives.)  This is totally understandable given the significant scope, but also unfortunate since these issues HAVE to be addressed in order to ensure that all New Yorkers have appealing career pathways.  Starting early by targeting youth during their adolescence—a peak time of identity formation and interest development—is important to sparking and strengthening passions that can be propelled into professional pursuits with some structure and support.


Here are some of the striking stats I culled from throughout the report (worthy of Harper’s Index):

  • As noted above, nearly 1 million new Yorkers—almost a quarter of the working force—earn less than $20,000 a year.
  • only 7% of the $500 million spent per year on workforce services supports training programs that provide skills that can lead to career-track jobs with opportunities for advancement.
  • approximately 2/3 of that $500 million for workforce development is allocated to programs that place individuals into low-wage jobs.
  • 52% of workforce services constituents surveyed noted “building skills” as their top workforce priority. 
  • the health care industry accounts for 15.91% of overall employment in New York City, employing more New Yorkers than any other industry and is projected to continue growing apace through 2020. Yet despite its size and robust growth trajectory, this sector has struggled to anticipate staffing needs or strategically engage with educational institutions and training providers to create a pipeline of qualified workers. 
  • the industrial and manufacturing sector accounts for over 13.47% of employment in the city, even after decades of job losses, and 50% of industrial and manufacturing firms expect to increase employment in the near future according to a survey by the EDC, offering relatively high-paying job opportunities for low- and middle-skill workers across the five boroughs. 
    • Technology represents 7.58%—and growing—of NYC employment.  This is smaller than I realized, but fast growing and, importantly, the average salary is twice as high as those in healthcare ($85K vs $49K.)  And of course the 7.58% only accounts for jobs directly in technology—jobs that require deep knowledge and use of technology are far more numerous.  
  • only 13.6% of the freshman cohort of 2010 in CUNY Associate Degree programs completed studies within three years.
    • youth and young adults are less likely to work in New York City than almost anywhere else in the United States. Only 19.3% of 16-19 year olds in NYC were employed in 2010-11, putting NYC 95th among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in employment rate for that age band; NYC is 97th out of 100th for 20-24 year olds, with just 54.5% employed.  
  • less than 1% of the combined total of NYC high school students and the 172,000 New Yorkers between the ages of 16 and 24 neither in school nor working have publicly funded internships (there are a total of 5,571 offered in 2014.) 

Given these last three statistics, my alarms about the importance of focusing on youth seem well-placed.  


On the surface, the disconnect described seems like it could be a straightforward connect the dots issue to address.  Lacking the qualifications to progress to a middle class job, many low-skilled, low-wage workers today have no means out of poverty.  At the same time, employers with higher quality jobs in health, technology, and manufacturing can’t find and hire the skilled employees they need.  It doesn’t take a social scientist to smell a solution that could address needs on both sides of the equation.  

But of course bridging the gap is not as easy to effectuate as it is to envision, and the report notes that the whole workforce system isn’t presently set up to illuminate what and where the jobs are, what skills and knowledge they require, and how low-skilled workers can pursue a pathway to attaining these better jobs and meeting employers’ needs.  

The taskforce made recommendations around three key policy areas that I greatly applaud.

  1. Building skills employers need through two mutually-dependent initiatives: Industry Partnerships and Career Pathways
  2. Improving job quality
  3. Increasing system and policy coordination

For the sake of this blog, I’m going to focus predominantly on Policy Area I given my passion about pathways.

The report articulates a number of laudatory Future State Goals in this policy area, including

  • Industry Partnerships define criteria for sector- specific training options for a broad range of individuals within a Career Pathways framework 
  • City invests over 20% of all workforce development expenditures in strategic training initiatives  (up from 7%)
  • DOE and CUNY institutionalize real time “feedback loops” with employers and adjust curricula and policies to deliver better workforce outcomes for students 


The report advocates for the creation of Industry Partnerships, “which will work to determine the skills and qualifications that employers need, and continuously upgrade curricula, training, and credential attainment programs to reflect local market conditions. Industry Partnerships will collaborate with organized labor, educational institutions, service providers, philanthropy, and City agencies to develop workforce development strategies and mobilize resources in their respective sectors. “ 

Specifically, NYC will establish or expand six Industry Partnerships that will be housed in City government or contracted through a competitive process. Sitting at the intersection of employer demand and labor supply, these partnerships will help inform every preparatory career step by developing curricula and training programs that equip New Yorkers with the competencies, credentials, and experiences necessary for success. We have lacked any kind of a centralized organ for something like this (which I think is akin to how Chambers of Commerce function in parts of Europe that have thriving professional pipelines) and such Industry Partnerships could be VERY exciting if developed and deployed well, and if businesses really give them credence.  Of course, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, for these Industry Partnerships to truly have the intended impact, they’ll need to develop “Pathway Precursors” that target younger youth—the thrust of the focus within the report is on postsecondary populations. 

