Churches as Incubators for Economic Empowerment: Building Partnerships to Help Jump-Start a More Inclusive and Equitable Economy

A historic moment for economic development is here: Government is investing in strategic sectors like infrastructure and the green economy. It has never been more pressing, City College of New York (CCNY) President Vincent G. Boudreau argues, to rebuild our communities along with our infrastructure and to gather allies and collaborators in this effort. In neighborhoods like Harlem, the South Bronx and northern Manhattan, for example, houses of worship are vital resources for residents: a growing conduit to economic opportunities and a space for building trust in those opportunities, among people structurally disadvantaged for centuries.

Boudreau's first guest on this episode of From City to the World is Rev. Dennis Dillon, who has recently served as a convener of the Resurgence Conference, an effort to harness the power of Black churches in the service of community and economic development. Joining the conversation is Dr. Angelo Lampousis, interim executive director of CCNY's Rangel Infrastructure Workforce Initiative. This dynamic new state- and federally funded program aims to take workforce development to the next level, lifting local communities through training for existing and emerging careers in the growing infrastructure sector.

Host: CCNY President Vincent Boudreau

Speakers: Rev. Dennis Dillon, pastor of Rise Church New York and publisher of New York Christian Times; Angelo Lampousis, Ph.D., Interim Executive Director of CCNY's Rangel Infrastructure Workforce Initiative

Recorded: Sept. 13, 2022

Episode Transcript

Vincent Boudreau

Welcome to From City to the World. I'm your host, Vince Boudreau, President of the City College of New York. From City to the World is a show about how the work we're doing at City College matters to people across the city and throughout the world. So, on this program, we discussed the practical application of our research and solving real-world problems like poverty, homelessness, mental health challenges.

Today, we'll be looking at the role of social institutions in economic development, especially in neighborhoods like Harlem, the South Bronx, and Northern Manhattan. Coming out of the pandemic, with government officials turning their attention to long, neglected areas like infrastructure and economic equity, what we need to do to rebuild our communities and where we gather allies and collaborators in this effort is more pressing than it's ever been in the past.

Workforce development has often meant entry-level training for minimum wage jobs, but it's not at all clear that these are the kind of jobs that do much to lift families out of poverty. More importantly, with landmark legislation being implemented to jumpstart industry, to fund a revitalized infrastructure, or to invest in a green economy, a re-conceptualization of workforce development offers the prospect of lifting whole communities and providing career trajectories to individuals rather than mere jobs.

So today we're going to look at two of the most important kinds of institutions in our communities. Educational institutions like CCNY and religious institutions like the ones who collaborated under the banner of the Resurgence Conference and see what their role might be in helping to elevate workforce development and economic development. Both kinds of organizations have roles to play in economic development, and today I'm pleased to have two leaders from these two sectors to talk about their roles in the effort to jumpstart a more inclusive and equitable economy.

So, our first guest is Reverend Dennis Dillon, who's the pastor of Rise Church, New York, and the publisher of the New York Christian Times newspaper. With almost 40 years in the ministry, Reverend Dillon is an accomplished Bible scholar and community empowerment strategist. In addition to publishing the New York Christian Times, he's published several books, magazines, and periodicals. He's also provided leadership in several key corporate community economic benefit negotiations and has worked with many small businesses, community organizations, and major corporations to bring resources and impact to local communities.

His church at the moment, the Brooklyn Christian Center, hosted the 2017 Economic State of Black New York, America, and the World to discuss issues like community spending, power, immigration, and travel with business leaders, politicians, community leaders, and diplomats. Reverend Dillon serves on several boards, including the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. He is the global convener for Door of our Return, a Pan-African initiative that seeks to launch a new era of cooperation between Africa and its diaspora and the 21st century. This initiative is about healing the spiritual and economic effects of the Western slave trade.

