New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer unveiled a comprehensive overhaul of workforce development in New York City, including making CUNY community colleges free for all to build a more competitive and inclusive post-pandemic economy and to better align training with the jobs of tomorrow. With COVID-19 displacing hundreds of thousands of workers and rapidly accelerating long-standing trends in e-commerce, telework, digitization, and automation, Comptroller Stringer’s plan calls for the City and State to dramatically expand the scale, quality, accessibility, and affordability of education and job training programs. Comptroller Stringer outlined a series of proposals to upskill millions of New Yorkers, dramatically diversify high-wage industries, and generate career opportunities during the current economic crisis and beyond to spur New York City’s recovery.
“CUNY is essential to any workforce development strategy in New York City—which means it is vital to our City’s economic recovery. The pandemic exposed inequities in our economy and worsened the longstanding gaps in our social safety net. While some sectors of our workforce have the tools, resources and career flexibility to work remotely, many New York City jobs and careers have been derailed and debilitated by the economic shutdown. As we work to recover and rebuild, we must address these gaps and ensure that New York City’s workforce is strong and ready to take on the opportunities and challenges of the post-COVID, 21st century global economy,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “My plan overhauls and modernizes our approach to job training, job placement, and education to reflect the evolution of work and aims to break down systemic barriers that have historically excluded women, people of color, immigrants and young people from higher-wage industries. As we emerge from this economic crisis, we need to work with CUNY and other engines of economic mobility to build a pipeline of opportunity for the next generation and live up to a promise that anyone can make it in New York City.”
Comptroller Stringer’s plan focused on the need to expand employment opportunities in healthcare, logistics, engineering, finance, design, early education, analytics, cyber-security, software development, and other occupations and professional services that have largely withstood the economic shock of the pandemic endured by the service-oriented, lower-wage sectors. The plan centers on the City University of New York, the largest urban university system in the nation and uniquely positioned to educate and upskill first-generation, working, part-time, low-income, and adult learners and serve as an engine of economic mobility in the five boroughs. In the months and years ahead, CUNY must be ready, resourced, and empowered to better prepare displaced workers, part-time learners, disconnected youth, first-generation students and mid-career learners to compete in a post-pandemic economy. It must also forge stronger partnerships with the DOE, community-based organizations, and private employers and offer, for the first time in decades, free tuition for all residents at its community colleges. Finally, it must be well-staffed with committed, full-time teachers and refrain from leaning on part-time adjuncts.
In sharp contrast to past New York City recessions, where employment in the professional services industries plummeted while low-wage, shift-work jobs held steady, it is communities of color and low-wage workers that have bore the brunt of this pandemic and its myriad impacts. Since the end of 2019, the private sector has shed 479,000 jobs and the restaurant, retail, accommodations, building, and personal services industries have lost a disturbing 253,000 jobs — many of which may be permanently eliminated amidst store closures and the rise of e-commerce, automation, and telework. Helping displaced workers in these industries — of whom 74 percent are Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC); 73 percent live in the non-Manhattan boroughs; 54 percent are foreign-born, and 16 percent are under the age of 25 — and all New Yorkers gain access to education, training, and jobs has never been more vital.
With BIPOC and non-Manhattan New Yorkers disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage service sector, the unemployment rate for Asian (18.2 percent), Hispanic (16.7 percent), and 16-24 year olds (24.3 percent) in New York City is far higher than the city-wide rate (15.7 percent) and that of white New Yorkers (14.2 percent). The rate for Bronx (21.1 percent), Brooklyn (16.5 percent), Queens (16.4 percent), and Staten Island (13.8 percent) residents, meanwhile, significantly outpaces unemployment among Manhattanites (12.9 percent).
To address these devastating inequities and support communities across the five boroughs, Comptroller Stringer outlined the following steps for a comprehensive workforce program for New York City:
The State should make CUNY community colleges tuition-free and the City should guarantee universal access to CUNY ASAP for all community college students
- The New York State tuition-free Excelsior Program serves less than 2 percent of CUNY students. It should be expanded to meet the needs of part-time, working, low-income, and adult learners.
- CUNY ASAP, which provides financial assistance for books and transportation as well as structured academic supports like tutoring and personalized academic advisory, should be expanded to all full-time community college students.
- CUNY should hire 50 “college navigators” to help advise adult learners who have been away from higher education for several years. These navigators will provide specialized supports, helping adult learners overcome the logistical, financial, and academic barriers to earn their desired credential or degree.
- CUNY must invest in experienced, full-time faculty. For years, CUNY has increasingly relied on part-time staffers to fill a broad range of positions — from classroom professors and librarians, to lab technicians and administrative support staff. Indeed, part-time adjuncts now comprise more than 50% of CUNY’s teaching staff. The combination of low salary and the time spent traveling from one campus to another means that part-time faculty are frequently less able than full-time faculty to invest the time necessary to fully develop the academic and workplace potential of students.
Build Out a Universal, Paid Internship Program for CUNY Students
- Only 21 percent of CUNY students participated in an internship in 2019 and only 12 percent were in a paid internship.
