Thom Kleiner

A Talent Shortage is a Real Problem, But it Can be Addressed

By Thom Kleiner

Amazon’s decision to locate one of its two new headquarters in Long Island City - bringing with it 25,000 jobs - will be welcomed by job seekers and their families throughout the metro New York City area. In fact, the demand for workers overall is reaching historic highs. Yet many job seekers will miss out on the employment boom because they lack basic skills necessary to compete in the New Economy.


While the last time the unemployment rate in the U.S. was as low as 3.6 percent was nearly 50 years ago -in 1969 - some people are having a hard time even taking a small step forward because they simply don’t have the skills necessary to compete in an evolving marketplace.

Despite living in a highly educated county where 47 percent of residents over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, far too many people lack the technical know-how that is needed across ever-changing industries because of rapid advances in technology. Others lack soft skills such as basic communications, teamwork, and empathy. All too often, a combination of these factors is hurting workers and companies. We hear it all the time.

The skills gap, as it’s called, is real across the nation and here in Westchester County, too. It must be narrowed. Amazon and its public partners recognized this by adding $15 million in technical training as part of its Long Island City proposal. And we also must act. Failure to do so would have serious consequences for companies and workers – particularly at a time when the economy is so dynamic and creating new opportunities. For example, the opportunities vary from medical billing and coding specialists to computer support and laboratory technicians – paying anywhere from $40,000 per year to $75,000 per year or higher.

During the past 12 months, thousands of jobs were created in Westchester in health care, education, hospitality and professional services, according to the NYS Department of Labor. And while we are also seeing new, solid-wage opportunities in health tech, big data, life sciences, and cyber security, among other sectors, many of those jobs are unfilled because workers simply don’t have the skills necessary for success.

Through my work with Bridget Gibbons, County Executive Latimer’s new Director of the Office of Economic Development, I regularly hear from employers about their specific needs and challenges. At a recent workforce symposium, for example, an executive at WESTMED, one of Westchester’s large medical groups, said that the company not only requires a workforce that can operate advanced technology and medical devices, but also needs people who understand that empathy, compassion, and communications are equally as important when working with patients. It is facing challenges meeting those needs.

There’s no shortage of stories across an array of companies and industries. Companies are hungry for people who not only are fluent with technology and analytics, but are also comfortable with people.

What can we do? The good news is that training is available. The Westchester Putnam Workforce Development Board works with business sector partners and training providers to identify needed skill sets and create programs to retrain the county’s existing workers to meet current and emerging demands. And while we are focusing much of our efforts in industries with high-growth occupations, we can tailor our programs specifically to meet just about any employment needs – at little or no cost to workers and employers.

We work with all ages, providing young people with basic communications and social skills through our five-week readiness boot camps, and retrain older workers who need help learning new technologies – all with assistance and guidance from our dedicated career coaches.

Graduates of our Jobs Waiting program, for example, are being trained in healthcare, information technology, biotechnology and advanced manufacturing. We are working closely with community colleges, BOCES and other training providers and businesses. Since 2015, Jobs Waiting has trained hundreds of people who were unemployed for extended periods of time (known as the long-term unemployed), and placed more than 350 of them in solid-paying jobs at White Plains Hospital, Northern Westchester Hospital, ENT and Allergy Associates and Cabrini of Westchester, among others.

We’ve been successful because we partner with businesses, not-for-profits, government, and educational institutions. We know this can’t be done in a vacuum.

Technology all but ensures that the marketplace will continue to change. It’s incumbent upon all of us to ensure we are evolving with it, so that we can attract, develop and retain the best and brightest right here in Westchester County. If you’re interested in finding out more, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The writer is the executive director of the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Development Board.




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