More recently, he served as the convener of the Resurgence Conference, which is an effort to harness the power of the Black churches in the service of community and economic development, and particularly to help support emerging Black-owned businesses. In recognition of Reverend Dillon's work, he's been honored with well over 200 national and local awards. He's married to Dr. Zienzile Dillon, and they have five children and five grandchildren.

Reverend Dillon, such a pleasure to have you here. Welcome to From City to the World.

Dennis Anthony Dillon

Well, indeed, I thank you. I salute you, Dr. Vincent Boudreau, for your work and the awesome work that is being done at City College as well.

Vincent Boudreau

Well, I appreciate that, and I also appreciate the fact that you brought me into the Resurgence board. Looking forward to working with you on that relationship. So, let's start with the question of how you think about the relationship between your work as a member of the clergy and your advocacy around economic development. How do you think about the relationship between these two roles?

Dennis Anthony Dillon

Well, I think traditionally, particularly more recent traditions, there has been the thinking and the perception that somehow the church ought to be separated or divorced from the community and should not be engaged in business development, business conversation, economic development conversation.

I remember the first couple of times I was reaching out to banking institutions about doing more about coming to churches, doing economic literacy forums and conferences talking about first-time home buying. The perception for many is that that was literally sacrilegious and we shouldn't be in the church talking about business and economic development and home ownership or trying to get folks to take out mortgages to buy homes as the case might be.

We have seen a massive shift and change in that regard because I think folks are now coming to understand that, at the end of the day, in the church, we have individuals who live in homes, they go to school, they work jobs, they have basic challenges around housing and healthcare and you name it. And thus, one of the most important places for this kind of information, particularly around economic development and economic empowerment, as I would rather call it. The church is just such a key and critical vehicle for that, particularly in the Black community, since the church has traditionally been that very place where you would go to if you want to get information to our communities.

Vincent Boudreau

So, when you think about the needs of, you know, I guess particularly Black-owned businesses, but I realize your reach is really more broadly into underserved communities of color. What are their most urgent needs and how is the church working to assist them?

Dennis Anthony Dillon

Yeah, and I think coming out of COVID, and I pray we are truly coming out of COVID and moving to the next phase, I would identify housing as really a top issue. I think the matter of economic justice is certainly one area that more and more churches are understanding that we have to address the issue of economic justice.

At the end of the day, churches are learning and growing into a better understanding that, at the end of the day, if we're talking healthcare, if we're talking housing, if we're talking about the social ills, if we're talking about criminal justice and we're not providing economic opportunities, at the end of the day, we're going to walk away with people, men and women, who will always be in the same socioeconomic state because we are not changing the dynamics. We're providing social service programs, and we will perpetuate them until we provide economic opportunities and what I call a greater commerce engagement within our communities. Important message, not just for the churches, but certainly for institutions like City College to continue to teach and to pursue.

Vincent Boudreau

So, thinking a little bit about businesses and entrepreneurs, you know, you think about what a business person needs to be successful. And, of course, they need an idea. They need a business plan. They need some basic skills in management and managing of finances. They often need credit. As you look at the kinds of needs that need to be filled, where do we start in promoting the success of these businesses?

Dennis Anthony Dillon

And I think you really touched up on it there. Access is really the key here. We have to look at how we help businesses to have better access, particularly as you rightly mentioned, the underserved, the underrepresented, and to a great degree, those businesses that have been marginalized. Those communities that have been marginalized.

And so, as we look at this, we talk about seven points of access as an example. And when we talk about access, we're talking about, as you mentioned, one access to capital. That is huge. Unfortunately, for whatever the reasons are, I'm not sure that we have time to enumerate them, but the fact of the matter is Black businesses and the Black community do not have the same access to funding as most other communities do. And so how do we increase access to funding? And then we are going to run into a couple of problems as we begin to provide access.

And banks talk about bankability, where the owner a business is bankable. A potential borrower, is that person bankable? And off times the bankability issue comes up because of the historic issues of economic injustices again.

