Workforce Development Helping to Bridge the Gap

Eve Baron is the Acting Associate Director for Worker Education and the Academic Program Manager, Urban Studies

In addition to early childhood development programs, building the income-earning capacity of our urban workforce is a critical part of building a more equitable society. Workforce development programs—those that are designed to update and sharpen existing skills, or to develop new skills that respond to specific sectoral needs—are at the forefront of city, state, and now federal policy. President Obama sees these programs as a central part of his economic development policy, arguing that skills and credentials are increasingly critical for the American workforce, and that “jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience.” (www.whitehouse.gov, accessed April 29, 2014) The quality and quantity of those jobs notwithstanding, the fear is that if businesses cannot find skilled American workers, they will relocate.

Urban areas can more effectively utilize workforce development programs to achieve equitable growth. Laura Wolf-Powers (2013) has argued that workforce development linked specifically to new job sectors, with the support of government, can lay the foundation for individual career pathways. New York City has the ability to leverage mechanisms such as land use approvals, permits, and subsidies to get businesses to attract, train, and hire unemployed and low-wage workers, and the ability to track the performance of businesses who commit to local training and hiring. CUNY has been part of the linkage between business and workforce preparation—through many vocational programs and explicitly through the Office of Workforce Partnerships.

The Murphy Institute has been part of CUNY’s workforce development infrastructure for many years—its “Para-to-Teacher” program, for example, trains classroom paraprofessionals to become certified teachers. We look to our workforce development programs not simply to train workers for a specific type of job, but to prepare people to engage fully with the world around them—through courses that instill skills but also offer college credit in a supportive environment. Up next for Murphy: Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training–helping individuals quickly gain job-specific skills, basic literacy skills, and college credit—all in the same classroom.

Wolf-Powers, Laura, “Economic Development: Resolving the Parallel Universe Dilemma,” in Mollenkopf, John H, ed., Toward a Twenty-First Century for All, Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center, New York, New York, 2013.

Photo by PUSH Buffalo via flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND).