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Optimizing Talent – Perspectives from Dianne Morales

On March 7, 2016, JobsFirstNYC and the Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program convened leadership from government, philanthropy, the business community, and the workforce development field in New York City and beyond to discuss the implications of their jointly released paper, Optimizing Talent, the Promiseand Perils of Adapting Sector Strategies for Young Workers.  This paper aims to address the central question: Can – and should – sector strategies be applied in the context of a targeted subgroup of job seekers, in this case, young people who are not working nor in school? If so, how can this be done thoughtfully, effectively, and at scale?

Dianne Morales, CEO, Phipps NeighborhoodsJobsFirstNYC was honored to have board member Dianne Morales, Chief Executive Officer of Phipps Neighborhoods, welcome the attendees for the event. Dianne, who has spent her career focusing on eliminating the opportunity gap for young people, has also been engaged in the work and mission of JobsFirstNYC since its conception. Below are her welcoming remarks for the event which speak not only to the core of the JobsFirstNYC mission, but also to the commitment and passion of many dedicated people working to improve the lives of young adults in New York City every day.

Good morning everyone.  It is a pleasure to welcome you all to this important convening and conversation. This is an important topic to me.  As a first generation Puerto Rican daughter of a maintenance man, born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, the subject of youth unemployment is all too familiar to me, both personally and professionally. I have dedicated much of my career to this issue and the disappointments have been countless, but it is my belief in the importance of opportunity for all young people that has compelled and inspired me to keep at it, and the possibilities that continue to develop that renew my commitment.
I have the distinct pleasure of having been involved in the creation of JobsFirstNYC from its very early days and, in more recent years serving on the Board of Directors. From my vantage point, I have witnessed our evolution from a fledgling intermediary to one who now serves as a leader in the field, raising critical questions, supporting innovation and highlighting successful practices for others to explore. So, in thinking about how I might open our session today, I thought maybe I’d share with you three key ways I think that JobsFirstNYC has contributed to expanding possibilities – and practice – in the field:

1                    Creating space for innovation – through the Bronx Opportunity Network, the Lower East Side Employment Network and most recently the Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project, JobsFirstNYC has allowed organizations who might not have otherwise come together to brainstorm and imagine alternative ways of working, exploring different pathways, course-correcting strategies when needed, and comparing outcomes of different approaches to this important and innovative work. Moreover, JobsFirstNYC intentionally provides the time and space for thinking and planning in preparation for this work, which is so often disregarded in an environment where direct service organizations are constantly being asked to produce outcomes with little opportunity for reflection or thought. Despite our evolution as a field, developing relationships that are driven by employer needs is not a commonly applied strategy, and certainly not often easy to do well. These relationships are built at the speed of trust. JobFirstNYC’s focus on developing those relationships as part of the planning process has had significant impact on the quality of the projects that have been developed; thereby increasing the value of the work to the young people we serve and ultimately in the ways that they benefit from our efforts.

2                    Establishing a forum for learning and collaboration – for many years I have felt there was a need for something different – not just in the actual services that we provide to young people, but also in how we work together (or not) to provide those services. Historically, there has been no structured, reliable space for practitioners to come together to share successes or failures, much less thoughtfully consider how they might combine forces to strengthen one another’s work. Many of us have spent years in this field, learning as we go and learning from each other.  The mechanisms by which we have shared what works and the mistakes along the way have largely been informal, anecdotal and individual in nature. I believe JobsFirstNYC has started to change that, not just for the organizations directly involved in these partnership projects, but for the sector as a whole – and the sheer number of people in this room today is testament to that.

3                    Documenting & determining policy implications – the team at JobsFirstNYC has diligently documented both the process and the product of all our projects.  This has helped not only the individual partnerships in reflecting on their strategies and impact, but has also allowed for the aggregate measure of the effects of these innovations.  The documenting and measuring, in turn, serve as a bridge to policy, providing a lens through which our projects can inform the macro environment and have broader influence on the field at-large, benefitting not just providers, but the young people we serve.
It was opportunity that made it possible for this Latina to stand here before you today. And I am proud to be affiliated with an organization that cultivates (organizational) learning and influences policy to create opportunities for young adults to obtain employment and achieve economic independence. I am excited to be here with you today as we explore and discuss the findings of our latest report, on sectoral strategies in the field.  Thank you.

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