One of the terrific aspects of the report for people not immersed in the workforce development world is descriptions of programs like New York Alliance for Careers in Healthcare (NYACH), which the Industry Partnership forged in 2011 with a mission to build an effective healthcare workforce system in NYC (for the industry that employs the most New Yorkers), and the recently-formed Tech Talent Pipeline that will serve as the Industry Partnership for the technology sector, developing a training strategy that reaches low-income New York City residents and increases recruitment of New Yorkers for technology jobs, and developing program models that connect youth to careers in technology and technology education. Industry Partnerships will also be forged for Industrial/Manufacturing, Construction, Retail, and Food Service.  

[I have to confess that I get nervous about jobs in retail, given shift work and the fact that only 29% of the jobs come with health care, and given average salaries of just $37K, but remind myself to put in perspective that such a salary is close to twice as much as a million New Yorkers are currently making and living on, and that such salaries are downright luxurious compared to the median wage of $18,400 for food industry workers.]

Without knowing much about how well they work on the ground, I like the sound of GED Bridge, with programs like LaGuardia’s GED Bridge to Health and Business offering a longer and more intensive experience than many traditional GED/HSE prep courses–108 hours over 12 weeks as opposed to 60 hours over nine weeks–and utilizing a curriculum that conveys basic reading, writing, and math skills by presenting issues and themes related to healthcare and business, such as medical ethics.  Of course for students to opt in to this more rigorous route, the value proposition needs to be made in ways that are very clear and compelling, which this report doesn’t deal with directly.  Given how broken the system has been, many youth haven’t historically seen, or believed in, the payoff of a pathway that requires rigorous preparation.  Transparency about both preparation, in terms of the skills and knowledge needed (hard and soft skills), and pay, in terms of anticipated initial salary and trajectory over time, is needed.  

Innovative programs like Jobs for the Future’s My Best Bets, while not referenced in the report, have tremendous potential in this vein.  My Best Bets is web and mobile platform designed specifically to help low-income students organize and manage their postsecondary and career through an explicit set of exploration, decision, and enrollment tasks. By integrating local labor market data, postsecondary information, and employer preferences, MyBestBets helps students find postsecondary education or certificate programs that are likeliest to lead to promising careers. This blended counseling approach combines technology with off-screen networking activities, adult support, and skill building around finding a path. 


The second big area in Policy Recommendation 1 is Career Pathways- “a new system-wide framework that aligns education and training with specific advancement opportunities for a broad range of jobseekers.”  The report proclaims that all agencies overseeing workforce development programs will reorient their services toward career progression instead of stopping at job placement. This effort will include sector-focused bridge programs, skills training, job-relevant curricula, and work-based learning opportunities. 

The goal is for Career Pathways to connect education, training, credential attainment, and wraparound services to support new and incumbent workers as they advance to higher levels of employment. The primary agencies that manage workforce programs–Small Business Services (SBS), Human Resources Agency (HRA), and the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD)–will work with the Department of Education (DOE), CUNY, and other educational institutions to align education (including career and technical education programs), post-secondary education (including certificate, associate, and bachelor’s degree programs), and credential training with specific career advancement opportunities as jobseekers’ needs evolve over time. 

The Career Pathways framework will require agencies to work together more effectively.  Each agency will focus its efforts on the steps along the career continuum that best leverage its strengths and are most relevant to the needs of its client population.  Agencies will also connect their respective programs through “handoffs” that will allow individuals to move seamlessly from one educational and training step to the next.  For example, HRA will fund programs that build the basic skills of clients who are not prepared for more advanced training and then hand off those clients to SBS for occupational training. 

This is an unbelievably exciting vision.  And deeply daunting to operationalize and enforce.  I’m particularly intrigued by the notion of the “handoffs” as it’s something we’ve been talking about quite a bit in Hive’s Youth Trajectory Affinity Group—that is, how can we make transitions more “transparent” by making pathways more visible and how can we support (and incentivize) programs and the adults who work in them to invest additional time and thought around equipping youth for longer term success and concretely helping them take the next step and “latch” with the new program?

