Galvahn Cepeda, a 17-year old young man, has been gaining work experience and career training through LaGuardia Community College’s Intern & Earn Program, one of New York City’s workforce development supports for more than 136,000 young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school. But, on July 24, 2019, instead of going to the program, he attended JobsFirstNYC’s Adapting to the Future of Work: Raising Youth Voices conference. This is the only conference in New York City specifically for the out-of-school out-of-work population and is a transformational professional development experience, which Galvahn shared with over 300 young adults from other programs across the city.
Now in its fourth year, this one-of-its kind annual convening creates a space for young adults to experience professional development activities, network, learn and be inspired by each other and successful under-30-years-old professionals from wide a range of industries. Held at CUNY’s Baruch College, this year’s event was in collaboration with Here-to-Here, the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development and Young Invincibles.
“We are excited to have the future of America’s workforce sitting in this room. You are going to change the way America does business, and we’re proud to be a part of that” said Marjorie Parker, JobsFirstNYC’s President & CEO, in her welcoming remarks, setting the stage for a day that focused on youth voice. “There are people just like you across the five boroughs of New York City who are changing the future work,” she continued, emphasizing this year’s goals to recognize the role of today’s youth in shaping how work will look like tomorrow, raising and including youth voice in the larger conversation on career development, and preparing young people for the future of work.
The keynote address, titled From Doorman to Landlord reflected the speakers’ modest beginnings and professional accomplishments and was delivered by John Henry, a Partner at Harlem Capital, a New-York-based minority-owned early-stage venture capital firm, a host at HUSTLE on VICELAND, and a Forbes’ 30-Under-30 Entrepreneur. “We grew up really broke. We grew up below the poverty line, which means both my parents combined didn’t make more than $30,000 a year, and there [were] four of us living in a one-bedroom apartment,” humbly disclosed Mr. Henry. He also talked about growing up in Washington Heights and the struggles of his Dominican parents juggling multiple low-paying low-skills jobs to make ends meet, a story that resonated with many in the audience and common among the predominantly Black and Latino low-income youth who participate in New York City’s workforce development programs. “If there is anywhere where there’s an enormous amount of opportunity compounded – it’s right here, it’s in New York City!,” he continued, encouraging his audience to create exciting high-paying jobs they love by following their passion – “You can build those careers!’
Similarly inspiring and engaging were the two panel discussions throughout the day. The first panel, titled Entrepreneurship: Your Voice, Your Vision, Your Future, featured:
- Sixto Cancel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Think of Us. Mr. Cancel talked about his experience growing up in foster care, and turning that struggle into passion for addressing challenges in foster care through public policy and technology.
- DéVon Christopher Johnson, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of BleuLife Media. Mr. Johnson spoke about his path in Marketing and communications in the entertainment and music industries, and his experience founding and running digital start-ups.
- Samia Lemfadli, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of The Urban Wild. Ms. Lemfadli shared her knowledge of educational and workforce development opportunities in agricultural technology throughout New York City, and the need for addressing food insecurity issues in underserved communities.
- Jessica Santana, Chief Executive Officer of New York On Tech, Inc. Ms. Santana talked about career pathways in technology, and the opportunities and challenges for people of color in tech industries.
While the first panel amplified young adults’ network and knowledge about entrepreneurship in different industries, the second focused on public service, featuring:
- Antonio Reynoso, New York City Council Member, who represents parts of Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Williamsburg. Mr. Reynoso, a staunch advocate of equal access to education and employment, ensured conference participants that their efforts, as little as they may seem, can have great impact.
- Carlina Rivera, New York City Council Member, represents neighborhoods of the East Village, Flatiron, Gramercy Park, Rose Hill, Kips Bay, Murray Hill and the Lower East Side. Ms. Rivera, who started her career in education, reminded young adults how important their personal stories are in their career development and in bringing social change.
- Bill Chong, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, who has spoken at the event each year since it began, motivated young adults to acquire as many transferable skills as possible as a career-readiness strategy.
In addition to panel discussions, the event held five breakout sessions, providing young adults with additional opportunities to network, and to learn and practice new skills. Below is a list of the sessions:
- LinkedIn Coaches: Building Your Network and Professional Brand Online, taught young adults how to connect to opportunities and build a brand using LinkedIn
- Human-Centered Design: Discover New Ideas Through Design-Thinking, an interactive workshop that walked participants through a design-thinking process.
- Breaking Into Technology: Resources and Advice to Help You Chart Your Own Path to a Meaningful and Well Paying Career in Tech, where young adults charted out a career road map to organize their job search in the technology sector.
- The Future of Food: Youth Employment in Agricultural Technology and Beyond, took participants through an exercise to start careers in agriculture and tech-related fields.
Starting Your Own Thing: What Does It Take To Be An Entrepreneur?, provided strategies to be successful as an entrepreneur, and starting and sustaining a business.
It is important to highlight two significant and recurring themes throughout the day. One was that almost all speakers, close to 30 in total, were people of color and/or came from similar socio-economic backgrounds as the young adults in the audience, increasing engagement and creating space for authentic connections. The second was giving young adults a platform for leadership. Examples of how the conference injected youth voice throughout the day include Leonel Brito and Djibril Kaba, two young adults alumni of JobsFirstNYC and Young Invincibles’ Impact Fellowship, moderating panel discussions and Keenan Coppin-Thom, a former attendee of the event, serving as master of ceremonies.
But at no other time during the day was youth voice louder than at the closing: The World Cafe: Raising Your Voice Today for the Future of Work. The closing included a two-hour long dynamic activity designed to put young adults in the driver’s seat, by sharing how they wanted to spend the last two hours of the day and creating a method for them to do it themselves. The session was facilitated by members of Opportunity Youth United, a national coalition of young leaders, using “unconference”, a participant-driven process centered around seven principles that include having meaningful conversations, including everyone’s perspectives and making collective discoveries. With this setting, we were able to truly engage the young adults in a dialog about their needs and hopes for the future of work, delivering our commitment to raise and include youth voice in the larger conversation on the future of work.
Having speakers that reflected the audience’s identities and packing the day with authentic opportunities for young adults to lead increased engagement and left them feeling empowered. At the same time and at a macro level, it elevated the uniqueness and importance of this event in the fields of youth and workforce development, putting JobsFirstNYC and its partners at the forefront of innovation in the design and implementation of transformational professional development experiences for young adults – a model that deserves expansion to impact more young people throughout New York City and beyond.
You can watch a video recap of the day HERE.