For New York State, the Priority is Jobs, Jobs, and Jobs

Feb 26, 2011

NY License Plate

Clear Priorities, Optimism About the Future. 

This week, we spoke to Karen Coleman, Director of the Division of Employment and Workforce Solutions at the New York (State) Department of Labor. Karen was nominated by her workforce development colleagues as an effective leader herself, and someone who would have much to share on the subject of leadership. She was the first of our individual interviews under the Enhancing Workforce Leadership Initiative. This project is documenting the specific approaches, practices, and resources effective leaders are using to do their work, in the context of their goals, organizational environments, and communities.

Karen shared a goldmine of information we will be analyzing going forward, but we simply couldn't wait to highlight two aspects of our discussion.

The first aspect is Karen's clear sense of priorities. We asked and she answered. "Our priorities? Jobs, jobs and jobs." She expressed great excitement about Governor Cuomo's new approach to regional economic development, outlined in New NY (the state's transformation plan). She indicated that her Department had been advancing similar initiatives around key sectors, emerging clusters, and economic transformation for sometime and would have much to offer as the new cross-agency teams take shape.

While she named a dozen monumental challenges ranging from employing large numbers of people who have been long disconnected from work to developing employment and learning opportunities for laid-off workers who's former jobs will not be returning, she expressed confidence in the state's ability to do this work, and tremendous enthusiasm for it.

Cultivating New Leaders Requires Both Ongoing Development and Simple, Consistent Practices.

While inspiring us with big ideas, she also offered very specific strategies and practices for cultivating leaders and promoting cross-generational learning within her own agency. Simply asking for the input of junior staff on the front end of projects and feedback throughout the process, "goes a long way", she noted. Pulling non-management staff into management meetings to connect them to different people and to the broader context of their work has also made a difference for her team. Asking for blue-sky ideas from interns has helped the agency (and senior staff) see new possibilities, and appreciate the need for skills they had not seen as necessary before, such as the knowledge if social media applications. Each time junior staff are invited to contribute in these ways, they see new possibilities for their own development.

These are just a few of the dozens of practices and insights Karen offered during our conversation.

We will be following-up to gather materials and resources – including information about several academy programs Karen's agency has developed in collaboration with other workforce partners – and doing a more comprehensive analysis of all of her insights throughout the course of the project.