Engaging workforce advocates in New York: A Q&A with Melinda Mack

By Silvia Vallejo, January 29, 2016

Melinda Mack is the Executive Director at New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals.

Can you tell us a little about your professional background? What brought you to your position as Executive Director at NYATEP?

My passion for workforce development is rooted in my love of Buffalo, NY, my hometown. Long before politicians started to notice, I always saw a beautiful, complicated city. When I was younger I took every single internship I could get my hands on from urban development, to the chamber to a stint with Senator Schumer. I ended up moving to Albany in the early 2000s where I earned two graduate degrees in urban planning and public administration, and also had the opportunity to work with the Albany County Executive, serving on the local workforce investment board. From there I was hooked, and convinced that workforce was the crux to most of our issues in local communities. I deeply believe that nearly all people in this world are good, useful and underutilized, and the antidote to that is education, training, and employment. Following my time in upstate I spent my early career working for the Bloomberg administration at the New York City Workforce Board and then at the City University of New York focusing on college readiness and completion issues. When the job at NYATEP came up in 2012, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to take my experience working in community development, workforce, economic development and at the college level to the organization. I am also a systems change junkie, and the thought of working at the systems-level was incredibly exciting and appealing.

When did you first get involved with NSC, and why?

I had always been peripherally involved with NSC during my time in the city, but it wasn’t until I took the helm at NYATEP that I became actively involved. In New York, and at NYATEP, we do not see the workforce system as WIOA only, but a wide network of partners and resources aimed at creating skilled workers and opportunities. For me NSC has provided a space to not only speak with the Administration, but also Congressional representatives about the wide-scale issues, from adult education and immigration reform, to economic development programs, and federally funded workforce initiatives, facing the workforce system. 

How has your partnership with NSC helped to advance your work in New York, and how have you been able to inform NSC’s efforts?

We find the Summit each February to be a great opportunity to get others involved in the dialogue and try each year to expand the network of those who attend. Additionally, I have personally found the State fly-ins to be really valuable. As someone who is working in a complex, very political state, it is helpful to hear others strategies and also to understand how they have crafted their messaging to elected officials.

What do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment at NYATEP?

We have done a lot in the last few years with such a small staff.  The reengagement of our members in advocacy has to be at the top of the list. For the past several years we have trained more than 100 local New York City workforce advocates in effective member education and engagement at the federal, state, and local levels. The program is a huge success, and we have seen the benefit of having so many more colleagues primed and ready to advocate. The dialogue in the city and within the City Council is far more focused on workforce than it has been in previous years. This year we have added a cohort to engage workforce professionals in upstate New York, as well as a downstate cohort.  We are excited as we believe this will help us more strategically affect workforce policy statewide.

Why should people get more involved in advocating for a skills agenda?

Inaction will not change a thing. We know what works in workforce, and we need to be sure our local, state, and federal policymakers place as much priority on the Americans who are working and want to work, as those in the traditional K-12 to college pipelines. The way we continue to remain successful and productive as a nation, is if workforce policy allows for affordable and accessible skill attainment throughout one’s lifetime.