(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
In recent years, New York City has racked up a series of impressive gains within the systems that prepare our youth for work and careers. The question is whether this progress will be enough for the city’s youth to navigate a rapidly changing labor market and achieve steady work and economic security.
While the economic expansion of recent years has swept many young adults into the workforce, most of these new workers are not on pathways to upward mobility. Part of that is the nature of the jobs, almost all of which are part-time, low-paying, or both. But another factor is work readiness -- employers do not feel students are generally well-prepared for the world of work. One recent survey found that while 96 percent of college academic officers felt their institutions effectively prepare students for the workforce, only 11 percent of business leaders agreed.
With education and skills requirements for high-paying positions continuing to rise, and automation potentially pushing low-skilled workers even further toward the economic margins, there’s a real chance things could get significantly worse. In fact, recent research estimates that one in every three jobs in New York City could become mostly or totally automated, with lower- and middle-income jobs at greatest risk. The workers in those jobs are overwhelmingly women and people of color.
To address these challenges and help New York City’s youth prepare for steady work and economic security, Mayor de Blasio has launched CareerReady NYC. This initiative prioritizes and connects the raw ingredients of career success: academic attainment, work experience, time management, critical thinking, communications, and teamwork. By linking up the subsystems of public education, youth employment, and postsecondary education, we can improve the odds for young people who might not have the strong family or community support networks to make meaning from unconnected academic and work experiences.
Developed over a two-year period by leaders from city government, the public school system, CUNY, employers, philanthropy, and community-based organizations, CareerReady NYC reflects two core truths. First, “school” and “work” are vital and complementary inputs to growing up, and should be supported as such. Second, when it comes to the success of our youth, everyone has skin in the game, and everyone needs to pitch in on their behalf.
The good news: there’s a lot of success to build upon. High school graduation and college readiness rates are the highest yet recorded. CUNY has rededicated itself to student success, with substantial investments in programs such as ASAP (Accelerated Success in Associate Programs) that are helping students to complete degrees. The Summer Youth Employment Program, a mainstay of life in the five boroughs since 1963, is putting more than twice as many young New Yorkers to work in 2019 as it did just six years ago. Finally, New York City is blessed with the strongest and most generous philanthropic partners of any city in America.
With all that in mind, the city is making a pledge through CareerReady NYC to begin to manage these programs to reflect the reality that they serve the same young people, and work toward providing more and better career guidance in school and work experiences outside of it. Our hope is that the Department of Education and CUNY will continue to embrace the goal of career readiness for their students, prioritizing career awareness, career exploration, and work-based learning.
We’re calling upon employers to participate by hosting student site visits, serving as guest speakers, providing financial support, taking interns, and ultimately hiring well-prepared graduates.
Finally, we’re asking private funders and service providers to sustain their support of youth development through resources, sharing best practices, and feeding back insights from the field to continuously improve programs and policy.
Over the years, far-sighted civic leaders in and out of government have taken concerted action to stabilize New York City’s finances, dramatically improve public safety, expand infrastructure to support a growing population, and address the ramifications of climate change.
The young people of New York deserve a similarly visionary approach to how we help them prepare for success in the world of work. This investment will pay off in both economic and moral terms: a broader-based and more sustainable prosperity, and a community in which we live up to our professed values of equal opportunity for all.
Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives J. Phillip Thompson is responsible for spearheading a diverse collection of priority initiatives for New York City.