A New Funder Embrace for Workforce Development

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

By Patricia Jenny, Executive Committee Chair, New York City 
Workforce Funders & Program Director, 
The New York Community Trust
and Bret Halverson, Staff Consultant, New York City Workforce Funders

The loss of more than eight million American jobs between 2007 and 2009 has propelled private funders to consider how they can tackle startling levels of unemployment. In New York City, funders are focused on developing new approaches to prepare low-income individuals for entry-level jobs.

During the 1990s, following a series of research studies on the Job Training Partnership Act and several national demonstration projects, many funders believed that workforce programs just did not work. This perception was particularly evident during the Giuliani administration, which did not spend its federal workforce funding, leaving New York City behind many other cities in new demand-side workforce approaches like sector strategies.

Private funders began to address these issues in the 1990s. The Clark Foundation held a series of conferences and meetings to identify strategies that could improve the job prospects of participants in workforce programs. These included a conference in Cooperstown (1994) with a follow-up meeting in New York City (1995), and two conferences at the Pocantico Conference Center in partnership with The New York Community Trust (1996 and 1999). These gatherings accelerated the development of new approaches in the workforce field, including the establishment of the New York City Workforce Funders, a network of private and corporate funders, and the Workforce Professionals Training Institute, which trains frontline workers in employment organizations.

Private funding for workforce development has increased over the past decade, particularly for training. For the past eight years, the NYC Workforce Funders has conducted an annual member survey of private funding in New York City, and found an increase from $18.4 million in 2004 to $51.8 million in 2011, a total that now exceeds the 2011 federal allocation for adult and youth workforce programs in New York City.

Last fall, the NYC Workforce Funders and The Clark Foundation convened a conference in Cooperstown, New York, attended by more than 90 leaders from New York City and State workforce agencies, workforce intermediaries, leading New York City direct service organizations, national experts, and employers with a track record in working effectively with workforce programs. Participants at the conference began to develop a new set of strategies that will start with employers, foster partnerships of organizations, and include trial employment internships for low-skilled job seekers. The NYC Workforce Funders also funded a program to train workforce organizations in effective advocacy techniques.

As workforce development strategies have become central components of economic development or anti-poverty efforts, more funders are joining in. We welcome all donors who are interested in learning more.

Over the past ten years, The New York City Workforce Funders has raised $7.7 million to support demonstration projects (e.g., the New York Alliance for Careers in Healthcare) and capacity-building efforts (e.g., Benchmarking, Board Governance). The Workforce Funders meets quarterly to discuss current workforce issues; these meetings are open to any private funder.

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