Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C-Lockport) announced a comprehensive report from his Assembly Minority Task Force on Learning for Work, a multi-year, inclusive study that took a deep dive into workforce training in New York state.
Norris was a major driver behind creation of the task force and, as its co-chair, traveled across the state to meet with stakeholders from educators to employers and students themselves. He gathered testimony and research as to how the state can better support job training programs and enable young people to be prepared to enter today’s workforce.
“One of the biggest concerns we are faced with is the mass exodus of New Yorkers to other states, particularly our young, bright minds,” said Norris. “Parents and grandparents are at a loss when their children move out-of-state for better career opportunities, but the fact is that we all lose out. As taxpayers, we have all invested so much in the future of the children of this state. New York spends so much on education, and we have some of the best schools, colleges and universities in the world—so why are we losing these bright minds, aka ‘New York’s brain drain,’ after they graduate?”
Norris continued, “The truth of the matter is that our workforce and our educational system don’t match. There’s a huge segment of our population that no one was talking about for far too long and that’s why I wanted to create this task force. The ‘middle-skills’ gap is a highly-trained workforce that we need more of, or as I call them ‘professional-skills.’ These are good jobs and in high demand.”
In fact, when Norris set about to create the task force in 2018, this gap was significant with 49 percent of all jobs available defined as ‘professional-skills,’ but only 37 percent of workers trained for these types of positions. Professional-skills jobs traditionally have been defined as high-tech, manufacturing or trade jobs, or those positions that require more than a high-school diploma but less than a four-year degree.
Norris talked with his colleagues and, ultimately, he and Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (who, coming from the Adirondacks could also relate to this concern) decided to co-chair a new task force together. They held the first event on Oct. 15, 2019 at the Orleans County BOCES’ Niagara Career and Technical Education Center to shine a light on the wide array of technical skills that one can acquire through the BOCES program.
Not only were BOCES educators invited to attend, but so were traditional educators from local schools, colleges and universities, as well as local employers and students. Similar events were held all across the state from Western New York to Long Island.
As the 2020 Legislative Session began, Norris intended to announce the findings of the task force with their preliminary legislative recommendations; however, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic changed the course of those plans. Because the pandemic changed the landscape of our lives, our economy and how we do business, Norris wanted to re-evaluate the plan in light of the new world we are all living in today and as we rebuild our economy for the future.
The proposal focuses on a variety of legislative solutions to help better develop the state’s professional-skills workforce. Specifically, the plan looks to enhance the BOCES experience, remove the outdated BOCES stigma, expand and enhance P-TECH, explore changes in higher education, and remove bureaucratic barriers. Other recommendations include changing state education laws to allow for college credits for students in apprenticeship programs and ensuring students of all socioeconomic backgrounds are eligible for youth apprenticeships by providing transportation, equipment and other materials.
Copies of the report have been sent to Gov. Hochul and legislative leaders. Norris said he hopes they will consider taking action on the legislative proposals in the plan, and that he will continue urging them to do so.
To learn more about the task force, its comprehensive plan and individual solutions, you can read a copy of the 28-page report here.
Norris said, “I am immensely proud of the work that has gone into this, the patience and perseverance of all of the participants. This plan is so much stronger, and will make our workforce and our economy so much stronger as a result. Ultimately it’s about keeping New Yorkers together, families together. The pandemic has reminded us all how important family and home really are. That’s what our plan is really all about. Enabling today’s students for rewarding, financially viable careers that will allow them to stay in the communities they love and call home for generations to come.”