So, the next access then would be mentorship and institutional support that will facilitate the changes that we need to bring about. And then of course access to government and corporate contracts.

We were just looking at the numbers out of New York City as an example, and the fact that the former controller for the city of New York is rating the city all the way down at a C and a D as it relates to how they're doing in providing contracts to minority-owned businesses. So, we are way below.

If you look at the Black representation as an example, that is close to 30% of the population. And consider the fact that we're getting less than 1% of the minority contracts, not just the general contracts. I think 2.3% of the minority contracts. It really shows the disparity, and then the disparity within the disparity.

So, I really believe that these are some of the key areas where changes ought to come, and certainly more churches and more organizations need to talk about these things so that we get to a place where we can begin to level the playing field around economic opportunities and particularly how we work to ensure that capital is available to all New Yorkers across the board.

Vincent Boudreau

Reverend, before we move on, I want to burrow in a little bit more deeply to something you just said that disparity within the disparity. We have all of this MWBE legislation on the one hand, which seems like policies are really designed to provide opportunities to entrepreneurs that have been historically marginalized from economic processes.

And then, on the other hand, the reality is that still small shares of these contracts are going where they need to go, and heard yesterday 15% unemployment rate in Harlem. And the reality of despite this legislation and despite all of the incentives that require public contracts to engage with minority and women-owned businesses, it's failing to produce the kind of economic development that it was designed for.

Can you just talk a little bit about where the slippage occurs between a program that looks like it's really going to channel a lot of business to minority-owned businesses, and the reality that things are still not touching ground, and people are still finding themselves deprived of access to so many of these opportunities?

Dennis Anthony Dillon

I think most people use a logical approach that obviously has proven illogical for some communities. For instance, a program is available and we do a press conference. The city does a press conference. The Governor office does a press conference, the entity, the organization, and say, "We've got this money. We've got this access. We've got these opportunities. Come and get them." And the automatic assumption is that the community, in this case, let's say the African American business community, would come and get all these opportunities that presumably are available.

And then those who may have an interest and are looking at their capacity. They're looking at where they are. They're looking at whether or not they will really get this or they won't get this. They're looking at whether or not they're qualified to get this. So, at the end of the day, as I heard from one of the major banking institutions many years ago, that there's no pipeline of applicants that are coming from these communities.

So, the fact that the resources are there. The fact that we are announcing that these opportunities are there. And we've seen this so many times, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to come to the table. So literally what we have to do, we've seen this, whether it's around getting more Blacks and Latinos to do the census and we're saying, "It's okay, you can come and do it," but we're now looking at the census result to say, "Wow, look at the high percentage who still did not fill out the census."

So those are historic problem. How do we fix them? It's like saying to Blacks and Latinos will come, get your COVID test, or get the vaccination. And there's this huge hesitation and we are not understanding it. This hesitation has resulted from the historic issues and challenges of disparity that marginalized communities have suffered from for so long.

So how do we fix this, Dr. Boudreau? At the end of the day, we have to invest so much more effort, so much more energy, so much more marketing, so much more education, so much more resources in our communities because an announcement to, let's say the white community, "We have money come and get it." You'll have a long line. At the same time, that same announcement to the Black community, you may not have a line at all.

So it goes back to some inherent distrust, some sense that it's not real. Some inner deeper psychological, if you will, belief that it's really not for us. That they're telling us this, but it's really not true. And so, we are dealing with all of these factors. And last year as we did the research and conference, as you're well aware, and there were literally five or six institutions that were literally giving loans to Black-owned businesses based on just a character reference without the process of underwriting criteria. And yet we did not have a pipeline of applicants coming to the table.

Vincent Boudreau

And I'd like to talk to you, Reverend Dillon, a little bit about that conference and the work that you and others have done to pull the Black churches together to assist in the situation you just laid out.

So, we have opportunities available to members of the Black community and Latino community, a pervasive sense that despite these announcements, this is not for us. The historical accumulation of disappointment kind of leads people to sit on the sidelines and to imagine that it doesn't matter what the announcement is, it's just not going to work out for some reason.

