Bridging the Disconnect

Report - September 2014

Bridging the Disconnect

New York City is facing a youth unemployment crisis, but the city’s youth workforce development programs reach only a fraction of those in need of help and are too often misaligned to the developmental needs of young New Yorkers.

by Christian González-Rivera

Tags: economic opportunity workforce development youth

The following are the recommendations to Bridging the Disconnect.

Click here to read the full report (PDF).


As this report has shown, New York City’s array of youth workforce development services falls far short in comparison to the needs of hundreds of thousands of young New Yorkers advancing toward adulthood without the basic education, employment experience or personal and professional networks required for career success. While there are assets to build upon—including several strong providers, programs and collaborations, a handful of promising practices and elements of a robust infrastructure outside the public sector—the system will require a massive overhaul if it is to reach its potential and deliver real value for the city.

The city can take a number of the measures below almost immediately, while others should phase in over time. One mechanism to create the necessary change should be to rewrite contracts as they expire along the lines suggested below.

A new administration with laser focus on addressing income inequality is very well positioned to make these changes, and has already taken a promising first step by creating the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development. The Jobs For New Yorkers Task Force, comprised of 30 employers, administrators, providers and funders appointed by Mayor de Blasio to focus on improvements to the workforce system, offers another encouraging sign. The Center for an Urban Future urges the Task Force to advise the de Blasio administration to take the following actions to create a unified youth workforce system for New York City.

Empower an entity to coordinate and lead

The new Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development should lead this work.
The Office should begin its work in this area by articulating a clear vision for youth workforce services, perhaps something as basic as a public commitment to assist every young New Yorker toward reaching adulthood with a solid educational foundation, some work experience and a network of supportive adults. The Office must bring together all the prominent city agencies with direct support from the Mayor—DYCD, SBS, HRA, DOE, CUNY, the Administration for Children’s Services, the Department of Probation and others—through well-defined vehicles of collaboration, shared reporting structures and common goals for which agency leaders will be held accountable. To ensure that the Office can carry out this role, City Hall should instruct all agencies with a workforce role to share client-level data, enabling the Office of Workforce Development to utilize newly available state Unemployment Insurance, Wage Reporting System and Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data in evaluating long-term outcomes for workforce program participants with varying needs and circumstances. Finally, the new office is also poised to represent the city in negotiating with the U.S. Department of Labor to secure waivers such as those described on p. 35, and to define performance targets that truly reflect local labor market conditions and the specific educational and skill needs of New York City youth.

Utilize the Workforce Investment Board to facilitate closer collaboration between public agencies, private philanthropy, and employers.
An oversight entity with strong employer representation should complement the work of the Office to encourage cooperation around youth workforce needs with all city workforce agencies. City leaders should look to Boston’s Private Industry Council or Philadelphia’s Council for College and Career Success as templates for restructuring the WIB to better support New York City’s youth and the provider organizations that serve them. Further, in light of the fact that philanthropic actors now provide more than half of the resources for youth workforce programs, they must have seats at the table. Private sector business intermediary groups and firms known for their openness to hiring youth and providing advancement opportunities are also crucial stakeholders. Even as city leaders advocate for new investment from federal and state government, closer alliance with the philanthropic and private sectors will ensure greater leveraging of the resources now available.

Create and maintain a detailed guide to all workforce programs in New York City to help providers make effective referrals.
As JobsFirstNYC found in “Unleashing the Economic Power of the 35 Percent,” its July 2014 report on high-need young adults in New York City,69 there is currently no comprehensive listing of all of the youth workforce development providers in the city that lists what services and programs they offer and how many slots they have available. This very basic information is essential to ensuring that both providers and young people themselves have access to the full menu of service options. The Office of Workforce Development should collect information about all providers in the city, publishing the information online and ensuring that it is updated regularly, as a first step towards becoming the central coordinating body for the city’s youth workforce development system.

