RFCUNY, in partnership with three of its community colleges, developed the CUNY TechWorks Initiative, an intensive applied skills training program designed to complement and enhance Associate of Applied Sciences (A.A.S.) degree programs in these three high-growth H-1B occupational fields: software applications development, computer programming, and information technology (IT) systems administration.
CUNY’s approach to career pathways in the technology field for the NYC region is industry-led and focused, complemented by integrated education. It starts with laying out the pathways and entry-points that are required and available for “diverse” job seekers to enter the IT field. The initial success of the program has already led to duplication in other career pathways.
The H-1B America’s Promise (AP) team asked RFCUNY to elaborate on their approach and their results. In their own words, the following guest article serves to assist other H-1B AP grantees in their career pathways efforts.
How did you go about recruiting companies to participate in the creation of the Skills & Career Mapping Program?
To find the participating companies, CUNY relied on existing employer and industry connections. In the two years preceding the grant, CUNY had developed partnerships with technology industry players, and as a part of the grant process, reached out to them for letters of support for the grant application. In the request for the letters, CUNY asked them to be a part of the labor market research process as well. Additionally, once the project got underway, they asked existing partners and industry advisory board members to introduce the team to other companies who might be interested in these efforts. Through these referrals, they were able to get participation from companies outside of their immediate network. As these three training tracks (applied software development, UI/UX and web design, and IT systems administration) are preparing students for in-demand job roles such as apps developer, network support specialist, and interactive web designer, the companies are interested in the participants graduating with the right training and experience to fill their openings.
What are the critical components and steps in the process?
Working with the NYC Labor Market Information Services (LMIS), CUNY utilized the local labor market data for NYS DOL, regional publications and reports, and previous work in the tech sector to identify the in-demand skills, jobs, and careers in the NYC region. Additionally, using data from Burning Glass Technologies (an analytics software consulting company that provides current labor market information), CUNY also examined the progressions of current professionals in the field to identify commonalities in how job seekers entered the field and their career paths through the field. This allowed CUNY to draft job profiles for key job titles and to begin outlining pathways for program participants.
- Once this initial research was completed, NYC LMIS – in conjunction with the project team – held workshops for each of the training tracks. There were two workshops for each of the three career-tracks, totaling six workshops. Fifteen companies (total of 20 individuals) were represented and each participant had direct experience in that area of the IT sector. In addition to representatives from CUNY’s industry partners, professionals in the field were invited to participate. These professionals did not represent a particular company but instead they provided their outlook as someone in that role or has work history in that role. CUNY thought this perspective was important to better balance out specific company views, and to provide on-the-ground insights as an employee or worker navigating the job market and the demands of these occupations. In these workshops, they also separated out the technical competencies and identified the soft skills that various roles required.
- Some of the key questions asked:
(1) What are the “core competencies” required for success?
(2) What else does entry-level staff need to know?
(3) What technology does each company utilize?
(4) What are the trends relevant to their core-areas – positions, wages, skills-set, etc.?
(5) What does their current workforce look like?
(6) What does a typical day look like for the different entry positions/titles?
(7) What are the different work environments/opportunities that they will encounter (healthcare, finance, government/large companies or small companies)?
- After the workshops, NYC LMIS completed one-on-one interviews with hiring managers and HR staff at selected employer partners to flesh-out job descriptions, and to dig deeper into industry hiring and recruitment practices.
- CUNY then leveraged the knowledge and expertise of their Industry Advisory Board to validate the data and information they had gathered, and they adjusted the information accordingly to ensure accuracy and reliability. For example, web-development was not initially included in software development. The feedback revealed that there is a need to focus on design because that is the changing demand of the sector (in the NYC area). Many companies in the area are looking for talent in developing Apps and they want to see individuals who understand and appreciate User Interface (UI) and the User Experience (UX). Graphic design and fine arts are natural progressions into web design because they teach students some of the essential skills to transition into web design. This type of intelligence would not have been revealed if the Industry Advisors did not give CUNY feedback on what and where to focus and what they see as the relevant skills and how it is practically applied.
- After the validation, CUNY produced three in-depth career maps for each of their training tracks. These maps included role descriptions, pathways, skillsets and their required competencies, hiring and skill trends, job expectations, and salary expectations. NYC LMIS and the project shared these reports with their college partners to assist with curriculum development, and components of these reports were used to create a student-facing booklet that will be distributed to prospective participants and current students.
What resources did you need to start and execute the mapping?
The key resources for this program were the leveraged funds and hiring an outside consultant. NYC LMIS is a nationally recognized, well-respected labor market analyses organization. By working with them, CUNY was able to draw on their expertise and experience to develop a common labor management information process for all three training tracks that was appropriate for this project.
On the surface it looks complicated, what advice and suggestions would you provide to other grantees before they consider starting the process? What were the lessons learned?
- IT is a broad field and changes often, therefore be clear about the roles, job titles, and/or career pathways where you wish to focus your LMI efforts. Seek out labor market data specific to those titles (or adjacent titles) or pathways so that the LMI results can better reflect the realities of those targeted occupations.
- Tech is specific to regions – skills, needs, and job opportunities in IT can be very different depending on your region, the types of companies in your area, and your local governments’ economic development policies around technology industry. Do not use NY data to make decisions for a different geographical area (what is happening/trending in NY maybe different from Chicago). Also, treat national statistics as guidelines, but take the time to do the fieldwork to understand how these occupational trends are developing in your city, county, or state. Talk to employers, professionals in the field, educators, and local workforce or economic development agencies to get on-the-ground insights.
- Avoid the tendency to gather only employers who are popular, well-known, or large-scale – more attractive employer groups – and ignore the more traditional, smaller, or lesser known companies. Ensure that there is diversity and balance in the employer groups as some companies may have specific needs and proprietary systems that are not the industry standard, have unique hiring requirements, or only work in niche areas. Focus on the common needs across employers’ job titles rather than attempting to tailor a program to specific companies-unless you anticipate 60-70% of your hiring coming from 1-3 companies.
- Pay attention to the startup and smaller tech businesses in your area, as many of these companies tend to have greater flexibility in their hiring than larger, more established companies. In addition, smaller companies may be better positioned for growth and increased hiring in the upcoming months, than larger firms. It may require more legwork to stay connected to these employers, but it will likely be well worth it in the long term.
- Have a clear plan for how you will be using the data (curriculum development, job profiles, career maps, etc.). People, especially employers, like to know the end goal and the expected outcomes from this type of engagement. Also, after the process has wrapped up, make sure to update your industry and employer partners on the outcome. For example, share reports or career maps that were generated and how this information influenced your program development or operations. This helps partners see the fruits of their efforts and feel like their insights/opinions mattered (even if you did not incorporate them all). It also helps to solidify the relationships with open, ongoing communication regarding your initiative’s progress.
Overall, how successful has it been? Do you believe your stakeholders feel the same?This process has been very successful. CUNY’s college partners will agree it was very helpful in uncovering the specific topics, skills, and competencies that they need to address during curriculum development. It also served as a good way to introduce the CUNY TechWorks Initiative to the larger tech community and get some early buy-in for the training programs.