And so, you've been working with this historic conference, which has been around for decades, to change that equation. And I wanted to ask you, first of all, to tell us a little bit about Resurgence and the history of the conference and the people involved in it, and then talk a little bit about how you got involved and what its main accomplishments have been.

Dennis Anthony Dillon

Yeah, absolutely. And again, we did the first conference in 1994, thanks to the collaboration of over 300 clergy leaders. We thought that given the fact that the church, particularly the Black church, has historically been the most trusted institution in Black America. And by the way, I use church in a very broad sense from the Greek word "ecclesia" or "citadel", which literally means the gathering place. So, if it's a mosque or a temple, the concept of church is the gathering of the people.

So, from that vantage point, and the point being the church being a trusted institution, we gathered back then several hundred churches, key ministers and leaders from all across the city of New York to say, "We have to come together and we have to really begin the dynamics of an economic renaissance or an economic revival." And of course, we launched that many mainstream media, like Crain's New York, reference the conference as an entity that has really created a robust economic revival in the city of New York.

We've seen churches pulling their business members in their congregation together, helping them to gain access to loans and funding resources. We see churches organizing individuals to form more business enterprises. And we saw a lot of churches that grew out of this starting what we would call CDC back then and probably still today, community development corporation doing affordable housing development projects and a host of others.

So, we do know the power of the church, the power of any church, by the way. Historically, the church, the global church, the European church, has played a significant role, as quite as sometimes it may be kept, in fueling economic growth and economic development. So that's been a part of our commitment and passion.

And I came to this work frustrated in my effort to save young people years ago and recognizing that if we do not help to guide them to create their own jobs in their own communities, we are powerless to create the change. If we do not instill in them what I call a culture of commerce over just a commercial culture, we're powerless to create the change. And if we focus purely on economic development, which most times is done by external developers, and I mean developers external to the local community, and redirect the focus to what I call economic empowerment, which is now beginning to put the tools and the resources in the hands of the community themselves, the leaders within the communities. The church plays a lead role so that we can actually facilitate what I call on-the-ground economic development initiatives.

And we've seen successes, we've lost much. I'm bothered by the fact that Crain's New York, their 2022 book of list report does not have a single Black-owned business listed among their 25 largest minority-owned enterprises. 15 or so years ago, 9 to 11 of that list were Black-owned businesses, so we've seen those changes. So there obviously have to be this resurgence move to see if we could create an economic revival.

Vincent Boudreau

That's really kind of striking that so many Black-owned businesses that used to be on that list are not in evidence today. Let me talk ... Let's talk just a little bit about the moment that we're in right now.

I said at the beginning of my introduction, you think about where we're at coming out of COVID with a federal government spending really in ways that we haven't seen in decades on various programs to stimulate the economy. The CHIPS legislation. The legislation that's going to be supporting green jobs. The infrastructure bill. We also have the prospect of a new industry as cannabis gets rolled out in New York State.

And so, there are opportunities, and I've heard you say that opportunities have often bypassed your target audience. That they don't seem like opportunities. We don't have the access or the skills to take advantage of them or even the sense that this is an opportunity for me. But if you were to think strategically about the opportunities of this moment, what seems most robust to you and how can we position our communities to be better able to take advantage of these opportunities?

Dennis Anthony Dillon

I'm excited about the rising population. I'm excited about the Gen Y-ers, or whatever we would call them, to probably a lesser degree, the millennials as well.

I think foundationally it starts in two places, three places. Number one, it would be ideal if it would start in the home. My own experience and my own observation is that those who are cultured around businesses generally grow with some mindset to do business and to be in business.