Strengthen programs and partnerships that work—and fix those that don’t

Overhaul the Summer Youth Employment Program.
SYEP presents a thorny political dilemma for New York City policymakers: it might not be effective as a workforce program, but at least in relative terms, it reaches a large number of participants. At current funding levels, significant improvements to SYEP would be possible only by shrinking the program—an unlikely step, since SYEP already turns away about three applicants for every one it enrolls. The Office of Workforce Development should convene a special task force of youth development experts, educators, business leaders and philanthropic funders for a thorough reconsideration of the program, with one goal in mind: how to restructure and resource SYEP so that by 2017—the final year of Mayor de Blasio’s current term—the program serves 50,000 New York City youth with high-quality work experiences in which participants are placed into roles appropriate for their personal development and interests while receiving career exploration and educational supports. Every aspect of the program, from the lottery selection methodology to the content of the educational component and the proper level and focus of site visits, should be up for reconsideration. Additionally, considering the very substantial new resources necessary for such a program, one guiding question for philanthropic and private sector stakeholders should be how the city could restructure SYEP to make this a program worthy of their investment.

DYCD should expand Ladders for Leaders, and provide opportunities to more high school students.
One aspect of SYEP that is already working well is Ladders for Leaders, a successful program through which a couple hundred youth have enjoyed meaningful, employer-paid work experiences each year. DYCD should partner with a strengthened WIB to recruit more employers and create more high-quality opportunities, and the city should provide more funding to administer the program. The program should also solicit applications from more high school students; currently only about a quarter of Ladders participants are in high school.

DYCD and CEO should greatly expand the Young Adult Internship Program.
With few programs across the country offering internships for disconnected youth, YAIP has drawn positive national attention. Even so, the program provided training and internship opportunities to just 1,570 young people last year, less than one percent of the city’s 172,000 disconnected young adults. Both public and private funders should build on its success by increasing its funding, and DYCD should work closely with a strengthened WIB to recruit more employers who can create opportunities for these youth. YAIP should also expand and strengthen partnerships with DOE-based reconnection programs and CEO’s education-focused programs to create a pathway for disconnected youth across the human capital spectrum. The new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act emphasizes out of school youth and work experiences, a change that should free up resources to expand YAIP.

Restructure contracts and incentives to address the real needs of youth and reflect youth development best practices
Learn from and replicate the success of LESEN, BON and Y-Roads across the city. The Lower East Side Employment Network (LESEN) and the Bronx Opportunity Network (BON) show the benefits of greater scale and effective partnerships in which providers collaborate rather than compete for limited funds and contracts. LESEN has allowed its six member organizations to improve their placement outcomes and create relationships with economic development entities. BON, an unprecedented partnership between eight Bronx CBOs and CUNY, has helped over 100 students make substantial progress towards completing a postsecondary degree. The promising Y-Roads partnership between the YMCA and Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (OBT) combines OBT’s strong youth workforce development curriculum with the social, emotional and other wraparound services that the Y offers. All three initiatives provide a template for how key stakeholders and policymakers can change the rules of the system to create a policy environment that will better serve the deep and varied needs of New York City youth—specifically, to create incentives for thoughtful partnerships and appropriate subcontracting.

All new RFPs for programs should incorporate intermediate milestones connected to WIOA outcomes, as well as protocols for referrals and credit sharing.
As this report has shown, current publicly supported contracts are flawed by too-short time frames and disincentives to make referrals that would connect youth to more appropriate services. Instead of making job placement the main milestone to determine reimbursements—which pushes providers to enroll those youth closest to being job-ready—contracts should reward a wider range of intermediate milestones. For instance, a provider can receive credit for delivering career exploration services to a young person, and then refer them to another organization that can provide specialized job training based on the customer’s career interests. That job training organization can then refer the young person to Workforce1 for placement. All three of these providers could then claim reimbursement for the milestone. Restructuring reimbursements based on well-defined milestones would help facilitate shared case management across programs and agencies.

