Henry Street’s Workforce Development Center

David Garza

David Garza has a new job, and it’s a big one.  This month, he took over as executive director of the Henry Street Settlement, a social service organization serving 50,000 New Yorkers every year. But for the past seven years, as head of Henry Street’s Workforce Development Center, he was in the business of finding other people jobs. Just before he made the transition, we talked with Garza about the center, how job seekers and employers can take advantage of the center’s services and the employment outlook on the Lower East Side.

Henry Street Settlement has been helping people find jobs for more than 30 years. But it wasn’t until 2003 that job training and placement services were placed under one roof. Conspicuously located on the second floor of a building on the corner of Essex and Delancey, the Workforce Development Center has placed more than 500 people in jobs this fiscal year alone. Its services are completely free.

They help applicants create resumes, practice job interview techniques, find vocational training and locate job opportunities. Over the years, they’ve built up many relationships with businesses throughout Manhattan, but especially here on the Lower East Side.  The center is able to deliver quality, pre-screened applicants to a wide variety of businesses, a service time-strapped hiring managers have come to appreciate.

LES resident Edgar Sanchez got a job as a shipping/receiving associate, after enrolling in the Workforce Center program.

Garza told me his own experiences in the workforce helped shape what the center has become.  Up until 2001, he was working as a producer and production manager for large-scale film and video projects. While taking part in a social service project on the LES, he happened to meet Henry Street’s then-executive director, Daniel Kronenfeld, a legend in the non-profit world. A short time later, Kronenfeld offered Garza a job. The chance meeting enabled him to make a dramatic career transition — one that has worked out pretty well!

Garza said his good fortune taught him an important lesson: dream jobs may not always be easy to find, but good things usually happen when you get yourself out in the world, make connections and demonstrate a little bit of patience. During his time at the workforce center, he often urged job seekers to stay focused on both short and long term career goals. One Henry Street client, Daniel Reed, was hired as a driver for Access-a-Ride. Meanwhile, he’s gotten training to become a security guard.  Reed said the center is giving him the guidance he needs to plan for the future.

In the past year, Garza has focused a lot of attention on building the Lower East Side Employment Network. Several neighborhood organizations, including Henry Street, University Settlement, the Chinese American Planning Council and Chinatown Manpower came together to share information. As a result of the collaboration, the agencies are able to connect more employers and job applicants than ever before.

Community Board 3 has enthusiastically supported the workforce center, as well as the LES Employment Network.  The network is a key part of CB3’s efforts to encourage more businesses to make local hiring a priority.  The network is, for instance, stepping in to help find qualified applicants for jobs at Basketball City, a new facility opening on the East River.

Garza has, of course, had a close-up view of the brutal economic downturn still impacting New York City.  There’s been a lot of discussion of late about the “jobless recovery.” Garza believes the road out of the economic downturn will continue to be slow and uneven. But, at the same time, there are some glimmers of hope, he said. Hotels, for example, are starting to hire. They might not have a need for a concierge in these austere times, but there’s increased demand for other essential positions, including front desk and housekeeping staff.

While Garza has moved on to a broader role, he’s left the Workforce Development Center in good hands. A longtime center employee, Joan Slaunton, is the new director. Employers and job seekers can find out more about the workforce center’s programs on Henry Street’s web site. Or you can call 212-478-5400.