Sen. James Seward's weekly column: Senate advances workforce development package

The following article was written by New York State Senator James Seward, who represents the 51st senate district. As always, alternative or dissenting viewpoints are welcome. Email your submissions to editor@cortlandvoice.com.

The New York Senate recently took action on a significant package of bills aimed at boosting the state economy by training job seekers and existing employees for the employment opportunities that are in demand. The measures will eliminate the skills gap through education investments and advance networks between workers and job creators.

These bills stem from the work of the senate’s Task Force on Workforce Development that conducted extensive forums on employment issues in New York State.  As a member of the task force, I joined with my colleagues in reviewing existing employment programs and exploring the needs of employers and job seekers with an eye toward growing our economy.

We need more upstate job opportunities, but in order to attract new companies, we must guarantee a well-trained workforce is ready to meet the needs of new employers.  These measures will help and will lead to a stronger overall economy for all.

Encouraging Statewide Participation in Apprenticeships: Senate bill 2124A would direct the commissioner of education to develop guidelines for use by high school guidance counselors in facilitating student awareness and interest in apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and career and technical education opportunities. This would particularly apply to the hardworking men and women looking to gain footing in the building, construction, manufacturing, and maritime trades where positions all across the state are often left unfulfilled.

Giving Job Opportunities to Those Who Served our Country: Senate bill 938 would establish the Veteran Career Assistance Program in collaboration with the Division of Veterans Affairs, as well as SUNY and CUNY. Similar to the assistance currently provided to SUNY and CUNY students, this program would assist veterans using their military experiences and skills to build a civilian resume and gain access to employment placement services.

Making Information about State Work Programs More Accessible: Senate bill 3789 would require the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) to publish an annual catalogue listing multiple state and federal funding programs and tax credits for workforce development and preparation, adult education, and skills training.

Establishing the “Retrain and Employ Unemployed Persons Program”: Senate bill 2232 directs SUNY and CUNY community colleges to work with local businesses and industry to develop work force training programs that target the unemployed and provide the skills necessary for individuals to obtain jobs in their communities.

Investing in our Children’s Immediate Future: Senate bill 6087 would invest $35 million to expand New York State’s Pathways in Technology Schools (P-TECHs) and Early College High Schools to meet student demand and enhance educational performance. These unique programs prepare students for college-level coursework that promotes future academic performance and enables students to get their high school diplomas while also earning free associate degrees for high-skilled jobs or taking other college-credit bearing courses.

Attracting Talented Educators who Prepare the Next Generation: Senate bill 1469 helps increase access to career and tech programs at BOCES. The bill would require the state Department of Education to work with districts to remove some of the stigma associated with taking classes through BOCES; have districts encourage students to take advantage of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) services that BOCES offers; and increase the current salary cap for BOCES instructors from $30,000 to $50,000 to attract and retain qualified and skilled teachers.

Recognizing Student Effort in the Workforce: Senate bill 2104 would give high school students the opportunity to earn academic credit towards graduation for outside work experience. The legislation recognizes the value of practical experiences high school students may get from jobs, and helps encourage youth for the workforce.

Giving All Veterans the Opportunity to Obtain Diplomas: Senate bill 397B would allow any veteran to be awarded a high school diploma based on his or her knowledge and experience in service to this country.

These bills have all been sent to the state assembly and I am hopeful they will receive approval before the legislative session concludes.