Push For Jobs “Pipeline” Gets Underway

Paul Bass PhotoThe mayor has an idea of what a new “jobs pipeline” could look like. It could look like a box.

City government sits in the center of the box. The “box” would most likely be a physical office with a staff. Job-seekers enter the box from one end; existing big employers like Assa Abloy and Yale-New Haven Hospital enter from another; job-training programs from another. City government connects everybody, holds people to commitments—and hopefully makes a dent in the city’s 11.7 percent unemployment rate.

Mayor John DeStefano sketched that pipeline “box” on a piece of paper in an interview in his office earlier this week. The night before he sketched it in words as part of his annual “State of the City” address.

Meanwhile, DeStefano and a crew of his top aides gathered with over 50 work-seekers at Dixwell’s Monterey Community Room Thursday afternoon to prepare them to meet with employers at an upcoming job fair. He was putting into motion an early version of a pipeline.

DeStefano is adding his voice and his attention to a policy train that’s quickly leaving the station.

The “pipeline” is the idea du jour in New Haven for tackling joblessness and the recession—at this point an idea without many specifics. The basic idea: Connect out-of-work New Haveners to local jobs.

Monday night the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution calling for the creation of a committee to put flesh on the skeleton of that idea. The committee will have 90 days to come up with a detailed “jobs pipeline.” The board has a majority of new members, many of them labor-backed. They’ve made a commitment to tackle joblessness; the general job pipeline concept grew out of community brainstorming sessions hosted by the labor-affiliated Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE). (Read about that here and here.)

The 19-member pipeline committee created by aldermen would include three mayoral appointees; three aldermen; four big employers; two representatives of charitable foundatons; two members from training groups; a youth representative; a labor rep; and three “members from the non-governmental community to represent unemployed and underemployed workers from different parts of the city.”

Melissa Bailey Photo“I’m really excited to hear he wants to have an emphasis on a jobs pipeline as well,” Westville Alderman Adam Marchand (pictured) said after the mayor’s references to the pipeline in his speech. “I’m glad to hear we’re rowing in the same direction.”

Parsing the details may involve some differences of opinion.

The CCNE-hatched idea focused on what used to be called “linkage” in 1980s-era New Haven political debate: having developers commit to hiring a set number of people in return for government assistance on building projects. Some of the newly elected aldermen have called for just such an arrangement with one of the city’s busiest developers, Carter Winstanley.

Paging Assa Abloy

DeStefano envisions focusing on existing employers instead.

In 18 years as mayor, he noted, he has never visited Assa Abloy to ask: What openings do you have? What skills do people need for the job?

So he wants to start asking. And combining city job-training efforts in a central effort.

But DeStefano also wants to hold off until the aldermen come up with more details on their plans. (“Be patient,” board President Jorge Perez said Tuesday when asked about details. He said the aldermen will look at existing programs in places like Newark and Los Angeles. He noted that the 90-day commission’s members haven’t been selected yet.)

“I want to hear everybody else’s ideas,” DeStefano said Tuesday. “This [his pipeline “box”] is just an idea. I don’t want to be seen as presuming to step in other people’s initiatives here.”

That said, DeStefano was well aware that the people pushing the pipeline resoundingly defeated his allies in last year’s aldermanic elections. So he has gotten to work trying to respond.

First he came up with a new joint project with Gateway Community College to create a vo-tech school for students not headed for college (first reported and detailed in this story).

He also came up with the idea of asking private employers to pay for and staff career-advice centers in local schools.

Then he starting thinking about how to match unemployed people with jobs. It’s not as simple as living near a factory, he said.

In generations past, “the guys who ran the Winchester factory lived at the top of the hill. The people who worked in the factory lived at the bottom of the hill,” he noted. But today, “just because there are jobs in Science Park doesn’t mean there will be jobs for you.”

People have to not just find out about the jobs, but have the right skills—and the right “behaviors.” Like knowing how to dress for an interview, show up on time, look people in the eye. Or they may need training in a new skill like construction because their old jobs have been eliminated.

He broke job-seekers who need help into four categories:

• Ex-offenders reentering the work force after leaving prison.
• People newly out of work after a near lifetime doing jobs that aren’t coming back. “Like a pressman at the Register.
• “Persistently unemployed” people who have been looking for work for years.
• High-schoolers or even younger students who could use part-time jobs or internships to start preparing for viable adult careers.

Next, he figured as mayor he’d been in a position to ask CEOs and top managers of major employers to come to his office for a sit-down. Or a series of them. He’d tap, besides the hospital, Yale and Assa Abloy, and include city government job openings, too. (This story has a chart with percentages of city jobs held by New Haveners. In most categories the percentage is below 50 percent.)

“There are 15 banks that have branches in New Haven,” DeStefano observed. “You call the 15 banks into the room. You say, ‘You know what? It’s in all our interest to promote financial growth and economic well-being in the city, to get everyone working. You’re all going to be hiring people at different skill levels.’

