Deputy mayor promises more local tech approach

Alicia Glen. (Rubenstein)
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Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development delivered her first major policy speech this morning.

The setting was the Hilton, the crowd was New York City’s permanent government, and the focus of the speech was the tech sector, which is growing.

At the speech before the Association for a Better New York breakfast, in front of a former mayor (David Dinkins), several former Bloomberg aides, real estate executives and lobbyists, Alicia Glen’s first big applause line was this: “Along with many of you, we are 100 percent invested in the Applied Sciences Initiative launched by the previous administration and we are committed to making it a reality and making it work.”

The premise of Glen’s speech was that while the tech sector’s growth is good for New York City, and the Bloomberg administration had a hand in encouraging that growth, not enough was done to connect regular New Yorkers to jobs in the industry, many of which (contrary to popular belief) do not require a bachelor’s degree.

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“We need nothing less than a thorough reinvention of workforce development in this city,” she said. “And that’s what we are starting today. We are going to take a fundamentally different approach.”

To reinforce her point, her boss Bill de Blasio took the stage, in a brief appearance that was supposed to be a surprise.

“We are going to move on a lot of different fronts to give you the kind of workforce you need,” he said, pointedly connecting workforce development to his universal pre-kindergarten program, the one he first proposed 18 months ago at another ABNY breakfast.

Glen promised a “more nimble, more responsive workforce training,” and she vowed to “ forge real pipelines to our fastest growing, good-paying employers,” but she didn’t offer much in the way of specifics.

That she’s leaving to Katy Gaul-Stigge, who will lead the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, an office the Bloomberg administration called the Mayor’s Office of Human Capital Development. (“We’re renaming it what it really is,” said Glen.)

Next week, Gaul-Stigge will launch a “Jobs for New Yorkers” task force made up of leading employers, philanthropists, educational institutions to figure out ways to better connect New Yorkers to tech jobs.

“Our goal is simple,” said Glen. “We don’t want you to go to Stanford or overseas when you’re looking for talent. We’re going to give you the people you need right here in New York City.”

“I don’t want to offend anybody that went to Stanford,” Glen added, speaking to reporters after her speech. “My chief of staff went to Stanford. But I think my point is, you know what, there’s a lot of great talent in New York City, and if we nurture that talent and we say to companies who are here in New York that we’re supporting, ‘We’d like you to look a little harder at our own population before you go off to Stanford,' that’s really the paradigm shift.”

Glen’s speech was timed to coincide with the release of a report finding that the so-called “tech ecosystem”—a term encompassing tech jobs in the tech sector, non-tech jobs in the tech sector, and tech jobs in the non-tech sector—employs 7 percent of the New York City workforce, nearly as much as the retail sector.

The report did not address the issue that Glen raised, about the origins of the people who get tech jobs. But it did find that 44 percent of tech ecosystem jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree, yet they garner 45 percent more than the average hourly wage.

The Bloomberg administration’s Applied Sciences Initiative, which is bringing Cornell-Technion to Roosevelt Island, an N.Y.U. Center for Urban Science and Progress in downtown Brooklyn, and a Columbia University Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering to Morningside Heights and Washington Heights, is the most notable effort to date to connect New Yorkers with tech jobs. And that’s all well and good, said Glen. But it’s not good enough.

“We want to applaud the efforts of the prior administration to diversify the economy and to focus on things like applied sciences and technology, but what we want to do is then take that growth and link it directly to making sure that New Yorkers have an opportunity to participate in that wonderful growth story,” she said. “And that’s going to require a deliberate shift in policy, the way we use our resources, and our focus on really nurturing and growing our own workforce.”

“That wasn’t a focus of the prior administration,” she went on. “It doesn’t mean that they were bad people, it just means that we want to really be able to make the connection between our overall growth and prosperity and making sure that regular New Yorkers have a chance to participate in that through skill-building.”