Common Sense on Workforce Development

Let's say that a New Yorker wants to enroll in a program that will help build her literacy skills so she can get a better job. She could go to the Human Resources Administration, which offers a program for that. Or to the Department of Education, which offers something similar. Or the Department of Youth and Community Development. Or the Department of Small Business Services. Or CUNY. Each of these agencies offers programs trying to achieve the same goals.

The problem is that they don't communicate or collaborate at all. Rather than running one efficient program, the city is paying for multiple overlapping yet isolated ones. And city residents who need help wind up confused -- and under-served.

This problem isn't limited to programs offering help with basic literacy skills. The city spends over $925 million a year on workforce development, without a single, organized system in place for administering those programs. Instead, there is a labyrinth of different options offered by different city agencies with little or no coordination between them.

According to a report from the City Comptroller, there isn't even a directory or list of all of the available programs and resources. With more than 33 workforce development programs offered by a myriad of different mayoral and non-mayoral city agencies, New Yorkers seeking these services are understandably frustrated. And taxpayers are rightly concerned about whether they are getting maximum value for their money.

Workforce development, done right, is an essential investment for our city. The State Labor Department just announced that the City's unemployment rate is at 10.6 percent. That's the highest rate in the City in 17 years and the first time since this recession began that New York's unemployment rate has been higher than the national average. It means that 425,000 New Yorkers are unemployed - the highest number in 33 years. A strong worker retraining program is more important than ever before as we seek to bounce back from this recession.

The importance of workforce development doesn't justify wasting money on it. The city's budget is strapped and we can't afford to waste money on redundancies and inefficiencies. We need to stop spending more and start spending smarter.

Our current inefficient system thwarts the very intent of the many worthwhile programs our city has in place. What good does it do us to have a great program if people can't find out how to access it? Why should we pay for five different agencies to essentially administer one program?

The answer to the problem is direct and obvious. Rather than balkanize our workforce development program and spread it across multiple bureaucracies, we should create a single coordinated Office of Workforce Development. I have introduced legislation in the City Council that would do just that.

It is long past time to create an integrated, coordinated agency to oversee all of the different aspects of our city's workforce development programs. The office would be responsible for setting a single vision for our city's programs and then ensuring that we are actually achieving that vision. It would be responsible for making information about the city's different offerings available at one location. This coordinated effort will save taxpayers money, while making the workforce development system more accessible to those who most need it.

I'm not talking about creating new programs or building new bureaucracies here. Rather, this bill will take the programs that we already have - and already pay for - and put them all under the same roof. Instead of funding multiple agencies to do one job, we'll consolidate into one agency that can do multiple jobs. We'll increase efficiency while decreasing the cost to taxpayers. It just makes sense.