“You say, ‘You know what, Bank of America? You’re going to hire a certain number of tellers.’ ‘You know what? You’re going to hire a cleaning company.’”

He would ask each employer to commit to hiring a set number of city residents. For a smaller bank like START, with a small staff, that might mean asking for a commitment to hire interns. Then he’d ask them, “What do you need to hire those people?” He’d then promise to get them the needed training.

To that end, he’d bring together the city’s adult education program and its construction job-training initiative, along with regional or quasi-public groups with which he has influence (like the Regional Workforce Development Board) to take part in a “one-stop shopping” center. Job-seekers, employers, and trainers alike would all know they could go there for information and to link up with people.

Getting It Started

While that larger project gets hashed out between the mayor’s staff and the aldermen, DeStefano this week got moving on first steps. He and aides contacted top employers in town. They forwarded job openings. (See a partial list at the bottom of this story.) They agreed to attend a Feb. 23 job fair at Hill Regional Career High School. The city agreed to pre-screen job-seekers who could be matched with the jobs.

Thursday afternoon, the city held the first of three pre-screening sessions toward that end, at the Monterey center. The more than 50 attendees filled out forms about their backgrounds and qualifications. they also submitted their resumes. They listened to an hour and a half of presentations about how to dress for an interview, how to act, how to overcome “barriers” like prison records or child-care or transportation problems.

In the end, the city certified 43 of the attendees as ready for the job fair, according to mayoral spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton. The rest either turned out to live out of town, or needed to do more to become ready to reasonably apply for the jobs. They were given advice and an invitation to attend another prescreening session, either Feb. 14 at 10 a.m. at the Q Terrace Community Room, 2 John Williamson Dr.; or Feb. 16 at 3:30 p.m. at the Wilson Branch Library at 303 Washington Ave.

Tywain Harris (pictured), who’s 31, came to Monterey Thursday because he hasn’t been able to find work since the Water Yacht Club laid him off as a dishwasher and maintenance man. “I was the last person to get hired,” he said. He found out about the pre-screening session through postings friends put on Facebook.

DeStefano huddled with two job-seekers who are currently employed but are looking for better sitautions: Ernie Jones and Roy Ketchum (pictured with him at the top of this story).

Jones, who’s 42, has a full-time job working with ex-cons at the Roger Sherman House. But staffers are starting to get hours cut, he said. And he doesn’t get much in the way of benefits. He hopes to land a solid full-time gig with decent benefits as a hospital cook or a hospital maintenance worker. “I’m not choosy,” he said. “Either one—St. Raphael’s or Yale [-New Haven].”

Ketchum, who’s 40, said he gets only part-time hours as a residential supervisor at the Columbus House homeless shelter. “I’m here looking for something full-time,” he said. He has worked as a janitor and a certified nursing assistant in the past.

The Linkage Question

In the interview earlier this week, DeStefano disagreed with the CCNE suggestion of pressing developers like Winstanley to include job-creation promises in projects like Downtown Crossing and Science Park. (Click here for a Register story making that case; here for a story about a protest including the counter-argument.)

“Carter [Winstanley] is not the employer. He’s the developer. He hires 10 people,” DeStefano said. “I don’t know how he signs an agreement on behalf of people he hasn’t” rented out to yet.

Winstanley, developer of projects like 300 George Street and 5 Science Park as well as the emerging Downtown Crossing, is the city’s second-biggest taxpayer, according to figures released Tuesday by the mayor’s office. He owns $161 million worth of taxable New Haven property. (UI, with $193 million, is the top taxpayer. The Fusco Corporation comes in third with $151.6 million, Yale fourth with $107 million.)

Alderman Marchand suggested that builders like Winstanley could be asked to pay part of the cost for the overall “pipeline” as part of development deals.

“I think it would be in their interest—make sure that people who live near developments” have jobs, Marchand said. He said he envisions a “positive conversation” about the pipeline taking place in coming months. “Sometimes people too easily conclude it is gong to be arm-wrestling. It can be a positive conversation about coming together on a shared agenda.”

He also argued that the city can also “figure out” early in the planning of projects what jobs would likely be attracted, then start working “as early as possible” to get people training for those jobs.

Some Of The Openings

Here are some of the openings forwarded to the city by employers planning to attend the Feb. 23 job fair:

• Mechanics at CT Transit.

• Chabaso Bakery supervisors and hourly workers.

• HigherOne prep cook, dishwasher, coffee attendant, desktop support, customer care agent.

• Omni Hotel server, front desk person, dining room attendant.

• Various Stop & Shop positions.

• Volleyball coach, budget analyst, teacher assistant, driver at Area Cooperative Education Services.

• Catholic Charities social worker or clinician.

• City of New Haven school teacher, substitute teacher’s aide, 911 operator/dispatcher.

• IKEA receptions, sales worker.

• Metro Taxi dispatcher, driver.

• Yale University gardener, custodian.

• Yale-New Haven Hospital nurse, cook, phlebotomist, dental assistant.

• United Illuminating garage mechanic, dispacher, line worker.

Melissa Bailey helped report this story.

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