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NYC Colleges Receive Federal Funding for Career and Tech Ed

NYC colleges want to bolster technical education and job training through the help of a $5 million federal grant. The initiative is focused on workforce development amid the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Aerial shot of the City University of New York campus.
City University of New York
Workforce development has become a central focus in New York City as its boroughs struggle to recover from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, New York higher education officials are looking to help solve the city’s unemployment woes by strengthening and diversifying career and technical education programs.

Six New York City community colleges and the City University of New York (CUNY) were recently awarded a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to help connect students with employment opportunities in “underemployed” industries such as information technology and the increasingly tech-integrated fields of education and health care. 

The new grant program will fund workforce development efforts at Queensborough, the Borough of Manhattan, Bronx, Hostos, LaGuardia and Kingsborough community colleges, all of which will now work together as the CUNY Community Colleges Consortium to offer transferable, online and mixed-learning career training credits in the years ahead.

According to the New York Department of Labor, the city's total adjusted unemployment rate reached 11.4 percent by the end of 2020, representing a 7.8 percent increase since December 2019. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in IT-related occupations to grow by 11 percent in the decade ahead.

Dr. Hui-Yin Hsu, dean of continuing education and workforce development at Queensborough Community College and grant principal investigator, said researchers are starting the grant program with a local assessment to further gauge specific workforce needs and guide curriculum programming for health care, education and tech courses. This detailed assessment should be completed by the end of 2021.

Schools will then work with the New York City Workforce Development Board and the Future Skills Exchange Workforce Development Institute to develop certification courses for high-demand positions at companies like Amazon, Google and Towne Nursing, as well as in public education. Officials say students could earn the qualifications necessary to work as an IT support professional, EMS responder, certified teaching assistant and more.

According to Hsu, the overall goal is to create "one unified workforce development system" in New York City to meet the needs of employers and job-seekers alike.

“We are really trying to figure out how to work together as one system to serve our students,” Hsu said. “We will be bringing employers to the table very soon.”

While funding details had yet to be released as of Thursday, Kingsborough Community College officials noted general plans to use a portion of the grant for IT training courses. Meanwhile, the consortium plans to invest in instructional technology tools to expand online training options for students.

Hsu believes flexible virtual courses will accommodate students who would otherwise need to commute to campus, which will ultimately bring more tech workers into the city’s workforce.

Hsu, who developed online learning programs as an academic dean and interdisciplinary professor at the New York Institute of Technology, said the pandemic underscored an existing need for virtual workforce development programs throughout the city’s higher ed system. Much of Hsu’s research focuses on using ed tech to enhance learning and new literacies, as well as the use of mobile devices for learning.

“We are also trying to look into using technology to leverage the resources for education to a broader population,” Hsu said. “We’ve talked a lot about how we are going to use technology to facilitate equitable access to education. In terms of training or education programs, technology should be seamlessly integrated."

With flexibility in mind, LaGuardia Community College announced the future development of “accelerated education” courses to quickly prepare students for careers in health care, cybersecurity and data science.

“Given the financial crisis and record unemployment caused by COVID-19 within Queens and beyond, this work is vital to support our community’s recovery from the pandemic,” LaGuardia President Kenneth Adams said in a news release.

Though the grant program is largely in its infancy, LaGuardia Vice President of Continuing Education Sunil Gupta said the aim will be to put more students on the path to an associate degree and job training.

“The recovery is by no means determined — which form or shape it’s going to take,” he also noted.

Like Hsu, Gupta believes using “ed tech for tech ed” could help expand access to the training required in a digitized job market. This could serve to help revitalize Queens’ economy — among the most affected during the pandemic.

“The ability to successfully deliver hybrid training programs using technology is going to be the key to the future. There’s no putting this back in the bottle,” he said. “I think this [need for flexibility] has been a key issue for many students who are managing families, multiple jobs, family commitments, child care. This will provide that level of flexibility that didn’t exist before.”

The grant program will work in concert with ongoing city efforts to connect students with jobs, which include the use of online tools to connect prospective employees to skill-building programs. By year four of the grant, Hsu said, the consortium will increase its enrollment by 10 percent. At least six online/blended training programs in tech, health care and education will be created.

Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.