Out With the Old

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The Bloomberg administration has decided to cut funding for some of the city’s most established programs for placing recent high school dropouts in jobs, replacing them with a fresh group of trainers and raising eyebrows among local workforce development advocates.

The Department of Employment recently told Vocational Foundation, Inc., a 66-year-old nonprofit, that it will lose two-thirds of its funding for a program that for years has provided job training to more than 300 young adults a year. The cut, which accounts for more than half of the group’s $1.6 million budget, will force VFI to serve only 60 clients this year and to downsize its staff.

“I think it would be a shame to lose them, because they are an excellent youth program,” said Bonnie Potter, executive director of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition, which represents more than 120 employment service providers. The Coalition, she noted, uses VFI as a model for running job-training programs, as have organizations from as far away as Scotland.

City officials would not comment on the contracts, explaining that they are not yet finalized.

These “out-of-school youth” contracts cater to New Yorkers under 22 who never received a GED, dropped out of high school or graduated but are still unemployed. With funding from the federal Workforce Investment Act, the city plans to award contracts to 17 groups this year, about half of which are new to the program.

Because the city cut some of the costlier organizations, like VFI, Potter worries the administration is moving toward supporting cheaper, but not necessarily better, programs. VFI spends about $7,000 for each person it trains, but, argues Potter, it has an outstanding placement record. According to VFI Executive Director Petra Maxwell, her group places 97 percent of its clients in jobs each year, and 68 percent of them remain employed for at least two years.

Her high costs, she said, come with the work they take on. “We deal with the toughest cases many other agencies will not,” she said, noting that most of her clients are homeless, foster children or young parents from some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. She staffs 13 counselors to maintain each case for up to a year and a half.

EMC Business Institute, which says it will lose its entire $678,000 city contract, also spends more to get results. Each year since 1968, the group has trained about 150 young New Yorkers for general office jobs, at a cost of about $8,000 a head. About half of their clients are still employed nine months after graduation, said Director Elise Simmons. The high cost, she said, comes in part from the rising office rents in Central Harlem. Simmons said her group expects to close its doors soon because of the cut.

Workforce watchdogs hope the city knows what it’s doing. Noting that the 73 percent youth unemployment rate in New York City is twice the national average, Mark Elliot of Public/Private Ventures, a social policy research firm, said “There needs to be some kind of intelligent way to support these agencies that make a difference, and VFI is one of them.”