Sandy opens up new job chances for thousands

Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

At the end of November, the state received a $27 million federal grant to put 5,000 unemployed New Yorkers to work cleaning up after Superstorm Sandy, and by the first week of December the state Department of Labor had received 30,000 applications for those jobs.

“It gives you the kind of idea of where we are as a community and what some of the problems are in our communities,” Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera told the students, academics and community members who attended York College’s executive leadership breakfast last week.

Rivera, who represented the Bronx in the state Assembly for 20 years before being tapped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the commissioner’s job earlier this year, spoke about how new programs under the governor’s jobs initiative help identify the positions of the future and train the labor force.

“The area that I really see moving forward, where we can have tremendous hope and tremendous success, is when it comes to communities of color and trying to tailor programs to communities of color, where the unemployment rate is so massive and so devastating,” he said.

In October, the unemployment rate in Queens was 8.2 percent — down from 8.3 percent a year earlier — but unemployment rates were drastically higher in communities of color. Rivera said that last year the Labor Department paid out close to $9 billion in unemployment checks.

One program the department implemented to chip away at chronic unemployment is Youth Works, which provides tax credits to employers who hire people between 16 and 24 who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and live in one of 12 areas throughout the state.

The program is designed to help companies defer the costs of hiring and training new workers. Rivera said the initiative has already placed 12,000 young minority men and women in jobs, but it will end in June and there are no immediate plans to reinstitute it.

“As you can see because of the tremendous success we’ve had, not only should we have New York Works II, but we should be talking about III, IV and V as we go along with it,” he said.

Rivera said it is important for the Labor Department to work with colleges and universities so that they would be aware of which job opportunities are on the horizon.

The department has been looking for the past few months to find $100 million in contracts to the City University of New York to see how the system can train students for the jobs of the future.

Another new initiative is the development of the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which break the state up into 10 areas, each of which coordinate entities to develop cohesive business models.

“There was never this connection between what government does, what business does and what labor does,” he said. “My job is very easy. Once these business models are found, how do we develop the labor force, how do we create the sophisticated labor force to deal with these models?”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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