Better collaboration among agencies. Better transportation. New video games.
The recommendations on how to connect young people in Buffalo with the thousands of jobs that open up every year included ones heard often in Western New York and those that are less conventional, such as commissioning a new video game to help job applicants learn life skills, such as the importance of showing up on time and dressing appropriately.
A team of IBM executives has been in Buffalo for the last three weeks to help the city tackle high unemployment among people ages 16 to 24 and presented its findings this week.
“Jobs do exist here,” said Erica Webber, an associate partner in IBM’s strategy and transformation consulting.
The team noted that 22,000 jobs open up in Western New York every year but that those opportunities are not always accessible to job seekers and that other factors, such as a high dropout rate and a mismatch between skills employers need and the skills in the applicant pool prevent young people from obtaining employment.
The team recommended that the city, school district and service agencies share data to develop more complete profiles of young people and that more measurement and accountability is done of programs already in place, as the city does with data collected through 311, which measures city services.
Sharing data with each other and the public, as New York City’s Open Data initiative has done, would help agencies know how they measure up against others, said Katie Trask, director of data and outcome measurements for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo.
Trask knows that students who regularly attend Boys and Girls Clubs have a higher high school graduation rate than the general population, but knowing other metrics would be valuable in seeking grant funding, she said.
“We all have these different measurement tools,” she said.
Mayor Byron W. Brown said that the city would make available data it has on city youth and that he plans to implement IBM’s recommendations quickly.
“There are a lot of jobs coming online, and us leading the way and opening up data, we hope will influence the business community and the service providers to work with us ... ultimately leading to more people being employed,” Brown said.
The team also recommended that the city take the lead on coordinating youth employment efforts and that a branding and marketing campaign be executed to let people know where to get information.
The video game idea, if executed, would be the first of its kind for a city, said Yu Kit Lee, IBM’s chief technologist, adding that the federal government has grants for video game development.
Naim Sabir, 20, said he appreciated IBM’s research but was interested in how it will be executed. Sabir, who lives near the Fruit Belt, said agencies such as the Buffalo Urban League do a good job preparing young people for the interview process but even with that preparation, young people deal with other barriers to employment, such as transportation.
A detailed report with items that can be acted on in one-, two- and three-month time frames will be submitted to the city at a later date.
Buffalo was one of 100 cities around the world that won IBM’s “Smarter Cities” challenge grants, equivalent to approximately $400,000 in in-kind services.