- The City and CUNY should work with private sector employers to build out a universal, guaranteed paid internship program for all students entering their final year of study. This program will double down on CUNY’s extraordinary record as an engine for economic mobility.
- CUNY must build out its campus Career Engagement and Development Centers and upgrade its online tools to help students find paid work that aligns with their studies.
Expand Career and Technical Education, Early-College, and College Now in our Public Schools
- The City must continue to invest in Career and Technical Education (CTE) and ensure that these schools and programs meet rigorous standards for industry-aligned curriculum, teacher certification, work-based learning, and job-placement. A focus on IT, STEM, and other high-paying fields is essential.
- The State must work to streamline its byzantine CTE approval process, which can take well over five years to complete.
- CUNY and the DOE should expand the number of early-college high schools, a proven model for boosting high school graduation and college attendance. Over the next four years, they should be expanded to 34 schools, with at least one early college high school in each of New York City’s 32 community school districts.
- DOE and CUNY should work together to expand College Now, which allows 22,000 students to take college credit courses while still enrolled in high school. They should aim to target 75,000 high school students by 2025, so that 75% of incoming freshmen will already have some college credit upon entering.
Create a CUNY Tech Corps to help small businesses adopt digital tools and develop an online presence
- Small Business Services should partner with CUNY to launch an NYC Tech Corps, helping Main Street businesses develop a web presence, expand online sales, and implement digital payroll, sales, and inventory tools.
- The Tech Corp would work directly with business owners to design websites, to help purchase business software, and to set up these tools. It would be staffed by recent CUNY graduates as well as interns majoring in tech, design, and business-related fields.
Align Private Industry and Workforce Training
- In the months ahead, the City should work closely with business leaders to develop new job training programs and scale up existing ones; establish apprenticeship, paid-internship, and work-based learning programs; help CUNY and workforce development organizations keep their curriculums up-to-date; and develop new certificate programs in conjunction with CUNY’s Workforce Innovation Lab.
- Private employers should play a more active role in retraining, upskilling, and diversifying their own workforce and refrain from leaning on contingent labor.
- New York City employers should coordinate and aggregate their philanthropic support for the workforce development and educational field.
- Corporate HR departments should review their job descriptions and degree requirements in order to better align with workforce nonprofit and community college credentials and to diversify their staffing.
- Finance, legal, accounting, and tech firms that have relocated back-office operations to low-cost states and countries should bring these middle class jobs back to New York City.
Focus on Youth Unemployment and Out-of-School, Out-of-Work New Yorkers
- The DOE and CUNY must work diligently to bring Out-of-School, Out-of-Work youth back into the education system and prevent high drop-out rates amidst remote learning.
- The DOE must unlock the potential of Transfer Schools to support older immigrant youth. As part of this effort, the City should expand its Internationals Network, transfer schools that integrate language development along with project-based and work-based learning.
- The City should work closely with private employers to expand youth apprenticeships and subsidized, transitional employment opportunities.
- The City should invest in institutional partnerships between CUNY and CBOs. The CUNY Network for College Success, for instance, aims to significantly increase college persistence and graduation rates by helping CBOs develop and improve their college readiness workshops, career guidance, financial aid counseling, and assistance with transfers and re-enrollment. It should be expanded throughout the five boroughs.
Build Out Subsidized Wage Programs for Targeted Populations and Expand Certified Apprenticeships
- The City should expand its successful transitional employment programs, offering subsidized, living-wage employment to New Yorkers in homeless shelters, out-of-school-out-of-work youth, those exiting Rikers, and other populations in need.
- The City should expand and restructure its modest Apprenticeship NYC program, building a public-private partnership to introduce more Registered Apprenticeship and Pre-Apprenticeship programs in healthcare, analytics, finance, logistics, and design. These programs should be focused on diversifying those fields and increasing economic mobility for those without a college degree.
New York State Should Overhaul its Shared Work Program to Help Businesses Rehire and Retain Staff
- The State’s Shared Work program is an effective tool for countering recessions, helping businesses retain staff, and rehiring workers. Unfortunately, it is severely underutilized.
- To increase enrollment in its Shared Work program and help employers rehire workers, the New York State Department of Labor should improve outreach, marketing, and staffing, streamline enrollment and certification, leverage recent federal government subsidies, and adjust the hours that employers are allowed to cut and furlough.
- Employers should be encouraged to switch their workers from unemployment insurance to Work Share so that they can begin to transition back to work.
- New York State should use the Shared Work Program as an opportunity to connect furloughed employees to education, training, and upskilling programs.
Expand Bridge Programs that Pair Job Training with Language Education and Basic Skills Training
- To better support the two million New Yorkers who lack literacy skills, English language proficiency, or a high school diploma, the City needs to better align job training with language education and basic skills training.
- CUNY, with its robust network of community colleges, continuing education and certification programs, and English language and remedial education courses, has begun to build out a wide range of these “Bridge Programs” for those pursuing careers in a variety of industries and occupations. They should be dramatically expanded with support from the City.