Dina Marie Zagari-LiMandri became a member of the inaugural cohort of Coro’s Workforce Systems Leadership Program (WSLP) in 2019. She is the Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Education Services in the Career Services Division of the Family Independence Administration at the NYC Human Resources Administration. Among her responsibilities, she manages the day-to-day operation and oversees two HRA-funded programs. We spoke with Dina about her experience in WSLP, the cross-sector cohort, and big challenges facing leaders in the workforce development field.

As WSLP continues with future cohorts, what impact do you think the program will have on workforce systems leadership in NYC?

We shouldn’t take for granted what it means to have a leadership training program that’s specifically geared to leaders in the workforce development field. When I started doing this work 10 years ago, the field wasn’t fully formed, but we’ve come a long way. Now we are, in effect, recognized as our own sub-category of social services. Having a program like WSLP helps to solidify our footprint and position in City services. It raises the bar for who we are and what we do. It will help to elevate our impact and develop a pipeline of leaders to address present and future challenges.

What do you and your fellow WSLP cohort members have in common?

The 24 of us in the inaugural cohort are deeply committed to our work and figuring out the best ways to serve our various populations. I don’t think you can work in workforce development if it doesn’t matter to you and that really shows in our cohort.

How have you benefited from being part of a cross-sector cohort, with people form government, nonprofits, education, and labor?

One of the great things about WSLP is it gives you the opportunity to hear many different perspectives on the field—perspectives that I hadn’t heard before. For example, you can hear how a small nonprofit, a big City agency, a for-profit company, and the Mayor’s office each feel about the same topic. It’s remarkable how I’ve learned so much about a field that I thought I already knew. So, participating in WSLP has been a great way to update my knowledge of the workforce system.”

How will you use the WSLP network going forward?

I talk to people from my cohort on a weekly basis. We check in with each other not just to share program updates, but also to bounce ideas off one another from our work. We are all thinking about strategic ways we can partner to streamline services on behalf of the people we serve.

It’s wonderful to be part of a group of people who have similar professional aspirations—and who also have similar goals for how we’re going to target poverty and increase economic stability. On the most human level, I’ve just really enjoyed getting to know everyone. These are the type of people that I might have previously met at a meeting, but not gotten to know on a personal level, the way that I am now through the program. It’s important to me—and I think to all of us—that we keep this going after we finish the program.

What System Change Project are you working on in WSLP?

My group is focusing on connecting low income New Yorkers with a clear, seamless pathway to pre-apprenticeship programs. Pre-apprenticeship programs can lead to good-paying jobs and sustainable incomes over a lifetime, but the requirements to participate in them aren’t easy, especially for the populations we serve. We realized we needed to create a “pre-pre-apprenticeship” program to create a pathway. For this project we’re focusing on construction work, but we’re designing the model so that it can be successful in a wide range of fields.

What’s the biggest challenge on the horizon for the workforce development field?

We have an aging workforce. In the next three-to-five years a huge chunk of our workforce will retire and with them goes institutional knowledge that the remaining workforce won’t have. We don’t have enough people to fill the opportunities that are going to become available, so there’s going to be a huge shortage of personnel for jobs across the city and the nation. Our field, workforce development, needs to come up with solutions quickly to track people into good opportunities that align with their interest and skills.

To that end, our commissioner realized we needed an evolution in the agency to where we’re getting people working toward education, training and employment. It’s a much better approach than rapid-attachment employment at dead-end jobs.