While I believe that most folks who work with young people very much want them to be successful beyond the bounds of their program, we have historically lacked the institutional fabric to do so in systemic ways, such that transitions have relied on (busy!) individuals taking it upon themselves and their personal knowledge or connections.  As such, “handoffs” have been ad hoc and untenable at scale.  The notion of building infrastructure for handoffs, and creating an expectation of handoffs, is promising, and will require a good deal of thought to systematize.  Digital badges seem like an essential ingredient in such an ecosystem—to convey criteria for a given experience, signal completion of it that would generate the readiness for “handoff,” and make visible several next-level opportunities that could serve as potential handoffs.  Badges could also be used to recognize adults who have contributed to the handoff, both on the sending and receiving side.  


There are ten solid recommendations made across the three areas, inclusive of a few specific and substantial investments, such as “Invest $60 million annually by 2020 in bridge programs that prepare low-skill jobseekers for entry-level work and middle-skill job training” and “Triple the City’s training investment to $100 million annually by 2020 in career-track, middle-skill occupations.”  I’m going to focus on the recs that relate specifically to pre-college parts of the pipeline, to the educational system, and to coordinating services.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

    •    RECOMMENDATION 5: Improve and expand CTE and college preparedness programs, adjust CUNY’s alternative credit policy, and invest in career counseling to increase educational persistence and better support students’ long-term employment prospects. 

The report rightly notes that as a primary provider of foundational skills and credentials for young New Yorkers, the DOE is in a unique position to help students advance toward employment and career success, and acknowledges that much remains to be done to ensure that every student who graduates is ready to take the next step toward college and career.   While the percentage of high school graduates deemed “college ready” has increased from 16% in 2005 to 31.4% in 2013, more than two-thirds of high school graduates are still not academically prepared for higher education. 

Hearteningly the report asserts that Industry Partnerships will work with the DOE to align in-school curricula and learning opportunities that support the Common Core, position students for long-term success at work, and facilitate opportunities for students to make professional connections with industries and businesses seeking middle- and high-skill workers.  Thrilling!  That said, no further information is provided about how this will be orchestrated and what this will entail.  I will be investigating for further details about how and when this will be put in place, as it currently seems like a bit like a vague throwaway line given how little real estate it gets in the report.

The report puts forward two strategies for addressing this recommendation:

  1. strengthening the education-to-career path for CTE students by increasing access to work-based learning experiences, and 
  2. increasing the number of CTE options across the system.   

The report makes a very full throated commitment to providing access to work-based learning opportunities, including internships, training, apprenticeships, and/or skill-building programs, for every interested CTE student.  This is huge, although again, no details are articulated beyond that “capacity for this initiative will be built through existing and new employer-school partnerships, CBOs, and Industry Partnerships.”  This makes me nervous, as I've heard from practitioners how challenging this has been historically, but it’s a promising start.

The report DOES make commitments (albeit without any numbers attached) to support CUNY in scaling up CollegeNow programs, and to expand Early College High Schools and At Home In College programs.  It’s exciting to read that the City will work with CUNY to develop a new policy for credit articulation and other methods of earning credit toward degrees within and across CUNY schools AND to explore granting academic credit for students in college-relevant and credit-worthy training courses, as well as for life and work experiences.  This has the potential to be very powerful.  I’m curious as to how receptive CUNY will be to this, and what kind of leverage the City will use to encourage their receptivity.  This again feels like a way in which badges could be very useful in demonstrating what criteria participants have met and/or skills they have built—regardless of where and how the skills were built—and then in conveying “achievement information” about the participant beyond what a transcript can ever do.

    •    RECOMMENDATION 6: Increase work-based learning opportunities for youth and high-need jobseekers. 

Internships, career exposure, and work experience are vitally important for all types of jobseekers. These experiences provide individuals with career-launching opportunities that may not have otherwise been available to them.  Research confirms that early work experience offers particular value for youth and young adults from low-income families. Teen employment shows “path dependence”–young people who work this year are statistically more likely to work the following year and to make successful transitions into employment after they graduate.  In addition, research suggests that economically disadvantaged males who work while in school demonstrate stronger rates of academic persistence and high school graduation. 

Again, the actions cited are all wonderful: The City will seek to provide employers with the support necessary to create a quality experience for young adults first entering the world of work. Additionally, the City will urge CUNY to ensure that its degree and continuing education programs provide students with opportunities for internships and work-study aligned to their fields of study, strengthening the connection between education and career. Industry Partnerships will collaborate with City agencies to create new career exposure programs in critical industries, such as the Brooklyn Tech Triangle Internship Program 

Collectively, the City and its partners will explore the possibility of developing a portal of internship and employment opportunities for youth.  I’m intrigued and excited by this.  While of course more than a portal is needed for it to be a true resource for most youth, particularly disconnected youth, having a consolidated clearing house for youth to identify internships—and ideally being able to see how these internships connect to next level opportunities—would be a very valuable leap forward.  

