Sector Based Workforce Development: Why NYC Puts Employers First

Posted 03-11-15 by In Workforce Development

“London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.” Dorothy Parker

In New York, sector-based workforce development has gone mainstream. This term, which that gets me sideways looks in Toronto, is all the rage in NYC. The approach is embedded in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vision to “lift up New Yorkers and meet the needs of a 21st Century economy” and New York has had Sector-Focused Career Centres operating for more than five years.


Image:Metcalf Foundation’s Stephanie Sernoskie

In February, the Metcalf Foundation and The Intergovernmental Committee for Economic and Labour Force Development co-hosted “Sector Based Workforce Development: A New York City Perspective.”  Leading experts from NYC, along with The Hospitality Worker’s Training Centre’s Danielle Olsen, shared what they know about sector based workforce development to help bring mainstream attention to the approach in Toronto.

A Definition: What is “Sector-Based Workforce Development”?

Experts generally agree on the 5 core elements that make up sector based workforce development:

  1. Targets a specific industry or set of occupations (eg. manufacturing, healthcare, IT)
  2. Intervenes through a credible organization or set of organizations
  3. Becomes a valued actor in an industry and meets the needs of employers
  4. Improves ability of workers in an industry to get better jobs
  5. Creates systemic change

The panel’s moderator Sheila Maguire  highlighted the role systemic change plays in workforce development initiatives.  Beyond providing training and jobs, the intervening organizations address job quality and issues a sectors’ workforce. The term “raise the floor and build the ladder,” coined by Maureen Conway from the Aspen Institute, has become a much-loved turn of phrase because it encapsulates the dual focus that is built into these initiatives.

A Priority Emphasis on Employers:

Oh New Yorkers! they have a way of saying what needs to be said (and not getting in trouble for it). Angie Kamath, Executive Director of Per Scholas  opened her talk a provocative mantra that defines her approach:

“The best way to serve a job seeker is to focus on the employer.”

This notion initially seems to run counter to a client-centric approach, or the belief that the way to get people jobs is to focus on people.Kamath’s point is that serving employers results in more training, more jobs, and better opportunities. Looping back to the definition above, intervening organizations must be credible and valued actors in a sector. Making a valuable contribution to the sector is what makes an intervening organization credible. Credibility and demonstrated value are the fuel upon which sector based initiatives run.

Employers are not “Hiring Machines.”

Employment organizations too often view businesses as “hiring machines.”  To be successful,  intervening organizations have to demonstrate that they have a shared stake in a sector’s vitality. It’s a virtuous circle; contributing to thriving sectors generates opportunities for skilled people who can continually learn and advance.

Kamath pointed out several ways sector based intermediaries can build relationships with sector employers to demonstrate their shared interest in the sector:

  • Industry “insider knowledge:” Site visits, interview skills and guest speakers
  • Curriculum development: Training and content for in-demand positions
  • Support: Board participation and donations/sponsorship for operations and activities
  • Jobs and Advancement: Insights into their hiring needs in order to train individuals to meet those needs.

In this brief video, Doran Jones describes the software testing training program they developed in collaboration with Per Scholas. This program literally transformed a neighbourhood in the Bronx, and provided skilled IT talent to an entire sector. It represents the power of sector based strategies being realized NYC, and (dare I say) right here in Toronto.

To learn more about sector based workforce development, refer to some of the reports referred to by NYC panelists who participated in the sessions.


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