CUNY Jobs Report Reveals Necessary Skills for Critical Economic Sectors
July 17, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
In the fall of 2011, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein formed a Jobs Task Force to examine industry and labor force trends in five key sectors that are of critical importance to the University and the city’s economy. The sectors include finance, health care, higher education, information technology and media and advertising. LaborPress interviewed Shayne Spaulding, University Director of Workforce Development in the Office of Academic Affairs, to learn about the findings and recommendations produced in the Jobs for New York’s Future report.
According to Spaulding, its common practice for higher education institutions to periodically review how their programs are effectively preparing students for the workforce. The institutions have to make changes or refine their programs based on different factors, such as the global forces that affect businesses across industries—from economic crises to new technologies to consolidation and regulatory changes.
The report emphasizes that, although the report was limited to five industry sectors, its findings have important implications for colleges and universities in the city. Mr. Goldstein challenged the task force to answer three questions:
1) What current jobs requiring a college degree are difficult to fill?
2) What are the jobs and skills of the future that require a college degree?
3) How can CUNY and other institutions of higher education better prepare students for the labor market today and in the future?
Interestingly, Spaulding said that industry leaders told the jobs task force that their new employees essentially require a well-rounded liberal arts education.
“As a university, we are focusing on those fundamental skills that are part of the university’s efforts to better understand what graduates need to know. That focus is on learning outcomes that enable students how to communicate, solve problems and write well.”
LaborPress asked Ms. Spaulding if the university works with any secondary institutions so that students learn the essential communication and writing skills before they enter college, thereby freeing up the university’s faculty from expending effort and resources to teach skills that students should already possess.
“We work closely with the Department of Education and we’re involved in an initiative, Graduate NYC, College Readiness and Success Initiative [which received a $3 million grant over three years from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation], which looks at the sort of skills students need to know from when they start school, all the way through college.” LP readers can learn more of Graduate NYC via: www.cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/ue/CUNYDOECollegeReadiness.html
Spaulding’s office worked in collaboration with the New York City Labor Market Information Service, which develops research and tools to help city policy makers make sense of the city’s labor market.
She explained some of the factors behind the impetus for the new report.
“It’s always a good idea to ask these questions about our programs and the labor market. I think on the tails of a recession it seemed a good time to conduct a study of this nature. And we expect we’ll be doing this in an ongoing way going forward as the report’s recommendations suggest.”
For Spaulding, two highlights stand out from the report’s research findings.
“A striking finding was just the tremendous growth in the IT sector in the city and the need to keep up with the pace of change in that sector. It’s interesting that all sectors are hiring people to do data analysis work.
“Also, an interesting finding was the challenge of employers to manage a multi-generational workforce. Many employers said many young people entering the labor market may not possess the soft skills because they don’t have any work experience, but at the same time those young workers bring strong technological skills and capabilities to the labor market.”
Finance is obviously a key sector for the city. But soon after the CUNY report was published, a July 1 story in the NY Times, “Financial Giants Are Moving Jobs Off Wall Street,” revealed that the city’s financial firms are now starting to shift jobs to cheaper locales in the U.S., a process known as near-sourcing. According to the story, the trend “threatens the vast middle tier of positions that form the backbone of employment on Wall Street.”
Spaulding noted in response, “There’s never a guarantee that jobs stay in the city. All we can do as educational providers is to make sure that CUNY students are as prepared as they need to be, and as the report says, includes having certain fundamental skills, such as communication, writing, analytical and technical skills, as well as a broad understanding of the industries they’ll be entering.”
A snapshot of the report reveals that the health care sector out of the five employs the highest number of workers in the city, 450,000 employees working for more than 16,000 employers. In addition, there are 15,000 finance and accounting firms in the city, 5,000 IT firms, more than 6,000 media and advertising companies and 413 public and private higher education institutions.
LP readers can read the full report via http://www.cuny.edu/employment/Jobs-Task-Force.pdf
When asked whether CUNY has any concerns that it may lose independent control of its curriculum development as the institution works closely with industry, Spaulding said,
“Interestingly, when we interviewed employers they recognized that curriculum development is the domain of higher education, but they want some opportunity to provide input and I think it’s a balance that can be achieved.”
Spaulding hopes the report’s publication will provide lessons for higher education institutions, not just CUNY, about what are some of the future workforce trends and the importance of partnering with industry more effectively.
“I hope the report can help us do that,” said Spaulding. email@example.com