Adria Powell on the Care Economy & the NYC Workforce Development Board

As part of our series on each of the five strategic levers included in the Pathways to an Inclusive Economy: The Future of Workers Task Force Blueprint, Gregory J Morris sat down with Adria Powell, President/CEO of Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), NYC Workforce Development Board Chair, and member of the Future of Workers Task Force.

Adria Powell, CHCA: In June of 2019, I was recommended by Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson because of the work that I have done with him and his staff around the co-op sector, as well as the long-term care supports and services sector… I was voted in as Chair in December 2019.  We had one in-person meeting and then COVID.

That time during COVID was hyper-focused on how the services get delivered, and what do employers need at this time? There’s a cohort of committed and dedicated people on the board now. They are strategic and experienced. With the Pathways to an Inclusive Economy report, we will explore a reimagined board, what the next iteration of the board needs to be. 

Gregory J Morris, NYCETC: You and I were both part of the Future of Workers Task Force which was a body that was convened to think about how to coordinate resources and uplift best practices.  What do you see as the role in the redesign of the Workforce Development Board (WDB)?  How do you see the value and impact of the board going forward? 

Powell: Collaboration is very natural for me. That’s the place that I gravitate towards, particularly in leading the board and having so many people who have the experience on the board for many years.  My role has been to facilitate discussion, idea generation and elicit the questions that we need to be asking in order to meet goals and outcomes for the stakeholders connected to the NYC Workforce system. 

Morris: You are very focused on your daily role in the care economy. When you think about the priorities of this board, and its planned redesign, what would you like its focus to be specific to the care economy? 

Powell: When it comes to the care economy, one of the things that’s critical is understanding the differentiation between the different areas of health care because home care is a very specific part of the healthcare system, a vital one, an essential one, but one that has its own sort of challenges because of who does the work and how historically have we have treated women, people of color, immigrants who have been doing the work… 

There are these very specific challenges in our long term care sector around wages, job quality, advancement in the actual field, and stability in the work.  A workforce development board must understand those differences and then identify programs and providers who can respond to those unique challenges. That’s critical. The policy and advocacy required to shift the paradigm is also a place of focus for us as a board.

Morris: What influence do you think the board has had as the City has sought to reorganize and resource its workforce development ecosystem and what influence do you expect it to have going forward?  How do we make sure that the WDB has both the membership, and the staff support to execute on its priorities? 

Powell: Having the staff to implement what the board is coming up with is critical. We will need the staff resources, and deeper research components within the Mayor’s Office to look at the path forward and meet the needs of the sector. By statute, we have the people who are connected to the workforce services sector – corporate entities, business entities, nonprofits.  We have labor, the education sector, and government offices… We want to make sure that we do have diversity in all those areas including larger training providers and smaller, specialized ones. 

There was a discussion in one of our recent meetings about the RFP that’s coming out and there was a conversation ensued about the proposal. If we end up with the same entities, we’re going to get the same results…  Smaller, more specialized training providers who could be effective for populations could have a hard time successfully competing for and carrying out these RFPs for many reasons. As an example, the time it takes to get paid for the work could be a deterrent for a smaller organization but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be well-positioned to respond to the population.  

Morris: Let’s talk about committees. There is this intent in the report to have engaged committees. Is that focus? How do you want to see those committees evolve? 

Powell: There is an executive committee. There was a racial equity committee. Committees are certainly important, but we’ve got to have the staffing to support the work of the new committees.  When I joined, this board had a culture and a tone. It was established.  I think with the new administration saying this is the direction we want you to take it gives us the opportunity to innovate and do some things differently. The Executive Order sets a new tone and that will help us, as a board, to maintain our focus and independence.

Morris: For the work ahead, what is your message to providers about how they should think about the future of the WDB? And, what’s your plan to continue to elevate home care? 

Powell: Many of the pieces within the Pathways to an Inclusive Economy lay out the direction that we need to go in – and we have to set timelines. We must get the staff in place. One of the committees that will be essential is related to impact/measurements/data.  We have to know what our interventions are resulting in and I think there’s a step even before – let’s look at reevaluating what we are measuring. Are the data points that we’re currently measuring telling us we are meeting the needs of all of the stakeholders in the system. Are we measuring the right impacts? I will tell you, as the Chair, I get reports from different workforce development sites. They are pages and pages and pages long- What they’re telling me is that there are many people walking through the door but what’s beyond that… We have federal requirements we have to meet. But that’s not what’s going to help us transform this system and meet the needs of New York City.

I would like the reports to be both qualitative and quantitative. The concrete data – the person came into the program, they were looking for this kind of training, this kind of job. And that’s where they ended up. And this is how that ended up impacting their lives.

My plan to elevate home care continues to be fighting to increase wages, visibility and recognition for home care workers. I’m also committed to improving awareness and understanding of the role home care providers play within the sector, which can be contributory or extractive. Who are the quality employers contributing to improving the lives of workers and care recipients? Because there are too many bad actors out there who profit off the backs of the home care workers. We want the recognition for the workforce and the work that we do- It isn’t there. We continue to fight that fight.