Hopefully, the economy will soon improve and unemployment rates will start to come down. But in the meantime, it is very important to offer those who got laid off as a result of the deteriorating economy as much help as possible in exploring and finding job opportunities.
In New York City, the crisis hit hardest in the financial services sector. There are now over four hundred thousand unemployed city residents, many of them as a result of layoffs on Wall Street. About a year ago, the Bloomberg administration launched a number of programs to help recently unemployed city residents. JumpStart NYC is one such program.
The JumpStart program was initiated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). Its key objective was to help people who lost their jobs on Wall street to apply their skills and abilities in opportunities beyond financial services. Most of these people had previously worked for large firms. A primary goal of JumpStart was to help them explore new career paths and opportunities in small and entrepreneurial firms in the New York area.
SUNY’s Levin Institute was chosen to develop and pilot the first JumpStart NYC program. The class took place in April of 2009. Fifty participants were selected out of close to two hundred applications. All costs were covered by the NYCEDC and the Levin Institute.
The program started with a 5-day intensive boot camp, - a week long series of seminars on a variety of topics around innovation and entrepreneurship at the Levin Institute in mid-town Manhattan. Following this first week, each JumpStart class member spent ten weeks as an unpaid consultant working with a startup New York firm. The firms were selected from amongst those that applied to be part of the program. They included companies in digital media, the non-profit sector, environmental oriented services, finance and other areas. Through this whole period, JumpStart participants continued to stay in close touch with Levin staff, who provided coaching and mentoring as appropriate, as well as with their fellow JumpStart class members.
I have been a Senior Fellow at the Levin Institute since the Fall of 2008. I was part of the JumpStart staff, giving a seminar on Innovation in the 21st Century during the boot camp week, and acting as coach to several class members during their consulting internships.
The pilot program received very high marks from the participants. Just about all enjoyed the initial seminar week. Most found that their consulting assignments were valuable. Some got hired by the companies they worked with. Others found positions elsewhere. Several decided to become entrepreneurs and start their own companies. They all really appreciated the new networking contacts they made, with each other, with the companies they worked with and with the JumpStart staff.
Perhaps most important, the program helped boost their confidence in their skills and talents. It made them more flexible and resilient: “I think what it showed was that we all have core competencies that can be used or translated into different areas, as it really showed that our professionalism and our skill set can be used, and that we can do it with ease.”
In November, the NYCEDC and the Levin Institute announced another round of JumpStart programs. The second program, also aimed at financial services workers, held its boot camp week in December. A third program targeting the media industry, JumpStart New Media will start in February. Several additional programs are already planned throughout 2010. Close to 100 private sector startup companies and small businesses have expressed interest in hosting JumpStart participants. I will continue to participate both as an instructor and a coach.
For me, as for the rest of the Levin staff involved, JumpStart has been a very positive experience. It has been a pleasure for us to be involved with the class members as they explore new opportunities and transition to the next phase of their careers. We all feel privileged to be able to help in any way possible.
I also view JumpStart as being very good for New York, part of the overall efforts to help the New York area strengthen its role as a global innovation center in our 21st century services economy. This has been a strong interest of mine, and is one of the main reasons why I joined the Levin Institute.
Given our transition from the industrial economy of the past two centuries to an economy increasingly focused on services, I fully expect that a major share of future innovations will be focused on services and service industries. You would expect that such an emphasis on services innovation would greatly benefit the New York area, given that these are the industries and jobs that dominate the New York economy.
Another major reason why New York should become a global center of 21st century innovation is the increased opportunity to leverage technology advances to significantly improve systems and services in cities. Given its talent and wealth, the New York metropolitan area should become one of the world’s major centers of urban innovation.
But none of this will happen if New York does not return to its roots and once more embrace a more entrepreneurial culture. In the hundred years prior to World War 2, New York was one the most dynamic, open, entrepreneurial cities in the world. But something happened in the second half of the 20th century. New York’s entrepreneurialism gave way to a more bureaucratic corporate culture, much more interested in preserving its power and managing what it viewed as an orderly prosperity. The major centers of entrepreneurial capitalism, - the energy that creates new ideas, new industries, new companies and new jobs, - moved elsewhere.
In announcing JumpStart and related initiatives a year ago, Mayor Bloomberg said:
“The financial services meltdown is a global problem, not one that any city or even nation can solve on its own. And although we can’t predict exactly what its revival will look like, we’re confident the sector will come back. When it does, cities around the world will compete to capture the jobs it brings. In New York City, we’re not waiting for that day to come. Instead, we are taking aggressive steps to put the City in the best position to capture growth, and we’re doing it by promoting one thing more than any other: innovation. New York City’s greatest strength has always been and will continue to be the innovation, drive and work ethic of New Yorkers. Time and time again, history has shown that our City rewards those who have the courage to pursue their dreams and launch new ideas.”
I really do believe that the future for New York is potentially very bright. I wish all our JumpStart participants, as well as all the talented New Yorkers who are in the middle of similar career transitions, all the best in this exciting, dynamic and entrepreneurial future.