New Haven’s civic leaders have hatched an idea: Create a new organization. And 1,000 New Haveners will find jobs over the next four years.
The idea is the result of meetings of a “working group” at the Chamber of Commerce involving corporate honchos, political leaders, and professional job-training people. The working group formed in January after a slate of labor-backed candidates won a majority on the Board of Aldermen last fall on a platform calling for getting more local people into jobs.
The group’s members addressed New Haven’s challenge du jour: To create a “pipeline” to steer unemployed New Haveners—of whom there are 6,400 by the most recent official count, plus others who don’t get counted—into New Haven jobs.
They produced a report with an appended chart-filled PowerPoint presentation. It calls for creating a new agency called “New Haven Works” to shepherd unemployed and underemployed people into jobs with the help of local employers. The report now goes to the Board of Aldermen for an Aug. 30 hearing.
Click here to read their report.
Like other civic-challenge reports and PowerPoint presentations produced over the past decades, this one is chocked full of charts and text and references to “partners” and “stakeholders.” As well as the now-obligatory vow to “use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.”
Also like some such reports, it ends with the idea of creating a new organization, raising new money, and hiring people—in this case to figure out how to get other people hired.
The organization has a name, according to the report: New Haven Works.
It will have a main office (aka the “Front Door.”) It will have “satellite” “access points.” It will have an executive director. A deputy director. “Administrative support staff.” An intake coordinator. Three program coordinators. A retention and case management coordinator. Four case managers. And an indeterminate number of staffers to staff the satellites. One slide suggests that “communications staff” positions may exist, too.
The group will raise money, including from the city and institutions like Yale. How much money? No one’s saying yet.
The mission? To work with local employers to identify 1,000 jobs that local unemployed or underemployed people can fill over the next four years. Then find those 1,000 people, train them, and connect them to those jobs.
Other local programs, some run by the city, already do work like that, or purport to. New Haven has a “Construction Workforce Initiative,” “reentry” programs, the Workforce Alliance, the Jobs Corps, ConnCAT.
The report, and key pipeline working group members interviewed, said the new New Haven Works wouldn’t duplicate that work. Instead it would tap into those programs, develop its own stream of work-ready people, and deal directly with major local employers to get commitments to hire them. It would have more staff to work individually with job-seekers and follow up with them.
Here’s the official version of what the new organization’s staff will do, according to the report: “oversee recruitment, screening, assessment, and individualized case management of un- and underemployed residents, build relationships with and meet the needs of employers, and develop and contract out to service providers when necessary to provide the training programs necessary to prepare local residents for jobs in growth sectors throughout the region.”
Yale Takes Leadership
One key feature of the plan: Corporate heavy-hitters will take leadership. Yale Vice-President Bruce Alexander (pictured) has played an active role in the working group. As part of their recently concluded contract negotiations, Yale and Yale’s unions launched their own version of a pipeline plan: They’ll train and move lower-level employees into higher-paying jobs, then give New Haven people priority for filling the newly opened starter positions; as well work harder to find New Haveners to fill more of the university’s 4,000-plus jobs. (Read about that here.) Yale has put a full-time staffer, Diane Turner, in charge of its pipeline project. And it intends to work closely with the emerging New Haven Works pipeline.
“This is the beginning of something,” Turner said Friday.
On top of that, Alexander vowed personally to ask other major employers in town to develop similar relationships with New Haven Works.
“The real issue here is to deal with the employers and get them engaged in this. That tends to be a missing piece of government programs,” Alexander said Friday. Yale-New Haven Hospital and United Illuminating have already signed on, he noted.
The New Haven Works plan envisions asking local employers to sign on at one of three levels:
• “Partner Employer”: Designating jobs for local people coming through the pipeline; contributing money to and working with the New Haven Works board; entering into voluntary agreements to hire people.
• “Participating Employer”: Posting job openings, communicating with the organization, offering internships and apprenticeships.
• “Area Employers”: Know that they can hire form the pool of New Haven Works-vetted applicants if they want.
Alexander said the group will seek to avoid duplication. “We’re going to try to make use of resources that exist, like Bill Villano’s organization [Workforce Alliance]. We would expect to use those resources.”
One person who has worked for years with the population targeted by the pipeline, Christian Community Action Executive Director Rev. Bonita Grubbs (pictured), stressed the need for New Haven to hold the new group accountable.
“New Haven has had a history of starting big and global efforts that only reach a certain part of the population. The other part of the population most of the time is like the folks we see at CCA who don’t benefit,” Grubbs said. “If it’s going to be able to help individuals who are truly working part time, not being able to afford an apartment, I’m all for it. But I’ll be watching to see how the process comes together.”
Downtown Alderman Doug Hausladen applauded the emphasis in the plan on corporate commitments to hire. He has heard from graduates of the city’s construction workforce training effort that when they complete the effort, no one has a job for them.
At this point, Hausladen said, he’s “unsure” whether New Haven needs to create a brand new organization, though he looks forward to hearing more in upcoming aldermanic discussions on the plan.
“I’m always a fan of keeping it simple,” he said. “My preference is always to try and and tweak what we have rather than unnecessarily create new programs.”
Yes, other organizations work on job-training and finding people these kinds of jobs, but it became clear in public hearings leading up to this report that “gaps” exist in New Haven, said East Rock Alderwoman Jessica Holmes, a member of the working group.
“We don’t need to replicate the pieces that are already there,” Holmes said. “Having in particular more case management or better follow-through is what a lot of residents of New Haven need.”
She also said New Haven Works will focus exclusively on New Haveners, as opposed to people from throughout the region.
“There’s still a lot of work to do to get this from the plan to their implementation. The working group process was really productive—hearing from so many stakeholders,” Holmes said.
The big “pitfall” the new group must avoid is training workers for jobs that don’t exist, said both Bruce Alexander and Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, a key organizer of the working group. (Click here to read a recent Wall Street Journal article about that problem.)
Perez said the group will also look at why people don’t get hired after working their way through the pipeline. Sometimes, he said, people might be looking for the wrong positions.
He recalled speaking to a laid-off bank worker who had attended a working group meeting. She had worked at First Niagara (and its predecessor institutions) for 20 years before getting laid off. She had now spent nine months looking for a new position, to no avail. Perez said he suggested that she look at community banks; he reasoned that she had been trained in an era before the culture changed at larger banks, with more of an emphasis on maximizing sales over customer service.
Overall, the group emphasizes finding out what jobs exist in New Haven’s “eds and meds” education and medical-related economy, then training people for them.
The report’s appended PowerPoint slides envision four general areas of jobs at the end of the pipeline:
• Administrative/Clerical. Examples: Bank teller, receptionist, paralegal, accounting clerk, call center support.
• Biotech/Medical. Examples: X-ray tech, lab tech, respiratory therapist, EMS, dental or nursing assistant.
• Service/Culinary. Examples: Cook, cashier, shuttle driver, custodian.
• “Green Jobs.” Examples: Solar thermal installer, energy auditor, weatherization tech, lead or asbestos abatement worker.
City government doesn’t have a set dollar amount yet that it expects to contribute to the New Haven Works budget, according to mayoral spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton. She said the DeStefano administration has been contributing staff time to the emerging project. For instance, the administration hired former and recurrent DeStefano mayoral campaign worker Elyse Lyons on a $3,500 monthly contract to “perform work related to the pipeline project” for June through August, Benton said.
Earlier this year the DeStefano administration experimented with a smaller version of this pipeline. It recruited hundreds of job-seekers to community meetings in February, helped prepare them for interviews, lured employers to a job fair, then brought 200 pre-screened applicants. The city is now following up to see how many of those people got jobs.