Unfortunately, in our community, for the most part, we are trained, we're skilled, and we grow with a concept to get a college education and go get a job as opposed to creating a job or creating opportunities and creating jobs for others. So, I do believe that those three institutions, the family, the church, and the educational institution like a City College and the great work that you're doing at City College and certainly through this program in From the City to the World. How important it is that we are really cultivating the minds, the consciousness, the thinking of young Black Latinos with a business mindset, with a commerce culture as opposed to just a ... And for me, the idea of creating this commerce culture, this culture of commerce is to get us to more think business.

This also means that there has to be a commitment in this educational process. And again, the next institution, the church, can play a role in this. And that is how do we really help to break what I call consumer mindset that drives so many, particularly in Black and brown communities?

We have an idea that our greatest high is to shop, to spend, as opposed to our greatest high is to earn and to grow and to invest and to create opportunities for others to create businesses, to be a business leader, a business owner. And so, it's a recultivating that I believe is key to this process. And yes, when we look at the green economy and to the degree that has missed us for a great degree or missed our community for a great degree. The cannabis, another new economy, it is certainly one that we want to make sure that our community is postured and positioned to ensure that it is not another big miss.

Vincent Boudreau

Right. It's hard to remember a moment in time when, among young people, especially, the idea of being an entrepreneur, of being a creator of a business has been more attractive, more sexier for young people. And I wonder if, you know, I see that across the student population in City College, and we have all kinds of different programs to teach entrepreneurship and to help students get an idea for a business and bring it to market. Do you see the same attraction to entrepreneurship in the communities that are in your churches and particularly the younger members of those communities? Is that something that you see as capturing the imagination of young people these days?

Dennis Anthony Dillon

I think we're slowly getting there. I've developed a concept that's called the mom-and-pop Syndrome. And the concept behind that is I find that lots of young people when they saw their parents struggle, their mom-and-pop struggle in business, many of them reject that pathway. And it's historic because it goes back to the fact that we've seen very little businesses that got started in our communities that get passed down to the children successfully and to the grandchildren successfully. Very few of those businesses exist in our communities.

We've seen in other communities, be it a restaurant or whatever the business might be, that it gets passed down to two, three generations. Now, the reason why I refer to this as the mom-and-pop Syndrome is that we've seen so much struggle. Children have seen their parents struggle so much to make ends meet, that they make decisions early in life, "I don't want to go through what my parents went through."

So, they're never seeing the successes because for the most times we create businesses that survive and hardly ever businesses that succeed. And the reason why are businesses only thrive to the survival level and hardly the success level. It is the crossover, and it's usually access to capital that create that crossover. And because there has been such hardships in gaining access to capital, we've seen very few businesses that have actually break that struggle syndrome, if you will, and begin to succeed at a level where the children can begin to say, "Wow, mom and dad, I'm going to take over this business and then take it to the next level, and the next level." Before long it becomes the major corporation.

I off times go back, what happened to the Madam C.J. Walker corporation that doesn't exist today? The great Black inventors of the refrigerator? Where is the P.C. Richards today?

And so how do we create ... Maybe we need a curriculum around this, Dr. Boudreau ... How do we create a process where the children growing up are seeing success in their mother and father's operation that they'll be willing to say, "That's what I want to do. Mom and dad, please leave this business for me and I'll take it to the next level."?

Vincent Boudreau

That is a great thought. And something I think that as an institution, I mean, wouldn't it be wonderful to have a curriculum where the sons and daughters of business people that have been kind of mom-and-pop stores come in and study: How do you scale up? How do you institutionalize? How do you make sure that a restaurant or a store or whatever it might be, isn't dependent on the founder for prosperity?

And now I would like to welcome our second guest, Dr. Angelo Lampousis, to the conversation. Dr. Lampousis is the Interim Executive Director of City College's Rangel Infrastructure Workforce Development Initiative. We call that RIWI, R-I-W-I. So, you'll hear us say, "in RIWI", and that's what it means, the Rangel Infrastructure Workforce Development Initiative.

