How in the world does a young adult get a decent paying job in New York City? Even college graduates with good grades, experience and connections often have to take unpaid internships to get a foot in the door. What if you never graduated from high school, never had a job and your family knows no one who can help you? How do you convince an employer you're worth hiring? We're facing a youth employment crisis--nationwide, 6.7 million young adults ages 18 to 24 are neither in school nor working; 172,000 live right here in New York City.
New York State has tried to ease this crisis with the National Work Readiness Credential (NWRC), which is intended to show employers that a jobseeker can perform well in an entry-level position. But according to an investigative report by JobsFirstNYC, few of the tens of thousands of young people who attempted to earn the credential ultimately attained it, and virtually none of them got a leg up in the job market. Employers don't value it. Black test takers fail the exam to get the NWRC at twice the rate of whites, suggesting the test is racially biased.
New York partnered with four other states and the District of Columbia to develop the NWRC. While the other states abandoned it, New York State continues to make this ineffective credential a key component of its youth employment programs, at a cost of millions. Job training providers statewide are required to spend weeks preparing young adults for the qualifying exam. In 2011, only 312 young adults in New York City passed the NWRC test, out of an estimated 12,000 who prepared for it.
The test for the NWRC does not measure the skills needed for the service and retail jobs sought by most unemployed young adults in New York City. Some questions are taken directly from the New York State Trooper entrance exam, a test requiring a driver's license and at least two years of college. Other questions require knowledge of office and warehouse operations. These questions have nothing to do with the skills that most young people need to perform on the job.
Employers do not use the NWRC to distinguish candidates for job openings. Of over 100 New York City employers JobsFirstNYC surveyed, none require or even request the credential. The hiring rate for the few individuals with the NWRC is virtually identical to the hiring rate of those without it.
New York State is fully aware of these deficiencies. After conducting a multi-state field test on the NWRC exam, a national testing expert cautioned that the test was invalid for young adults and non-white populations, the very same populations to whom the test is now administered. . We have asked the State to drop the NWRC as a requirement for youth employment programs. Thus far, they have released no information to show NWRC preparation enhances employment prospects for young adults.
The State's costly promotion of the NWRC, despite its clear lack of benefit and racial bias, wastes the precious time of young people and providers, and diverts resources away from programs proven to get young adults into the workforce.
So what should New York State be doing instead? Thousands of well-paying jobs are available in New York City annually that can be performed without a four-year college degree. Young adults can become cable installers, computer technicians, and truck drivers, for example, by earning employer-recognized postsecondary certificates. Employers can develop and implement high-quality on-the-job training that meets their needs.
JobsFirstNYC is connecting service providers and employers to customized training to industry-specific demands. This project will enable young adults to acquire industry- recognized credentials, as well as work experience leading to good jobs. Employment strategies that help workforce development organizations respond to labor market demands in growth sectors of the economy are proven to increase employment of individuals with limited education.
There is currently no State support for such employer-driven workforce development programs, despite reports that employers in many of the City's economic sectors are having difficulty filling openings.
Forcing young adults to take a test they will likely fail, when they already confront tremendous barriers in entering the workforce, is counterproductive and interferes with efforts to improve their skills and get a good job. New York State needs to drop the National Work Readiness Credential and put resources instead in programs proven to help young people get and keep good quality, decent-paying jobs. That's the only way to treat this crisis.
Louis Miceli is Executive Director of JobsFirstNYC, a nonprofit focused on connecting young adults to the economic life of New York City. www.Jobsfirstnyc.org