Abby Jo Sigal on the Future of Workers Task Force Blueprint

Gregory J Morris, CEO of NYCETC sat down with Abby Jo Sigal, Executive Director of NYC Talent for a conversation on the Pathways to an Inclusive Economy: The Future of Workers Task Force Blueprint. [This content was edited and condensed.]

Editor’s note: This feature was originally included in NYCETC’s NYC Workforce Weekly newsletter, which is delivered free to subscribers’ inboxes every Wednesday with trends and top stories about workforce development in New York City. Subscribe here.

Gregory J Morris (NYCETC): Congratulations on the release of the blueprint.  I was very grateful to serve on the Task Force and, especially, to co-lead the ‘Define and Fund What Works’ Working Group with Lisette Nieves, President, Fund for the City of New York. What’s the top line you want our coalition members to be mindful of as they start to digest the recommendations?

Abby Jo Sigal: Many hands make light work, and that’s true of the talent and workforce development system. It’s not one player, but it’s a collection of aligned actors that really are going to help us collectively achieve the citywide objectives that we all have in terms of talent and workforce development. And really positioning New Yorkers for career success and also making sure employers have the talent they need to grow and thrive, because we know that’s how we’re going to get to an inclusive economy.

This report is a product of all of us working together to figure out what are some of the key elements that need to be in place if we’re going to move beyond a whole bunch of programs to a real citywide strategy and a system that works for everybody. The members of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition play key roles in this. One is, the deep understanding of talent and workforce programs as well as what works and what doesn’t work. It’s going to be important to figure out what are some of the barriers to scale and to tackle those. Additionally, [the Coalition’s] understanding of particular industries and target populations are critical to addressing the historic disparities in employment that have been around for a long time and that we’re hoping to really reduce in the future. So as we move forward – this work and the citywide objectives – cannot be achieved without the many, many members of NYCETC.

Morris: Funding matters. We know that. It’s the number one topic of the minds of our members. What can you tell us about the plan for the fund?

Sigal: The goal is to take a portion of the city’s resources that we invest in workforce and talent development and marry it with private funding so that we are aligning funding to better identify what needs to scale – as well as [fund] new strategies that can better achieve the citywide objectives, whether that’s tackling historic disparities or really helping young people launch into family sustaining careers or addressing some of the living wage concerns.

We need to have shared selection and investment criteria as well as shared reporting. That way we’re not all sort of working in our separate silos, but really thinking together about what the opportunities and challenges are so that we can achieve scaled strategies.

Morris: Are there specific metrics about the value of programs and the impact of programs that we should thinking about? It’s especially valuable to us to think about what demonstration of success makes scale possible? 

Sigal: One of the things that we’ll be looking for from the city perspective is how do we increase the access and availability of apprenticeship. Because it really does bring together earning and learning in real time, which we think is a better way to organize our talent development system. So opportunities that can help scale apprenticeship – pre apprenticeship training and making sure that we are increasing access and opportunity for particular populations that have [experienced] historic disparities when it comes to employment and wages. Making sure they have access to apprenticeship is going to be critical. We want to help build out apprenticeships in new industries and occupations that we haven’t traditionally had apprenticeship, such as tech, and specifically in entry-level occupations that we know provide economic mobility.

Morris: As we know half of NYC’s working-age households cannot meet their basic needs- and the investment our coalition members make to provide supportive services has only increased since the pandemic. How do we balance our commitment to economic mobility and economic stability? 

Sigal: There are no silver bullets and it’s how do we look at this from the job seeker perspective as well as the employer perspective. Then really support the institutions, whether they’re nonprofit providers or educational institutions that help to connect the dots. Part of the Future Workers Task Force recommendations is creating the table where we can all have those conversations and figure out how do we bring in resources to address this and not operate in silos. The Talent and Workforce Development Interagency Cabinet looks at all of the different public resources and will try to align them based on this set of recommendations as well as on what we’re finding on the ground in real time as providers seek to support job seekers and employers.

Morris: What can you tell us about the plans for the Workforce Development Board?

Sigal: The New York City Workforce Development Board is the center of gravity for all this work and we want to make sure that its membership and committee structure reflects that.

Morris: What is your sense of what employers are looking for from the coalition members and how can the coalition members be responsive to those needs going forward?

Sigal: Employers are looking for top talent that have a lot of adaptive skills because the jobs are changing so rapidly. So there’s a whole set of skills – how can you adapt to change and be flexible at the same time? They’re also looking for intangible skills. This is part of the reason why braiding together is so important because it’s just a more efficient way to match talent to labor. But it’s a huge mindset shift for people from what we have been doing. Employers want strong talent. They want talent that’s able to work in a rapidly changing environment. They want to hire folks who have different lived experiences, different professional experiences. And that’s why New York City talent is in some ways not only what they want, but what they see as needed for their competitive advantage going forward.

Morris: Are there things that you didn’t get to in this report that we need to continue to think about and find a way to focus on? 

Sigal: There’s so much great work already happening. And there are no silver bullets here. It’s really how do we work together going forward and what sort of practices and infrastructure we invest in and put in place over time and continue to work in partnership to achieve those citywide objectives that are outlined in Executive Order 22And I think it’s going to be on all of us to really start thinking about what are some of the leading indicators that help get us to those objectives and putting some of that infrastructure in place and discipline across both the public and private sectors so that we we make progress to achieving that. And that might require shifting how we invest resources, both public and private to make progress on those goals.

Morris: Is there anything you want to say about the recently passed community hiring legislation?

Sigal: That is very much a tool in the toolbox that will be critical to our collective success –the city having the ability to use its purchasing power to support community member and resident ability to secure good jobs. It’s also important to create the infrastructure so that employers and contractors have the ability to tap talent they need to succeed as well.