State Senate OKs workforce package

State Sen. Jack Martins: Connecting people to jobs is Job One.

The New York State Senate has approved a comprehensive workforce-development package designed to train workers for in-demand, new-economy skills.

Stemming from the Senate Task Force on Workforce Development, the legislation – six bills in all – would close the skills gap by improving connections between prospective employees and employers seeking skilled workers.

Among the Senate legislation approved this week is a bill that would require the New York Department of Labor to collect forward-facing job statistics to help employers and educators better predict future needs; a proposal to invest $35 million to expand New York’s Pathways in Technology Schools and Early College High Schools; and a measure that would increase access to career and tech programs at BOCES facilities.

Also approved by the Senate: the proposed creation of the Help Individuals Reach Employment program, designed to assist SUNY and CUNY graduates who can’t find full-time work in their fields; a plan to enhance community college degree and certificate programs to increase job-placement success; and a bill requiring the state Department of Education to collaborate with the state Department of Labor on guidelines helping high school guidance counselors make students aware of all post-graduation options, including paid apprenticeship programs.

“Our first job must be to connect people to jobs,” said State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, who co-chaired the Task Force on Workforce Development with Sen. George Amedore (R-Rotterdam).

Noting that “time and again, we’re told that the jobs are there but the training isn’t,” Martins – who sponsored the bill requiring the Education and Labor departments to work with high school counselors – said it was the state’s responsibility to “ensure that job-seekers can access the necessary skills to fill open jobs.”

“Enhancing and expanding training programs … will give people the tools needed for careers in fields that are in-demand,” Martins said in a statement. “Our priority has been developing new ways to connect people with jobs for the benefit of workers, businesses and our economy as a whole.

“Passing these measures is a major step forward in that effort.”

Formed in March 2015 to review existing workforce-development initiatives and develop new ones, the Task Force on Workforce Development featured heavy Long Island representation – in addition to Martins, Sens. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) all had a seat.

In May, the task force issued a preliminary report detailing existing educational and state-run workforce-development programs and reviewing a series of regional forums held between April 2015 and January 2016 to gather input from statewide stakeholders.

Included in the report was a breakdown of a Jan. 22 forum on demand-specific training, held at Suffolk County Community College. The Long Island forum featured a panel discussion among regional educators, business executives and various other employment experts.

Marcellino sponsored a bill that would not only reliably fund P-TECHs and Early College High Schools, but make permanent programs not currently codified by state law. The Syosset senator said his plan “helps meet the diverse needs of all regions of the state.”

“Education and workforce development must collaborate to ensure the skills gap is reduced and New York State jobs are filled with highly qualified workers,” Marcellino said. “A successful combination of investment and education can create the kind of skilled workforce that can adapt and thrive in our perpetually changing world.”

The HIRE initiative, sponsored by LaValle, would offer college-level certificate programs – tailored to job-market needs – to SUNY and CUNY graduates who can’t land a job related to their degree.

“Higher education is critically important in the current job market,” noted LaValle, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee. “The HIRE program would help to ensure better employment outcomes for specific SUNY/CUNY graduates by enhancing the student’s marketability in the workplace.”

All six bills are now awaiting action by the New York State Assembly. Those earning Assembly support will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for final approval.

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