RIWI has received a $200,000 environmental job training grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency under Dr. Lampousis's directorship. And the center itself has received generous support from the federal government via advocacy from our Congressman, Congressman Espaillat, and our governor, Governor Kathy Hochul, has matched that support as well. So, we are grateful as a college to the support we're getting both from state and federal government.

Dr. Lampousis has been a lecturer in the Department of Earth Atmospheric Sciences at City College since 2013. His teaching and curriculum have been recognized nationally and internationally. He's received awards for his teaching, but he's also a member of our faculty that thinks particularly about teaching non-traditional students, working students, younger students who are maybe not pursuing a degree at City College, but looking to get certification or a skill to get to that next level in their work.

Since 2010, Dr. Lampousis has been an active member of the ASTM International Committee on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management and Corrective Action. In 2017, he received a $70,000 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support geoscientists. In 2019, he received a 2019 ASTM International Professor of the Year Award. I remember that award. We were deeply proud of him when he got it.

He also serves on the Committee on Education of the American National Institute and Standards and is a board member of the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast, and that's called B-C-O-N-E, BCONE. He's a coordinator of the Annual Agricultural Geophysics Workshop at Cornell University's Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center at Riverhead, New York, which offers hands-on demonstrations with geophysical equipment for CCNY students and Long Island Vineyard guided tours. Dr. Lampousis is, sorry, Associate Editor of Fast Times, the quarterly magazine on near-surface geophysics of the Environmental and Engineering Geophysical Society.

Dr. Lampousis, I'm glad, given all your activities, you have time for us. Welcome to From City to the World.

Angelo Lampousis

Thank you, President Boudreau. It is my distinct honor to join you today and learn from your program as well. Your conversation so far with Reverend Dillon has been very, very inspiring.

Vincent Boudreau

So, let's just talk to start, for people that don't know the kind of parameters of RIWI, of the Rangel Initiative and Workforce Development, tell us a little bit about this program.

Angelo Lampousis

The inception, first of all, of the program, belongs to Congressman Rangel himself and the conversation he had over the years with faculty from CCNY, particularly Professor Robert "Buzz" Paaswell. This team within CCNY grew over time to include Professor Michael Bobker and his building performance lab, along with many, many other talented people from City College of New York. And over the last two years, this effort was accelerated. And this is also thanks to you, President Boudreau, and your team. Since there has been a lot of mobilization of resources and partners around this initiative.

So, what this initiative is all about? It is to prepare the local workforce to enter existing and emerging career sectors by offering training in new and advanced skills in different infrastructure areas. That includes transportation, energy, buildings, water, food, waste, and digital infrastructures. The purpose of the program is to access and affect in a positive way populations that they're not typical of the City College campus, for example. This includes veterans. It includes unemployed or underemployed people. The previously incarcerated. It also includes recent high school graduates. And by doing so it provides an equal opportunity, if you will, in a historically unequal infrastructure labor market.

The strong points of this experience involve a lot of experiential learning, it involves networking, and it involves a particular structure that is very flexible based on the level of the skills and the education that different people have when they come in.

In collaboration with our partners, community and industry and government, the premise is that we will enable a very diverse group of individuals. And by diversity in this sense, I don't refer only to race and other things, but in terms of educational level and job experiences and things like this.

Maybe I can close here, this first piece of information, by going forward in time to September 9th. That it was really a momentous occasion from the inception of Congressman Rangel. We came to realize under your leadership, President Boudreau, this amazing critical mass of dignitaries, starting with the Secretary of Labor, Walsh, and the New York State Governor, Representative Espaillat, and, of course, Congressman Rangel himself.

Vincent Boudreau

When the Secretary of Labor, when Secretary Walsh came, one of the things you whispered in my ear was that there was a specific opportunity that was opened by the infrastructure legislation. It revealed a kind of strategic analysis that's necessary in this field of work about the relationship between new laws that are passed and the unmet labor requirements of meeting those laws. And could you just kind of walk us through what you saw in the infrastructure bill that got you so excited?