Require HRA to refer all young adult cash assistance applicants and recipients with multiple needs, low literacy or educational levels, or little work experience to youth-appropriate programs.
The Back to Work program fails to provide young adults receiving cash assistance with the skills they need to become self-sufficient. Rather than forcing them into a “work-first” model that does not bolster their long-term prospects, HRA should direct young New Yorkers on cash assistance into programs more appropriate for their development and needs, and have TANF dollars follow the young people into those programs. Also, because cash assistance applicants are not required under TANF rules to be enrolled in work activities, HRA should not require young adult applicants to do so. Instead, the agency should refer them to youth-serving organizations that can help them create and navigate an educational and career plan, and support that organization with TANF funds to serve those individuals. In addition, HRA should heed the example of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, which contributes TANF funds to that city’s E3 Youth One-Stop Centers and last year contributed $2 million in TANF funds to create summer employment opportunities for youth, recognizing that such experiences can help young adults transition off the cash assistance rolls.

Make provision for hard-to-serve groups with reserved spots and culturally- and linguistically-appropriate services.
Culturally- and linguistically-appropriate services are especially important for immigrant and LGBT young people. While not every agency would be able to hire staff who speak multiple languages or are trained to understand and respond to the particular needs of LGBT young people, a robust referral network would ensure that these individuals can be connected to the right services no matter what door they walk into.

Create infrastructure to bring consistency and coherence to the system.

Explore a DOE-workforce partnership along the lines of the model created in Los Angeles, where counselors help coordinate reconnection services for the workforce system.
Within adult workforce services, the network of Workforce1 Career Centers has provided a framework and foundation for virtually every subsequent innovation. A similar “one-stop” resource on the youth side could serve the same purpose. Los Angeles provides one possible model for policymakers: the city’s workforce agency and school district have created a number of YouthSource Centers run by community-based organizations and staffed with school district counselors who direct youth to appropriate services. In its recent report, JobsFirstNYC urges city leaders to build upon that model and develop a network of Young Adult

Opportunity Centers in communities with high concentrations of young adults who are neither in school nor working.
Charge the WIB to work with local employers, particularly those in industries that employ youth, to create more work experience and internship opportunities for young people.
Comprised of leaders in business, education and the workforce, the WIB is uniquely positioned to work with employers to create such opportunities. The mayor’s office should authorize the WIB to make these asks of local employers. Boston’s Private Industry Council has successfully recruited over 900 employers to participate in its summer jobs program, which provides paid work experiences for about 3,000 young people annually. Boston’s workforce agencies place an additional 7,000 young people in summer jobs at nonprofit and public sector organizations. As a result, Boston—a much smaller city than New York—places one young person in a job for every six that are unemployed or not in the labor force, compared to a ratio of 1:18 in New York.

Leverage BIDs and other economic development intermediaries to link small businesses with public workforce programs.
Because larger employers generally have a more consistent need for new hires than smaller employers, workforce providers have looked to them to place their youth clients. But for high-need youth in particular, smaller businesses can offer a more supported work experience—and often can utilize the linguistic or cultural backgrounds of immigrants and other groups. Because Business Improvement Districts and Local Development Corporations in commercial districts across the city have existing relationships with small businesses, they can potentially serve as an intermediary between their members and the public workforce system. Most BIDs, however, do not have the staff capacity to serve as job developers for their members. The WIB or Youth Council could seek funding to support job developers at BIDs across the city, allowing small businesses to aggregate their demand for local hires and facilitating effective service from workforce providers.

