More. Better. Faster. Cheaper.: WPTI Launches 10-month Digital Transformation Learning Community for NYC Workforce Development Organizations

Machines and computers have been transforming the modern workplace for decades.  The pandemic supercharged this transformation over the past two years.

In response, Workforce Professionals Training Institute (WPTI) has launched the inaugural cohort of our Digital Transformation Initiative (DTI) Learning Community. Comprised of staff from six of the city’s leading workforce organizations – representing all five boroughs and a diversity of job seekers – the learning community focuses on three pillars of digital transformation:

  1. Labor market transformation: Job task automation and augmentation is redefining work in every sector and every occupation – especially entry level positions – and changing how workforce organizations must approach job seeker preparation.
  2. The digital skills gap among workers: Across all demographics, a substantial percentage of the American workforce lacks basic facility with the digital tools that they are expected to use on the job. Low-income workers, communities of color, out-of-school youth, and other marginalized communities are especially vulnerable to under-preparation. Those without sufficient digital skills find themselves frustrated in the workplace and increasingly shut out of opportunities altogether.
  3. Streamlining operations to boost efficiency and impact: Workforce development can’t afford to remain analog in a digital age. From automating the collection and use of program data, to transforming how we find and engage employers, to preparing job seekers in new and more meaningful ways, the right tools implemented correctly can help workforce staff do more, do it better, do it faster, and ultimately, do it cheaper.

During the pandemic, Companies digitized many jobs at rates 20 to 25 times faster than they had previously thought possible. 75% of executives expect increased investment in new technologies through 2024.  McKinsey & Company (May 2021)

“Promoting and supporting digital transformation is now one of WPTI’s top priorities for the workforce development field,” notes WPTI’s CEO Sharon Sewell-Fairman. “WPTI has been training practitioners about the impact of technology since 2009, but the issue became existential during the COVID-19 pandemic when workforce development programs were forced to go remote in 2020. Labor markets have permanently changed, and workforce development organizations must leverage technology to transform their operations, culture, programs and services to better prepare low-income jobseekers for success in the digital economy. According to an April 2020 McKinsey Article, ‘technology is a core driver of value, not merely a support function.’ To that end, workforce programs will need to shift their operations to continue to thrive.”

“Technology is driving the recovery of the New York City economy, but we’re at risk of leaving too many people behind” observes WPTI Board Member Plinio Ayala, CEO of Per Scholas, a national nonprofit that has been equipping low-income workers for IT careers since 1995. “We’re seeing a growing divide between the haves and have-nots often defined by access to and comfort with digital technology. As jobs become more technically complex, those with the ability to utilize new tools effectively will be the ones who thrive.”

"You can't have a conversation about equity in the workforce without having a conversation on the digital divide,” adds DTI Learning Community member Lakythia Ferby, Executive Vice President of Programs & Impact at STRIVE. “The gaps for workers around basic digital skilling are an unnecessary barrier. Combine the divide with the rapidly-changing labor market and remote job search/work culture, and we will leave great candidates behind if we aren't careful. Being a part of the DTI gives STRIVE a chance to share what we learn from running our workforce programs nationally and learn from others in the field. Our hope is always to improve our services and help our community advance."

The first cohort of the DTI Learning Community includes best-in-class organizations, representing all five boroughs and serving a diverse array of populations, including youth, adults, individuals previously involved with the legal system, and more. They are:

The DTI Learning Community is a 10-month cohort-based collaborative learning experience. The community meets once per month to focus on critical topics around digital infrastructure, data culture, job seeker preparation, and more. The overarching goal of the DTI Learning Community is the creation of an organizational “Digital Roadmap” – a detailed framework of how each organization could digitize different aspects of its operations to create better outcomes for both practitioners and job seekers. Each session will feature guest presentations by national experts (including nonprofit executives, policy professionals and analysts, technology consultants, and business leaders) and examples of best practices from around the country.

Session I – The Big Picture: Understanding the Digital Age

Our first session, held January 24, laid the foundation for the learning community with overviews of the technological transformation of the New York City labor market, the worker skills gap, and an example from Detroit of how digital transformation looks in practice. WPTI’s CEO Sharon Sewell-Fairman, CEO of WPTI, and WPTI Board Member Plinio Ayala, CEO of Per Scholas, welcomed the group. Amanda Bergson Shilcock, Senior Fellow  at the National Skills Coalition emphasized the role of digital equity in ensuring that workers of color, low-income workers, and other marginalized communities are prioritized in any economic recovery, and the role that both access to digital resources as well as skill development play in ensuring opportunities for economic mobility.  Eli Dvorkin, Editorial & Policy Director at the NYC Center for an Urban Future spoke of the impact of COVID-19 on New York City’s economy, and the increasing prominence of tech-sector jobs, as well as the transformative nature of technology on jobs and careers across all sectors. Lindsey Gillery and Madelyne Bernard-Diab of the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, which oversees the City of Detroit’s nine career centers, shared lessons from their rollout of the Detroit at Work, a digital platform for jobseekers to access workforce services, which is critically important in a city facing high unemployment as well as challenges related to transportation and other infrastructure that make it difficult for jobseekers to access job training and placement services in person.

What’s Next?

In the coming months, WPTI will host  monthly sessions of the DTI Learning Community.  Topics will include building staff digital fluency and an organizational culture of data, effectively implementing digital strategies and infrastructure for recruitment, intake, employer engagement, job placement, and retention, and more. Similar to our introductory session, upcoming convenings will feature guest speakers and panelists from the private and non-profit sectors with experience and expertise on implementing technology-driven solutions. Over the course of these sessions, each participating organization will develop their own DTI Roadmap, which will incorporate the lessons learned and integrate practical strategies for developing their digital capacity over the coming months. At the end of the course, the cohort will present their digital roadmaps, and begin working to implement them with the support of WPTI.

February’s speakers will include tech consultants Josh Peskay and Kim Snyder of Roundtable Technology, an IT support company focused on the nonprofit sector that has helped hundreds of human services providers and other entities transform their operations and culture, and Maya Washington of Deloitte, a WPTI Board Member, who brings a wealth of experience in understanding how businesses can utilize technology to increase impact, improve processes, and gain a competitive edge.

In addition to the DTI Learning Community, WPTI is building a digital library for just-in-time access to digital skilling, reskilling and upskilling workforce professionals. We are in the process of launching our brand-new Learning Management System, powered by SAP Litmos, which will allow workforce practitioners and other clients to access WPTI training asynchronously, whenever and wherever they choose. Further, WPTI continues to provide additional support for organizations looking to digitally transform through our capacity-building and consulting services. For more information, or to inquire about consulting services related to digital transformation, please contact Dan Salemson, Managing Director of Learning and Technology, at