Laura Curran, Tom Suozzi introduce task force for workers on Long Island

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“We’re here today to talk about the future of Long Island,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, at the Composite Prototyping Center in Plainview on Feb. 21. Standing alongside Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Kevin Law, the president and CEO of the Long Island Association, Suozzi introduced plans for the Long Island Apprenticeship and Workforce Development Task Force.

Its objective, he said, is to coordinate all of Long Island’s job-training resources in one central location, which will be accessible on a website. The information will be gathered at Suozzi’s, Curran’s and Bellone’s offices.

“It’s a launch point for the brave new world of Long Island’s job market,” West Hempstead resident Chris Fidis said. “I applaud them for their vision and what they hope to accomplish, but it’s just a matter of seeing how quickly their vision materializes.”

Fidis is a co-founder of the Long Island Breakfast Club, an organization that offers employment and career counseling, workshops, interviewing classes and referrals, among other services, to those looking for work after losing jobs in middle age. A resident of West Hempstead for nearly 30 years, he said that the toughest challenge with initiatives like the task force is keeping people on Long Island.

“Keeping those millenials and college-aged students here is still a challenge,” Fidis said, “but I think they’re off to a great start.”

The task force’s goal is to make it easier for employers to reach out to potential hires and for job seekers to find apprenticeships. Those who are looking for jobs will also benefit from a list of training programs to better assist them in landing them.

“We already have many job training and apprentice programs [on Long Island],” Curran said, alluding to entities such as BOCES, Nassau and Suffolk Community College and various workforce development boards. “We want to bring all of this together and create one-stop shopping for all of it. The mission is to concentrate what we already have and see how we can build it and streamline it.”

Suozzi said that the training programs are ideal for people who cannot afford or do not want to go to college, which, he said, he supports. “There is too much of a stigma associated with not going to college and going through these training programs,” he said, noting that 60 percent of Americans never go to college, and only 30 percent of workers on Long Island have college degrees.

Employers are not necessarily looking for people with degrees, Suozzi said. Rather, they are searching for particular skill sets that workers can develop through job training programs. These, he added, are critical, especially on Long Island, because of the area’s high cost of living.

The task force will spend the next three months working with Long Island’s workforce development and job training programs to bring the services together. The aim is to compile all of the information necessary to get the program running by Memorial Day, according to Suozzi. Once the plan is created, a website with all of the necessary information for workers will be launched. When the site is active, the task force will share information about services through media outlets and the offices of Curran and Bellone.

Much of the current funding for Long Island’s training providers and workforce development boards comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, due, in part, to grants from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, enacted by President Obama in 2014. John Sarcone, the director of the Town of Oyster Bay’s local workforce development board, said that he looks forward to working with the task force, citing the possibility of new ideas for using WIOA funding to further the board’s ability to help residents find jobs.

“If this task force that’s being developed by [Suozzi] has any suggestions that are helpful in the delivery of those funds, it’s great for us,” Sarcone said. “There can be initiatives that we may not know for municipalities like Glen Cove, Oyster Bay and North Hempstead.”

“The goal is to use the money in the programs we have now to make it easier for employees to say, ‘Hey, I want a good job.’” Suozzi said. “You can just go on a website and find out where you can go to get trained for a job where the employers are looking for that type of trained employee.”

“We need for people to invest in getting a career, not a job,” he added. “They’re going to get skills so they can get a job that pays enough money so they can have a decent life.”

Nakeem Grant contributed to this story.