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(Opinion) Union Square Tech Training Center Would Give Our Kids a Chance at Jobs of the Future

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Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.
Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

The following opinion piece was written by Alan van Capelle, president  & CEO of the Educational Alliance.  It concerns the Union Square Tech Training Center, which is the subject of an important land use hearing by Community Board 3 a week from Wednesday. The project was officially certified into the city’s Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process today. We expect to publish other opinions about the controversial project in the next few days. The Lo-Down routinely accepts op/ed submissions relevant to the Lower East Side community. Opinion pieces do not reflect the editorial position of The Lo-Down, but only the viewpoints of each individual author. To submit an editorial/letter to the editor, use the following email: info@thelodownny.com

For most young New Yorkers, the prospect of earning $75,000 for an entry-level job might seem like a dream – but it could soon become a reality for many more.

$75,000 is the starting salary for a web developer in New York City. Every year, thousands of young tech employees accept these jobs, putting them on a path to economic stability and successful careers. In the past eight years alone, job growth in the New York City tech sector has gone up by more than 25% – and it’s on pace to exceed that in the years to come.

Unfortunately, too many young adults in our city lack the specific skills, like coding and cloud computing, to participate in this growing sector. And this lack of opportunity is especially true for low-income students of color. In Community District 3, where Educational Alliance is headquartered, over 47% of people aged 18 and under are living below the poverty line. For these youths, having access to tech careers would be life-changing.

It’s no secret that the tech industry struggles with diversity, but New York City can and should create a new model for training young people for high-quality tech careers.

Mayor de Blasio’s plan for an inclusive tech training center in Union Square will do just that. The center will give young people of all backgrounds a physical access point to high-paying jobs and digital skills, among growing tech companies and startups who are looking to recruit talent within the same building. As the Union Square project enters into the city’s public approval process, it’s time for our community to rally behind it.

At Educational Alliance, we know that having a physical space like this is critical. For more than 128 years, we have provided a range of high-impact services in Lower Manhattan, with an emphasis on connecting young people to education opportunities that can change the course of their lives. And we’ve learned that our youth are always ready to capitalize on the opportunities they’re afforded. In a district with graduation rates as low as 37 percent, every student in our College Prep program goes on to graduate, go to college, and receive financial aid.

The Union Square training center would give our students another great opportunity by creating a pipeline from their neighborhoods to high-quality jobs, ensuring that tech employees more accurately reflect the makeup of our diverse city.

Businesses have long struggled to align their workforces with the diversity of the cities where they’re headquartered. Although New York City has the most diverse tech industry in the country, the majority are still white (62 percent) and male (60 percent). It’s time for us to take action, and to do that we need to pair industry interventions with community-driven solutions.

That’s why we’re so optimistic about the Union Square project – which will be anchored by Civic Hall, along with world-class tech training organizations like Per Scholas, FEDCAP, the Computer Science Foundation of New York, AccessCode, MOUSE.org, and General Assembly. All of these organizations have years of experience working with underserved populations, and the training center will provide scholarships so that digital skills and job connections are truly accessible to everyone.

Since the project was announced last year, Civic Hall and the development team have been working with local organizations like ours on ways to best serve this diverse community. They have agreed to host a minimum of 32 community events each year at reduced costs and will create a civic innovation center where community groups can meet with tech professionals to develop new solutions in the public interest.

If we want to help our young people access quality jobs, we can’t afford to let this opportunity go by. Let’s embrace the future and make sure that everyone gets to be a part of it.

Alan van Capelle is president and CEO of the Educational Alliance, a community organization that has served the Lower East Side and Lower Manhattan since 1889.

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