Report links LI pandemic recovery to racial equality

Takes all kinds: By diversifying its workforce-development efforts, Long Island has an unprecedented opportunity to address two major societal issues at once, according to a new regional study.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A new socioeconomic study ties Long Island’s post-pandemic economic recovery inexorably to race.

Sensing an “unprecedented opportunity” in the confluence of the global COVID-19 pandemic and America’s resurgent interest in racial equality, the Long Island Regional Planning Council and the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency on Thursday released “Upskilled: Preparing the Long Island Workforce for the Future.”

The comprehensive study – prepared by James Lima Planning + Development, a New York City-based consultancy that’s helped develop Silicon Valley companies and ecosystems – concludes that a well-trained workforce is essential to the post-pandemic rebound, and that giving all community members the same opportunities for success is the best way to create it.

The foundational principles set forth in the report are meant to guide policymakers through critical, post-pandemic workforce-development steps, with a second phase of the report – including implementation strategies, specific site and industry recommendations, academic-partner targets and a breakdown of funding opportunities – coming soon.

But the bottom line, according to phase one: The opportunity is here, now, to “implement a workforce training and development strategy, to meet current and future market demand with an exceptional workforce, drive the region’s growth and global competitiveness and help bridge the economic divide.”

That matches up nicely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plans to expand Albany’s $175 million workforce-development initiative – just one of a number of good reasons why workforce training, on Long Island and beyond, needs to do a better job crossing racial lines, according to LIRPC Chairman John Cameron Jr.

John Cameron Jr.: Overdue action.

“Long Island has an overdue need to create a unified strategy to upskill the region’s workforce and create true economic opportunity,” Cameron said Thursday. “Responding to the realities of the post-pandemic world and the workforce impact on Long Island intensified these needs.”

The report identifies a number of key opportunities, including new workforce-development initiatives in tradable sectors, which export competitive goods and services to other regions. According to “Upskilled,” only 23 percent of Long Island’s workforce is currently employed in tradable sectors like aerospace, IT and biopharma.

“The demand for workers in sectors like advanced manufacturing, technology and energy – where technology is rapidly changing and hands-on training is critical – far exceeded our capability to deliver work-ready candidates before COVID,” noted Rosalie Drago, commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing & Consumer Affairs.

“Those industries continue to hire even now, and the need to accelerate time to get people into the workforce is even greater,” Drago added. “Having a space where industry and education can collaborate, train and incubate talent is essential to recovery.”

Rosalie Drago: Top industries now hiring.

“Upskilled” also endorses “significant retraining opportunities” for the 77 percent of the Long Island workforce currently employed in local services – a “pipeline for the high-growth industries in tradeable sectors” that also prepares Islanders “for career trajectories with good earnings potential, regardless of age and ethnic or educational backgrounds.”

By trumpeting such progressive ideas, the report marks a “major step forward in informing the process,” according to Suffolk IDA Deputy Executive Director Kelly Morris, who said “providing our innovation economy with diverse and skilled workers” is essential to reaching new socioeconomic heights.

“The pandemic is testing our nation’s economic strength, and Long Island is not immune to these challenges,” Morris said in a statement. “Fortunately, the Suffolk IDA and our economic-development partners on Long Island and in New York State have been making a concerted effort in the area of workforce development for quite some time.”