2020 Survey of NYC Frontline Workforce Professionals

2020 Survey of NYC Frontline Workforce Professionals

In September 2018, the Workforce Field Building Hub (“The Hub”) at Workforce Professionals Training Institute (“WPTI”) released The Workforce Agenda for New York City. The document outlined key challenges facing New York City’s workforce system and offered targeted recommendations to providers, policymakers, and funders on the critical systemic work needed to improve workforce services in New York City and lead to improved outcomes for unemployed and underemployed workers.

The Hub is pleased to announce a new initiative that builds upon key themes and recommendations from the Workforce Agenda, as well as findings from WPTI’s 2012 survey of the frontline workforce, Deep in the Trenches. The 2020 Survey of NYC Frontline Workforce Professionals will examine critical issues directly impacting the day-to-day work experience of the people performing critical client-facing work, affecting their morale, their performance, and ultimately their decision to remain in the workforce field. Primary themes covered in the survey include:

  • Wages, hours, and benefits
  • Career advancement and professional development opportunities
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • The experience of contract, outcome and documentation compliance

Through this survey, we aim to better understand the workers who make up the frontline staff of the city’s vast array of workforce development programs; what motivates them to perform this challenging work; and what changes are needed at the organizational and systemic levels to keep them in the field, allow them to advance in their careers, and provide the highest quality of service.


Since 2004, WPTI has served as the preeminent training and technical assistance intermediary for New York City’s workforce development community. In 2012, the organization released the Deep in the Trenches study, focused on the issues facing frontline staff in a particularly challenging labor market. The study emphasized issues of professional development, career opportunities, and ultimately explored why so many workforce professionals were leaving the field after short tenures.

Since the release of Deep in the Trenches, New York City’s unemployment rate has dropped significantly, and the stock market is strong. The Mayoral administration and City Council—and their accompanying priorities—shifted, and the local minimum wage increased to $15 per hour. Yet challenges remain for the labor market as a whole, including the workforce development sector, as the field still struggles to attract, retain, and advance frontline professionals. The 2020 survey builds upon Deep in the Trenches, bolstered with a review of recent research, as well as focus groups with frontline workforce professionals and organization leaders from across the city. The 2020 survey addresses critical topics affecting both individual professionals and the field as a whole.

Why a Survey?

Workforce development programming facilitates economic mobility for thousands of unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers annually. The frontline workforce, which performs the essential work of helping New Yorkers develop the skills and support they need to get and keep a job, and to embark on successful careers, includes job developers, case managers, instructors, job coaches, retention specialists, and more. However, few outlets exist for these frontline workers to share their experiences or to shape the conditions within which they work.

Over the past few years in New York City, increasing attention and advocacy have been paid to the human services sector, inclusive of the workforce development field. Such efforts have highlighted ongoing challenges related to program funding, contract goals and outcome requirements, administrative burdens, professional development opportunities, pathways for the advancement of frontline-level staff (particularly staff of color), burnout, and more. These challenges can lead to frustration, impact performance, and ultimately drive talented workers from the field, weakening the workforce system and affecting the quality and consistency of service.

With the 2020 Survey of NYC Frontline Workforce Professionals, we will explore:

  • Who comprises New York City’s workforce development frontline workforce;
  • Their motivations for entering and staying in—or leaving—the workforce development field;
  • Their long-term career goals;
  • The challenges they face on a day-to-day basis; and
  • The effects of city policies and funding conditions—public and philanthropic—on their work experience.

Our findings will inform recommendations aimed at frontline workers themselves, organizational leadership, city policymakers, and the funding community to improve the frontline worker experience and ultimately build a stronger, more effective workforce development system that leads to greater economic opportunity and advancement for New Yorkers.

Survey and Recommendations Timeline

The Hub will accept online survey submissions from frontline workforce professionals between mid-January and mid-February 2020. Stay tuned for the launch of the survey and instructions on how to participate.

Simultaneously, we will conduct a study of a selection of City contracts supporting workforce development programs, with a focus on the level of funding provided for workforce programming, the accompanying outcome goals, and the administrative requirements. This assessment will examine potential connections between contracting issues and the individual frontline worker experience.

A final report, including analysis of survey data and findings from the review of contracts, along with field-relevant recommendations, will be released by early fall 2020 and accompanied by a series events designed to engage, educate, and mobilize relevant stakeholders.

To build a foundation and momentum for the final report, we will launch a brief series this January, continuing throughout spring and summer 2020. Topics will include New York City’s workforce funding landscape; relevant policy developments locally and nationally that impact the practice of workforce development; a deeper dive on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in workforce development and nonprofit management; and much more.

If you have any questions about the survey or any related issues, please contact Justin Collins, Assistant Director of the Workforce Field Building Hub, at jcollins@workforceprofessionals.org.