Conference Preps Workforce Development Groups for New Law

By Lauren Halligan

As unemployment rates improve, labor organizations are putting special focus on hiring youth and veterans.

The New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals (NYATEP), an Albany-based membership organization meant to serve the workforce development community, welcomed nearly 300 workforce leaders and youth to the Capital Region this week for its Northeast Regional Youth Academy.

An affiliate of the NYS Association of Counties, NYATEP believes that workforce development is a critical aspect of the state’s economic development success. Its membership base includes more than 500 representatives of business – from all 33 Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) in NYS – youth development programs, over 21 career centers, unions, colleges and universities, and not-for-profit organizations and education and training providers.

The annual event, which took place at the Saratoga Springs Holiday Inn this week, is dedicated to those who operate programs across the state to help young people access basic education, job training, postsecondary education and employment.

The conference featured speakers from the federal and state labor departments, the New York State Education Department, and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Each shared updates on the July 1, 2015 implementation of the federal workforce law called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The goal of this law is to increase coordination across the education and job training systems to get more Americans the skills they need to connect to and stay in employment, in turn helping employers increase their productivity and keep jobs in America. As it pertains to youth, the law pays specific attention to serving “disconnected” youth, meaning young people ages 16 to 24 who are not working and not in school. In New York State alone, there are estimates of close to 200,000 youth that fit this profile.

A highlight of the conference, keynote speaker Mike Scotti, a Long Island native Marine Corps veteran, addressed this issue, speaking about about the importance of supporting veterans, especially young adults, returning home from combat situations.

Scotti spoke with honesty and candidness about his experiences in the frontlines of war in Iraq and the struggles of assimilating back into everyday life. Though difficult to hear, he spoke of the realities of warfare, post traumatic stress disorder and suicide. “These are some of the things that your veterans might be struggling with,” he said.

“That stuff that’s hard for us to hear are the things that we have to help people get through to be able to connect to employment and successfully participate in in our communities,” said Melinda Mack, executive director of NYATEP, who encouraged conference attendees to think about how they serve their veterans and how they might do it differently in the future. 

Scotti urged the many employers at the conference Tuesday to not only hire veterans, but work with them through their transition back into civilian life. For many young veteran job seekers, it maybe be their first step into adult life after four years in the military. “The uniform goes away. The support structure goes away,” Scotti said. “There’s a sense of purpose and a sense of pride – that goes away.”

In his own experience, “I felt like an alien,” Scotti said. “I felt like I didn’t fit into society anymore.”

However, once veterans are reaccustomed to life outside the military, their leadership, self discipline and sense of perspective are extremely desirable employee traits. “Those are the things that need to be fostered,” Scotti said.

Scotti’s presentation received a standing ovation and rave reviews. CLASP’s director of youth policy Kisha Bird was inspired after hearing his story Tuesday. Upon returning to work in Washington D.C. after the conference, her goal was to focus on learning how to serve out of work and unemployed veterans. “We need to use data to show the 18 to 24 year olds who are coming back how they can be better served through our workforce,” she said.

To end the annual meeting, many attendees plan to join forces with the Campaign for Summer Youth out of New York City to meet with legislators from across the state Wednesday to talk about the impact youth education and employment programs have on their local residents

“Countless studies show there is a strong correlation between youth employment and the connection to the workforce as an adult – the Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that over 1.1 million New York State youth are unemployed,” Mack said in a press release. “We have to do more to make sure these young people connect to work.”

The Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) provides the first work experience for many young people throughout New York State. However, supply does not come close to meeting demand; tens of thousands of young people who apply are turned away. The goal of Wednesday’s campaigning is to increase the state’s investment in SYEP to $49.31 million so that 10,000 more young people who are ready and willing to work can get a summer job.

To help raise awareness about these successful programs NYATEP compiles stories from youth in an interactive site call Youth Employment Matters each year. The site profiles young people from across the State who participated in summer youth employment programs. This past year, the New York State Legislature’s financial support enabled more than 18,000 young people to participate, and more than 120,000 additionally participated due to the financial support from local municipalities and private philanthropy.

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