Hochul Announces New State Workforce Development Office

Governor Hochul during an announcement (photo: Office of Governor Hochul)

Governor Kathy Hochul on Tuesday announced the launch of a new state office to lead regional workforce development initiatives in New York City.

The Office of Strategic Workforce Development will be hosted by Empire State Development (ESD), the state entity responsible for most major economic development projects. The arrangement aims to coordinate workforce training programs with the needs of employers, especially in growth sectors, as New York continues its economic recovery from the devastation of the pandemic.

Hochul said the subject was personal, having seen steel mills shut down in his native western New York, “leaving workers nowhere to go.”

“New Yorkers continue to struggle to find work and opportunity due to the economic disruption of the pandemic,” the governor said in a statement announcing the launch.

“With our brand new Office of Strategic Workforce Development, we are doubling down on our commitment to help train and connect New Yorkers to the well-paying jobs of the future,” Hochul said.

The governor first proposed the creation of the new office under ESD in his state of the state agenda and secured it with $350 million for workforce development in the budget. $220 billion state bill passed earlier this month.

The city and state have been slower to recover from the pandemic and economic shutdown than other parts of the country. New York’s unemployment rate hit 6.5% in March, compared to 4.6% for the state and the national rate of 3.6%, according to preliminary data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Low-wage jobs in industries dependent on tourism and commuters have continued to lag after the pandemic shut down most international travel and led to a major increase in the number of people working from home.

Hochul and Mayor Adams each pledged to strengthen the labor market in growth sectors, such as health care, technology and so-called green industries. The two also made a point of saying that they will align strategic planning around workforce and economic development.

The Office of Strategic Workforce Development is responsible for leading the $350 million allocation, according to the governor’s office, either directly or in coordination with other agencies. The money includes $150 million in “multi-year funding” for grants to “highly qualified” job training providers offering advanced, industry-specific programs. It will also help cover some of the administrative and capital needs of providers as they continue to adjust to a post-pandemic economy.

It is the first state office dedicated to workforce development. By aligning state programs, which have been largely siloed and dispersed across multiple state agencies, and reporting to the governor, workforce advocates hope the new model will account for hundreds of millions State dollars allocated to vocational training.

“This announcement is an important step toward a more effective and coordinated statewide approach to workforce development, and will help realize one of Governor Hochul’s key policy proposals,” said Eli Dvorkin, policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank focused on economic opportunity.

“It is particularly encouraging to see this new office integrated into the state’s economic development agency, recognizing that effective workforce training programs must work hand-in-hand with employers and focus on industries poised for future growth,” Dvorkin wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette. .

JobsFirstNYC, a workforce training advocacy group, welcomed the new office but wants to see more funds allocated to what are called “on-ramps” to training programs such as bridging courses, pre-apprenticeship programs, and high school and ESOL equivalency programs.

“The consensus among labor providers is that until early education and skills development needs are met, highly skilled training is unlikely to achieve the results sought by employment agencies. workforce development and employers,” JobsFirstNYC Vice President Keri Faulhaber wrote in an email.

The ESD is a quasi-state agency closely tied to the governor’s office that is responsible for economic planning and billions of dollars in business grants outside of the workforce training programs that now fall under its purview. . In recent years, he has been in charge of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which have distributed billions of dollars across the state for economic growth projects, and the downtown revitalization initiative that offered $10 million to the state’s business districts. , including Chinatown and Downtown Brooklyn. As lieutenant governor, Hochul had economic development at the top of her portfolio and she oversaw the work of the REDCs.

The good government group Reinvent Albany has pushed for more transparency around state grants to businesses, which are often spent with little accountability or public scrutiny.

“It’s a much better way to spend state money on economic development than outright business grants, because you get a skilled workforce, which is fertile ground for attracting more people. ‘companies,’ John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said of workforce development.

According to Kaehny, the $350 million in labor spending pales in comparison to the roughly $5 billion in annual state economic development spending identified by his group. “It’s just a huge waste. It’s almost a fifteenth of that amount,” he said.

The Office of Strategic Workforce Development is designed to work with New York’s 10 regional economic development councils to tailor workforce training to regional strengths and needs. REDCs are public-private consortia of business, academic, and local government representatives tasked with developing long-term economic plans that have designed proposals that have been publicly funded. The office will also work with the state Department of Labor, SUNY and CUNY, three of the state’s largest workforce development providers, according to the Hochul administration.

“We appreciate the Hochul administration’s investment in the talents and skills of New Yorkers and for understanding the need to improve workforce systems across the state, especially by working more closely with partners at CUNY and SUNY,” said Annie Garneva, interim CEO of NYC Employment. and Training Coalition, an association of workforce development providers.

The state has also launched an online survey to solicit feedback from business owners on the skills they are looking for in potential employees. The survey was developed in partnership with the Business Council of New York State.

According to the governor’s office, a portion of the $150 million for vendors will be available on an ongoing basis, rather than as annual allocations, to be more responsive to industry changes. Dvorkin said this was critical for training providers who often face delays in receiving grants, in part because no central office was responsible for distributing them.

“Now the state should commit to quickly disbursing these dollars to workforce development organizations and their partners across the state,” he said. This money should be used to scale up successful public and private training programs and to cover operating costs providers need to maintain staff, facilities and relationships with employers. Funding should also be used for some of the non-academic costs associated with job training, such as technology and transportation, he said, “because these barriers prevent many low-income New Yorkers from participating in programs, even if they are free.”

The governor’s office could not yet give specific details when asked how the spending will be overseen. “A process for applying for funding and determining awards will be implemented by ESD staff. Program guidelines and criteria are being developed,” wrote Hochul spokesperson Jason Gough. in an email.

The press release announcing the new office said it would “establish and maintain metrics to track program implementation and success.” Gough said the ESD is developing an agency-wide set of metrics “and is committed to releasing information annually.”

Mayor Eric Adams also made workforce development a theme of his first administration. In December, he added ‘workforce development’ to the deputy mayor’s title in charge of economic development and devoted a section of his economic recovery ‘master plan’ to access to employment. . On Tuesday, he unveiled an executive budget of $99.7 billion, including a $285 million proposal for education and career readiness in fiscal year 2023. That includes 10,000 new seats in the Summer Rising Youth Enrichment Program, DOE Apprenticeships, and CUNY Career Pipelines.

But beyond the new deputy mayor title, the Adams administration has yet to outline a plan to unify the city’s various training programs, which, like those in the state, have been spread across multiple agencies. The mayor’s office did not provide comment on the new state office following investigations by the Gotham Gazette.

Sara H. Byrd