The calls for high-quality public and private internship programs are well-founded.  The challenge, of course, is doing so at scale.   The report notes that DYCD will better align the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) with skill-building opportunities, in part by increasing the number of private-sector SYEP worksites.  I’ve heard these have been historically difficult to procure and I suspect they will require meaningful incentives for employers.  I hope that the Industry Partnerships can play an important part in committing sizable numbers of meaningful internships—and contextualizing internships as part of pathways.

    •    RECOMMENDATION 10: Reimburse workforce agencies on the basis of job quality instead of the quantity of job placements by aligning service providers under a system-wide data infrastructure that measures job outcomes such as full-time work, wage growth, and job continuity. 

This is HUGE.  The report is forthright in underscoring that among the biggest flaws of the current workforce system is how disjointedly it functions and noting that without addressing this problem, it will be impossible to implement a meaningful system-wide change that rewards job quality as opposed to the quantity of job placements, and to move beyond incentives for “rapid attachment”. 

The City’s workforce programs do not function cohesively. The workforce system spans myriad agencies with more than 15 distinct “brands.” For decades, each City agency has maintained its own set of goals, rules, and processes. The report notes that the lack of coordination among these programs is so profound that obtaining data for the total number of system-wide job placements, average wage of those placed, and the total number of unique customers served, is virtually impossible.   A vital component of integrating workforce subsystems will be creating one set of metrics, with shared job outcome metrics and definitions in city contracts. The implications of this are multi-fold:

  • The disconnect across agencies and programs is a barrier to helping jobseekers increase their earning potential and cultivate the skills and qualifications that employers need. 
  • The opportunities that jobseekers can access are arbitrarily limited by where they seek services because there is no full-system perspective. 

The problems described within this part of the Taskforce report really echo CUF’s Bridging the Disconnect report (and my lengthy blog about it) and it’s exciting to read a recommendation that would target the systemic disconnects so directly.


Big Shifts

  • From emphasis on placement alone to long term value of placements (AKA pathways)
  • Commitment to building a shared data system, with shared metrics AND incentives for sharing rather than competing or operating in isolation.  
    • For this to happen, in 2015 the City will work across all workforce agencies to align workforce development services under a unified City brand, and to come up with a finalized set of metrics with shared definitions that accord with the recently-passed Workforce Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA.) 

What’s Missing

Beyond the concerns I've expressed about the lack of attention to middle and high school engagement, I found myself disappointed that the report doesn’t mention Cultural Affairs and the arts, which are a vital springboard for many.  While on aggregate jobs in arts and culture may not constitute the fastest growing or highest paying sectors, they are uniquely fulfilling for many youth and adults PLUS bridges can be built--arts & healthcare, arts & technology, arts & construction. CityPathways definitely aims to include arts and cultural experiences for youth and to try to map out prospective careers that accruing skills and knowledge in these areas can lead to.

Most Promising Elements (and related open questions)

  • Rewarding and incentivizing “handoffs.”  Bridge programs are prime opportunities for agencies to develop handoffs that will make the City’s workforce system more integrated and conducive to educational and career advancement. For example, a bridge program serving HRA or DYCD clients could connect to SBS training or a CUNY course that leads to a professional certificate or degree. In partnership with CBOs, SBS and DOE will also use bridge programs to create pathways for out-of-school and out-of-work youth throughout the City. 
    • Open Question:  There’s not yet clarity about HOW these handoffs will be supported and incentivized, but let’s make it so.
  • NYC Good Business seal of approval.  The City will use information gleaned through the NYC Good Business assessment to establish an “NYC Good Business” seal. All businesses that complete the assessment and commit to making improvements based on the results would be considered to meet City standards for City contracts and workforce system partnerships. The NYC Good Business program will recognize high-quality New York City employers just as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification does for green buildings, Fair Trade for coffee, or B-Corp for mission- driven companies. Businesses that score poorly on the assessment will have access to supports that will help them make improvements to balance bottom-line considerations with better job quality. 
    • Open Question: I’m not clear about what this Good Business seal all mean, and whether businesses that attain it will have contractual advantages, but there’s some indication that may be the case.
  • Exposure and exploration.  The report notes that in 2015, the City will engage employers and philanthropy to resource and expand early career exposure opportunities for youth.  In 2016-7, the report notes that it will encourage DOE to improve CTE programs by creating CTE exploration and preparatory models for youth and by better aligning adult CTE courses with employer needs. 
    • Open Question: I’ll be eager to learn more about how employer engagement will be orchestrated, and CityPathways will be eager to create work-based sequences of progressive challenge and responsibility.

