By Kieran K. Meadows
Dozens of jobseekers sized up the others seated in the packed waiting room of the city’s job training center in Brooklyn one recent Friday morning. Fifty people waited to see counselors, attend workshops and improve resumes. The bright blue walls and fancy logos offered a sense of a hope that, despite the city’s highest unemployment rate in 16 years, this center would connect them to a job.
With changes to the job placement system over the last six years, they might have a better chance than ever before.
“The focus has actually changed now,” said John Maul, the coordinator at the Brooklyn Workforce1 Center, one of the job development hubs found in each borough. “It’s more like, ‘Go out and find the companies and what their needs are, and then find the people to fill those. It’s a different perspective,” he said.
The workforce centers are the frontlines in a city that faces the most severe downturn in years. Job losses continue to mount; the jobless rate jumped to 10.3 percent in September and forecasts say it’s not likely to peak for at least another year.
It is against this bleak backdrop that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s overhaul of job development centers is being put to the test. Despite critics who say he hasn’t done enough, the mayor’s emphasis on building strong relationships with businesses that do the hiring—stressing placement over training—is seen as the reason for the overhaul’s success.
The change in focus was long overdue, according to David J. Fischer, the project director for workforce development and social policy at the Center for an Urban Future. “It’s crucial to get employers on board,” Fischer said. The mayor’s shift in focus “has been very good. It was absolutely the right decision,” he said.
Fischer believes that while Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit, it may be more because he overhauled a system that none of his predecessors took seriously.