Brooklyn Workforce Innovations
Many New Yorkers go through life without ever getting behind the wheel of a car, much less behind that of a commercial truck. But for dozens of New Yorkers each year, that truck cab has become the beginning of a new life.
Brooklyn Workforce Innovations, a non-profit job training organization, has for years been preparing jobless or under-employed New Yorkers for jobs that offer consistent, decent pay. The training and certificate programs put recruits on the path to becoming commercial drivers, cable installers, carpenters, production assistants and caretakers.
“People want to work. People want to contribute. People want to be good neighbors,” says Executive Director Aaron Shiffman.
BWI trains 700 jobless and working poor New Yorkers a year through its various programs, many more than the 50 it trained yearly when the organization started 12 years ago. All have inconsistent or minimal work histories. They may not have finished high school, they may be young mothers or have never have held an on-the-books job. Quite a few have spent time behind bars.
These employment barriers are daunting. In 2008, Brooklyn had the highest incarceration rate of any community in New York State. Unemployment remains high, particularly for minority men and women. In neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York, nearly half of all adults are outside the labor force. For African-American men in particular, joblessness is acute.
“Every Tuesday morning, we’ll have 30 or 40 mostly African American males come in, mostly from Brooklyn,” says Shiffman.
Free training and credentialing programs help them gain skills to put a new career and put decent wages within reach. The programs require a real commitment from their students, yet hundreds line up for the chance.
“For those that are able to attach themselves to the training, the transformation and the self-esteem benefits are huge,” Shiffman says. Last year, the average starting wage for a BWI graduate was almost $13 an hour, 76 percent higher than minimum wage.
BWI’s mission is particularly challenging in this economy. No matter how many people are trained, BWI cannot create jobs from thin air. But the non-profit has targeted its training to home in on the jobs that exist, adapting to assure that those who commit to the program can see results--and keep moving up.
BWI recently started up a partnership with the New York City Housing Authority to train people in pest control. NYCHA has made good on its promises, hiring workers from BWI programs to fill perform sorely-needed jobs. Shiffman says BWI will continue to think creatively to help New Yorkers get on the path to a better life.
It’s a hard sell in a time when news of the economy continues to be grim. But it’s a commitment to the future of the city. As Shiffman says, “To not make these investments would be cataclysmic.”