In Case You Missed It: WPTI’s Voices from the Frontline Series

In January and February 2020, Workforce Professionals Training Institute (WPTI) – in partnership with the Labor Market Information Service (LMIS) at CUNY – conducted a survey of 362 New York City frontline workforce development professionals – defined as those individuals providing jobseeker/client-facing services at programs and organizations focused on providing job training and placement, along with supportive wraparound services. Most of these individuals work at nonprofit community-based organizations that are largely supported through government contracts or philanthropic funding.

This survey followed several months of additional research, including focus groups with leaders in New York City’s workforce development field as well as frontline workers, and built upon findings from WPTI’s 2011 Deep in the Trenches study of frontline workers. This survey and additional accompanying research resulted in Voices from the Frontline, an initiative devoted to exploring and sharing the needs and concerns of frontline workforce professionals, and the day-to-day challenges that they face on the job.

The survey explored a range of issues, including:

  • Compensation and benefits
  • Career goals, including short- and long-term plans
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Job quality
  • The impact of contracts and funding on the worker experience

Since the completion of the survey, WPTI has released a series of reports:

Our Findings

Key findings from our initial survey, particularly with regard to issues of equity, are as follows:

The sector is largely made up of women and people of color, with a disproportionate number of women of color – especially black women.

  • 67 percent women (as compared to 64 percent of the broader NYC workforce)
  • 72 percent people of color
    • 35 percent are Black (as compared to 24 percent of the broader NYC population)
    • 25 percent are Black women
    • Only 21 percent are white, as compared to 42 percent of the broader NYC population

Frontline workforce professionals are poorly paid, when compared to others with similar average levels of education and experience.

  • 58 percent of frontline workers earn less than $55,000 (approximately the median salary for NYC)
  • Meanwhile, more than 74 percent of frontline workers have at least a bachelor’s degree, as compared to 44 percent of the broader NYC working-age population.
  • This results in severe financial pressures: only 28 percent of respondents agreed that their take-home earnings are sufficient to cover living expenses, and only 16 percent felt confident that they could cover a month’s worth of expenses in an emergency, based on their current salary.

On top of low salaries for the sector as a whole, there is clear racial stratification with regard to salaries, with workforce professionals of color far more likely to earn less than the median of $55,000 as compared their white counterparts.

  • Breakdown by group:
    • 72 percent of Asian/Middle Eastern/Multiethnic frontline workers (categories combined to reach sufficient sample) earn less than $55,000
    • 71 percent of Black frontline workers earn less than $55,000
    • 65 percent of Latinx frontline workers earn less than $55,000
    • 48 percent of white frontline workers earn less than $55,000
  • Salary stratification is evident even when controlling for graduate-level education and years of experience in workforce development, as workers of color are overrepresented among workers earning less than $55,000 and underrepresented among workers earning more than $55,000 (An additional description and graphics of this analysis is available on page 9 of Report 3)

Survey Respondents report an underrepresentation of people of color at leadership levels within their organization, and many indicate that organizational leadership is not representative of frontline workers, or the communities being served.

  • While 74 percent of respondents believe the frontline staff at their organization is representative of the community being served with regard to race, only 59 percent believe the leadership is reflective of the community, and 55 percent believe leadership is reflective of the frontline. Meanwhile, 66 percent believe leadership is reflective of the frontline with regard to gender.
  • Furthermore, when asked if there are “enough” women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, etc. in leadership positions:
    • 84 percent agreed that there are “enough” women
    • 56 percent agreed that there “enough” people of color
    • 52 percent agreed that there are “enough” women of color
    • 41 percent agreed that there are “enough” men of color
    • 27 percent agreed that there are “enough” LGBTQIA+ people
  • This is supported by data from a 2018 study by the City of New York and the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York, which showed that of nearly 400 organizations surveyed, more than 70 percent had CEOs or Executive Directors who were white, cisgender men.

What’s Next?

We recently completed a second survey, conducted in partnership with the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, focused on the experiences of frontline workforce development professionals during COVID-19, and how the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis may have altered their work experience and/or any of their perceptions. In the coming months, we will issue additional reports, as well as policy recommendations aimed at government, the philanthropic community, and leaders across New York City’s workforce system, with the goal of creating a system that better meets the needs of both the workers providing critical frontline services and the communities that they serve.

This will ultimately lead to a stronger, more effective, and more equitable workforce development system that meets the charge it has undertaken – to address issues of poverty and structural inequality in New York City.