Angelo Lampousis

Thank you for mentioning that then. Thank you for being able to deliver this message, if you will, to the secretary himself. As we all learn about the new environment. Of course, the Biden-Harris administration and the bipartisan infrastructure bill is going to be something that will affect us as it has been called the generational change regarding the infrastructure.

It will affect so many sectors of the infrastructure that this is really hard to fathom. So, I will try to at least capture some of it. And maybe we can use as an example, the safety training. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the Department of Labor has a long history, since 1970, of protecting workers, ensuring the worker safety in the workplace through particular types of training for general industry and for construction.

But with all of the innovation that is happening around us every day, it has become a challenge simply to follow what is happening, let alone to create a program that reflect that change, and enable faculty and in turn the students to be able to get these jobs in a timely fashion. So, it's a combination of timeliness, we have to be very timely about this. So traditional academic courses cannot serve this purpose because it takes too long to develop them. They're very long by themselves in terms of the delivery. And by the time we finish a course, the infrastructure in this case will have move ahead already.

So, it is a moving target on so many levels. And one thing that we're attempting to do here, as far as I'm aware for the first time in a systematic way, is to capture this update. The regulatory updates, technological updates, scientific updates, and also some knowledge of the market. Now we have a war, for example, going on in Ukraine that affect so many levels and the distribution chains. So, we need to have this additional knowledge of the market. And developing all of this knowledge at the same time, hopefully, we bring people to a point of self-awareness that, "This is how much I know. This is what I can do in the next period of my life. And this is the ecosystem that I can operate." So, it's a combination of self-awareness for the individual who comes in and also a advanced understanding of that ever-evolving ecosystem, if you will.

Vincent Boudreau

And let's talk, Dr. Lampousis, a little bit about infrastructure. We kind of jumped into this conversation of RIWI without really mapping out what we're talking about at City College when we say infrastructure. So, can you talk a little bit about all the different fields of endeavor that students in this program can train in?

Angelo Lampousis

We have identified five focus areas related to infrastructure, including the built environment, transportation, energy, water, and food. There in some different classifications, there may be additional focus areas, but these are five areas that we have identified as the ones that are more relevant in this environment.

And we have come up with a model to enable people, first of all, to engage with our program. Go through a baseline training that will give them an overview of all of the above, in addition to some mainstream training that would probably help many people to find employment quickly. This includes, for example, the 30-hour, OSHA training for construction, the 10-hour, site safety training by the New York City Department of Buildings, and other types of training that they're brief enough to include within a month, and enough in a way for people to receive an orientation about how far they want to go.

Those individuals who finish this baseline training, they have the choice to specialize in one of the focus areas. And we do this in the second month. You probably noticed that the duration here is much shorter in a way than a traditional academic semester that goes on for 14 weeks. This type of training is intended to place people as fast as possible to some kind of employment, even temporary, on their way to grow more professionally and also receive additional education and learning.

So, the ultimate goal here, and we call this the catalyst training that follows the first step, the ultimate goal is for people to identify one or two areas that they feel more comfortable, they feel more intrigued, and guide them through a process that includes internships, hands-on training on campus, networking, and other professional development opportunities to become better positioned in this very dynamic job environment and job market that we described a few minutes ago.

Vincent Boudreau

Really interesting. I think, as you say, one of the things built into this curriculum is the flexibility to take little chunks of training, use that in the workforce, and then at some later point decide you want to get to the next level of training. I think that makes it a very, very dynamic program and it embeds continuing education into the program.

It's also important to say to listeners that we anticipate the majority of the participants in the program will be funded via scholarships. We want to make sure that people who don't have money for tuition are not being dissuaded from joining this program because they maybe don't have money to pay for it. So, I want to encourage people listening to this program really to explore the opportunities in this program.