Open Questions

  • Engaging and Orchestrating Partnerships.  The report envisions “crucial partnership roles for stakeholders in the private sector, philanthropy, community–based organizations, and organized labor.”  How will these be engaged and orchestrated?  I appreciate the centrality given to partnership—I just want to better understand how this will be given teeth, since it is not always in employers best interest to adhere to recommendations like more livable wages, at least not in the short run.
    • Since the composition of the TaskForce was strong, a wide range of community meetings were conducted and stakeholders consulted, and a broad swath of the pertinent public officials were consulted, I do think there’s lots of potential to keep the momentum going and work to actualize the report’s recommendations.
  • Establishing and Operationalizing Common Definitions, Unified Goals.  The report notes, “Successfully improving the system will be possible only if agencies organize their programs around unified goals and use common definitions that enable data aggregation and analysis.” Currently, the different definitions used for the same workforce outcomes make it impossible to generate clear, system-wide data or conduct meaningful cross-program and cross-agency analysis.  But just how will this be operationalized? 
    • LinkedIn is actually an exciting precedent here.  For the past few years, they’ve been working assiduously to create consistent industry codes so that they could conduct and make transparent systemic analysis of, say, how many graduates of the University of Pittsburgh attain jobs in particular sectors.  It can be done—but it’s a very complex labor intensive process.
  • Cultivating and Credentializing Skills.  What skills are we really talking about and how do we cultivate them?  And certify them?  Ascertaining “the skills cocktail” of technical and “soft” skills that are needed for particular jobs, and how to grow them over time, is complex. I’ve rarely seen good, granular depictions of this beyond generic calls for more critical thinking, communication, collaboration, etc.  The report notes, “When the same words have different meanings, it is impossible to align program offerings.” 
    • Could badges help with this?  Clearly we need to implement a system with something tangible and visible.  Encouraging industries to create digital badge-based pathways, in which they articulate clear skills progressions which, once demonstrated, lead to the attainment of next-level responsibilities AND rewards, would be a powerful way to make skills transparent and “rewards” tangible, and to hold employers accountable for supporting prospective and current employees in upward mobility. 
  • Utilizing Feedback Loops and Earlier Intervention.  The report notes that feedback loops will bring educators and workforce service providers to the table to ensure that curricula, equipment, and learning experiences remain current and aligned with employer demand. LOVE this.  But only college is targeted.  What about earlier??  The reality is that focus so late in the pipeline is less propitious than putting younger people on a trajectory to a sustainable livelihood.  While K-12 was not an explicit focus of this report, involving middle and high schools is vital.  As I’ve cited in prior blogs, there’s a significant body of research on career conscription that demonstrates that important aspects of workforce identity are foreclosed by age 14 for many low income youth.
    • The report notes that given that employers are increasingly using educational attainment as a proxy for skill level when making hiring decisions, education has become the single most important determinant of employability and earning power. In 2013, workers with a bachelor’s degree enjoyed median annual earnings that nearly doubled that of high school graduates. National research similarly shows that at every level of educational attainment from high school completion through professional degree, the unemployment rate decreases and average weekly earnings rise. 
    • As such, it’s valuable to ensure that students stay in school if they are to attain viable livelihoods.  Since we know that 9th grade attendance, behavior, and credit accumulation are strong indicators of whether students will graduate from high school, there’s benefit in providing programs for middle school youth that provide compelling work-based exposure coupled with appealing pathways towards future opportunities that are appealing to youth.  Programs like CityPathways, CitizenSchools, and Jobs for the Future's Possible Futures, Possible Selves can ideally work in tandem with these recommendations to provide an earlier pipeline towards CareerPathways.
  • Connecting to existing city programs.  In a city as enormous and diverse as NYC, it's hard to align initiatives yet it's vital to do so if we're to have systemic impact on expanding opportunities and outcomes through a Career Pathways focus.  Forging explicit connections to DYCD's SONYC after school programs in middle schools feels like a particularly propitious partnership given that there are hundreds of thousands of middle school students who now have about 15 additional hours of learning time each week.  Tapping into the expansion of Community Schools--which is slated to expand to 94 Renewal Schools for the 2015-6 school year--to infuse more career pipeline programming, perhaps through the Industry Partnerships, also feels important to explore. 
    • Leveraging alliances with the incredible array of out of school learning initiatives in the city, particularly through powerful consortia like HiveNYC, TASC, and PASE to connect to career pathways work could also provide valuable support.

Overall, the Career Pathways report has the potential to mark a huge leap forward for workforce development and economic vitality and sustainability in New York City.  I commend the work of the task force and hope we can support the realization of this vision in every way possible.