Encourage DOE to play a bigger role in youth workforce development
The Department of Education is effectively the largest human capital development agency for young people in the city, yet until recently its leaders have hardly acknowledged that the public education system should have a role to play in the workforce outcomes of young people. The DOE should work with DYCD and private funders to create career exploration programs starting in middle school, the point at which many youth development experts suggest children can start thinking in earnest about their future paths. In partnership with the New York City Labor Market Information Service and Grant Associates, a vendor with SBS that operates a number of Workforce1 Career Centers, DOE has been developing a series of career maps that chart advancement pathways within a number of key New York City industries, including information technology, transportation, media and advertising and culinary arts among others. Embedded in a career exploration curriculum, these maps could help spark interest among students in a wide range of careers, and can illustrate the skill and educational achievements that are necessary in order to advance in those careers.

Invest in the field
Consider replicating the funding model of Washington State, where basic education dollars follow students to youth development programs. When students drop out of school, the basic education dollars that would have supported their education are simply left on the table. Meanwhile, youth development organizations are picking up where the schools left off, educating dropouts with dwindling funds. But as Los Angeles and Washington State have shown, it is possible to draw down education resources in support of better youth workforce outcomes. The Department of Education in particular has taken some steps toward acknowledgement of its workforce mission in recent years; a logical next move is to create resource-sharing agreements to give students who have struggled in public education a second chance through a more robust and relevant set of services.

Ensure that front-line workers are appropriately trained and supported.
Workers for organizations providing services to youth should receive compensation and supports commensurate with the importance of their work. Too often job developers and case managers who demonstrate ability get snapped up for similar positions in the private sector, causing significant turnover at many youth workforce providers. In addition, the workforce system should invest in creating a career map for workforce workers, thus encouraging staff to leverage the services of technical assistance providers such as Workforce Professionals Training Institute and Youth Development Institute to advance their own careers in the field.

Ensure that every youth workforce organization has access to job developers.
Building deep, productive relationships with employers that will hire youth is one of the most important services that a youth workforce development organization can offer its clients, yet experts say that only a handful of providers have the capacity to create these meaningful relationships. Because of more limited resources at many smaller providers, staff often must serve as job developers in addition to filling other roles, meaning they cannot dedicate their full attention to building these relationships. A more rational arrangement might be to replicate the LESEN model, in which one dedicated job developer can serve multiple small providers within one geography or sector.

Evaluate programs with performance measures that make sense

Incorporate an evaluation component into all major youth workforce investments.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of youth workforce policy is just how little we still know about the impact of programs. The near total absence of rigorous evaluation is a self-inflicted wound on the city’s part, particularly considering the availability of ready-made control groups in the form of applicants not accepted into programs such as SYEP. Such evaluations would furnish the Office of Workforce Development and WIB with needed information on which programs are delivering strong outcomes and merit increased support, and which are doing little or nothing for participants and should be eliminated.

Use WRS data to evaluate long-term outcomes of workforce programs.
WKDEV should utilize newly available state unemployment insurance (UI), wage record system (WRS) and Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data with educational, demographic, and program data to evaluate the long-term outcomes for workforce programs on participants with different backgrounds and needs. In addition, The Office of Workforce Development should advocate at the federal level for access to Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) data that would allow evaluators to match Census demographic data to program and WRS data in order to create effective counterfactual cohorts to enhance the validity of program outcomes.

Create benchmarks focused on labor market and long-term self-sufficiency outcomes.
The Office of Workforce Development should engage workforce experts, the public workforce agencies and the Center for Economic Opportunity to establish clear and sensible benchmarks for creating program RFPs, making funding allocation decisions and evaluating workforce programs, while being cognizant of the difficulties in comparing outcomes across programs and agencies. These benchmarks should take into account the importance of activities such as post-placement follow-up and provide evidence for the importance of resourcing those activities accordingly. To ensure that the benchmarks are based on labor market outcomes, the Office should partner with real-time labor market information providers such as the New York City Labor Market Information Service at the CUNY Graduate Center, as well as efforts like The Benchmarking Project, which has been developing benchmarks for workforce programs.


This was the introduction and recommendations to Bridging the Disconnect.

Click here to read the full report (PDF).

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