On the Job to Promote Workforce Development

Tony Davis, Officer and Director

We’re midway through our third roadshow of the year, which has given us the opportunity to visit local business, education, and community leaders in Syracuse, Ithaca, and Rochester, New York. This morning, President Dudley delivered remarks on workforce development during our first stop at Onondaga Community College.

Workforce development aims to match skilled workers with the needs of employers to help the economy grow. These programs help workers build the skills necessary to adapt to change, meet the challenges of an evolving economy, and find good-paying jobs. In his remarks, President Dudley discussed key aspects of how stakeholders might approach such efforts and explained why workforce development matters to the Federal Reserve.

While workforce development is a focus of this particular roadshow, our efforts started long before today’s trip. In fact, workforce development is a top priority for the New York Fed and the Federal Reserve System more broadly.

The Investing in America’s Workforce Initiative is a key example. This initiative started last year as a way to identify new approaches, opportunities, and challenges in workforce development. It’s led by the Federal Reserve System alongside other educational and nonprofit institutions. The initiative has three key components: regional meetings, a capstone conference in Austin, Texas this October, and a book in 2018 highlighting workforce development efforts as investments in economic growth.

For the first component, every regional Federal Reserve bank organized meetings with local community stakeholders to gather anecdotal information about the state of workforce development. A broader report will be shared at the capstone conference next month, so for this post we’ll drill down on takeaways from meetings in our region.

For the initiative, the New York Fed held four regional meetings, in Buffalo, New York City, Newark, and San Juan. We found that the communities shared certain needs, including the desire to: develop talent pipelines so that training programs lead more directly to available jobs; make the public workforce system less complicated so that employers can work efficiently with the public sector to source and develop qualified applicants; and find a consistent way to document and collect data on individuals who participate in training to assess the effectiveness of the programs and quickly pinpoint participants’ capabilities and needs.

Beyond these common themes, there were also quite a few experiences and needs that were unique to each community:

Buffalo, New York

  • Buffalo has seen a significant uptick in public-private partnerships recently, many of which focus on the manufacturing sector. Regional chambers of commerce are playing a more active role in these partnerships by working with local businesses to help train workers.
  • Employers underscored the need for applicants with stronger professional skills — those who can write clearly, demonstrate analytical thinking, and engage with co-workers and customers appropriately.
  • Participants highlighted concerns about the lack diversity in Buffalo’s workforce. They considered strategies to improve diversity, including bringing together employers and community organizations so that trainings better prepare workers to qualify for open positions.
  • There were also significant concerns about the emigration of talented individuals who study at Buffalo’s universities then leave upon graduating to work in larger cities. Participants discussed ways to encourage qualified workers to stay in the city, including by improving housing in Buffalo so that there is a more robust downtown with more social options, and by better explaining to students how skills taught in Buffalo’s schools could apply to various roles in Buffalo’s industries.

New York, New York

  • Given the location, many financial institutions participated, and a key focus was how to make partnerships between financial institutions and the community more strategic and long-term. Potential strategies include showing institutions how to make the most of Community Reinvestment Act-qualifying activities and educating community-based organizations about how CRA can be a potential workforce investment tool.
  • Participants also discussed the role that financial institutions can play in investing in experimental grants. In situations where government and philanthropic institutions are limited due to narrower compliance requirements or long-established precedents, financial institutions can support promising pilot programs that are more deeply rooted in low- and moderate-income communities.
  • Participants emphasized the importance of a localized approach to funding and implementing workforce development programs. As examples, they cited New York City Housing Authority programs that bring career counselors, mobile computer labs, and more to public housing developments so that they are easily accessible.

Newark, New Jersey

  • There was an active discussion about Newark 2020, a jobs program that aims to find full-time employment for 2,020 residents by 2020. This initiative targets a critical issue in Newark: the stark economic gap between the city’s residents and its corporate workforce.
  • Surprisingly, a major barrier to employment is that residents are not effectively made aware of local job trainings and position openings. Meeting participants discussed ways to better communicate with residents and raise awareness about existing local opportunities.
  • There was also an emphasis on the importance of programs that provide guidance on saving and planning for the future. That way, once employed, participants can further invest in themselves and their communities through homeownership, education, and more.
  • Participants also discussed creative ways to find sources of funding to support community efforts, including the possible use of state forfeiture funds.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

  • Because job opportunities on the Island are limited, workforce development efforts have focused on encouraging entrepreneurship skills so that individuals can establish new businesses.
  • Participants underscored the importance of programs that provide technical assistance, since many businesses on the Island rely on word-of-mouth recommendations to build their reputations. Technical assistance for marketing and operations helps existing businesses grow and hire more workers.
  • Participants also cited the importance of establishing a comprehensive vision for workforce development on the Island and a clear set of standards to assess such programs. The current lack of indicators makes it very difficult for financial institutions and other stakeholders to assess which programs are most effective and where to devote their resources.

Keep an eye out for the broader report on the system-wide regional meetings this fall, and if you’re interested, register for the Investing in America’s Workforce capstone conference. The rest of the roadshow team and I will conclude our trip to upstate New York tomorrow, and we’ll have more to share on what we learned in the coming weeks. You can also learn more on Medium about the purpose of the New York Fed’s regional visits and what we heard on our other trip this year, to Queens and the North Country region.

The views expressed in this post are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System. New York Fed content is subject to our Terms of Use.