Dr. Lampousis, we hear a lot about the need not just to rebuild America's infrastructure, but to rebuild the infrastructure in a way that is eco-friendly; that integrates digital and other kinds of smart technology. We also know that there are some foundational skills in infrastructure work that are going to persist. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about how you're thinking about the relationship between the digital skills that people need to build the infrastructure of tomorrow and the skills that are sort of still relevant from other iterations of infrastructure development?

Angelo Lampousis

Thank you. This is actually a critical difference in today's training environment. I think we can use, again, the example of safety training, and we can pick any infrastructure focus area that is considered now advanced or developing at an accelerated rate.

For example, communications and wind-powered towers, they all include people, workers, different skill sets, skill levels to go up to this amazing heights. So, some of the traditional trainings, types of training that ensure their safety, they're still relevant, of course. They will be up there operating at extreme Heights, and they need to have personal and full-on assistance and they have to know how to react. They have to know how to work collaboratively in a safe way to complete the assignment. But of course, the assignment now is different, and that's where what you said makes a lot of sense. The digital skills and the different knowledge of the type of computer language that we need to operate to be able to interpret data as they come in real-time or in almost real-time.

So now we do have installations in infrastructure that this was not through 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago, that there was an initial plan, and then there was an effort to just follow this one plan. Now there's data collections on site as the projects evolve. And so, there is a real need for people to interpret this data in real-time.

So, here's an example of a combination of traditional safety training that is still required, is essentially the same, but we have to provide this other skills that were not there before, and now they're very relevant. And we have to do this successfully, and we have to deliver it on time. Again, the timing is very important in this equation.

Vincent Boudreau

So, I have a final question for you, and it kind of echoes a question I asked Reverend Dillon at the start, which is, City College as an institution hasn't always focused a lot of energy on students who were not seeking a bachelor's degree or a master's degree at the college. Wonder if you have thoughts about the role of an institution like City College in the kind of workforce development project that you've been moving forward?

Angelo Lampousis

On a fundamental level, of course, City College is the upward mobility machine for 175 years, and we're very proud of this tradition. So, this part is there. On the other hand, as you alluded, there has been between the academic education and the continuing education, there has been a disconnect, not just at City College, but in most colleges and universities around the nation.

I think this is changing rapidly in our case. And I think as far as I'm aware, at least for the United States, this is really a pioneering event on its own merit. The fact that we have now engineering professors and science professors getting involved, being integrated into professional training. I think the benefits are really hard to quantify. They're all positive.

And I would like to close with something that, a personal note, not mine, but one of our board members who shared the fact that his traditional education was very hard for him. He was dyslexic and he had a very untraditional education in infrastructure. He was a college dropout, went into construction, then joined the union, and he got several certifications as an engineering technician while studying part-time for a college degree. And now he's the principal of major infrastructure company. So, here's a prime example of a totally non-traditional trajectory that we hope to replicate through the Rangel Development Workforce Development Program.

Vincent Boudreau

So that's a great point to end on. There is so much undeveloped potential in our communities, and I mean that both in relationship to the work that Reverend Dillon has been doing through Resurgence and his other initiatives, and also what the Rangel Infrastructure Workforce Development Program has on offer. And figuring out every way, not just to connect individuals to opportunities, but to make sure they have the structure to make these opportunities accessible. Reverend Dillon talked about the areas of accessibility that need to be improved in order for there to be success among business people of color.

So, what a great way to end the program. I want thank you out there for listening to From City to the World. A special thanks, really heartfelt thanks to our two guests, Reverend Dennis Dillon, Pastor of Rise Church, New York, and Dr. Angelo Lampousis, Interim Executive Director for City College's Rangel Infrastructure Workforce Development Initiative.

Gentleman, you are both doing, literally and figuratively, God's work in our communities, and so real honor to have you both here.

Reverend Dillon, I owe you a call and we need to put our heads together to keep talking. And Dr. Lampousis, you will see me almost every day here on campus.

This show was produced by yours truly, Vince Boudreau. The audio editor is Angela Harden. Thank you, everybody.

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