City Academy is a training pipeline that prepares Boston residents for careers with the City of Boston. The program consists of two separate tracks – CDL/hoisting and emergency medical services – that each train participants for City jobs that offer living wages, health benefits, pensions, union membership, and opportunities for advancement.

Vivian Leonard, HR director for the City of Boston, sits down for an interview to share her thoughts on City Academy from an employer’s perspective.


What are some of the main hiring challenges the City faces?

Just getting people to know who we are as a City. We are 17,000 employees spread across about 52 departments. So we’re in multiple lines of business. Someone may be interested in a particular field and not know that it’s a job at the City of Boston. We’ve been trying to do a better job of embarking on campaigns to let people know, going out to the neighborhoods, doing job fairs, trying to improve our website to give people a better experience of who we are as a City.

Also, being in this state at a time when the economy is very good, we are competing with other employers to attract talent in order to keep the City moving forward and operational.

Vivian Leonard addresses the first graduating class of City Academy.

How did City Academy come about?

Trinh [Nguyen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development] approached me. She came and said, “Hey listen, we have some money to train people for entry-level positions.” This is training that would allow them to actually get a foot in the door at the City of Boston, to get a good paying job, good benefits, to support their family, and also have the ability to become more familiar with who we are as a City. Because of who Trinh is, she’s always going to make sure that any work that we do is at the forefront of moving those individuals forward.

I didn’t even have to give it a second thought. I said, “I’m all in. Let’s think about who our partners are.” We talked about Public Works [and the Parks Department], we talked about Water & Sewer, we talked about EMS.

How does City Academy address the City’s hiring challenges?

It’s helped in terms of educating people about what it takes to get and maintain a job, what is expected of you. I know a lot of the trainers at the Academy are having these ongoing conversations. They get to know people, they’re talking to them about life challenges that have prevented them from getting a job and need to be resolved. Whether it be housing issues, addiction issues, and just not knowing where to go or who to go to.

You mentioned the competitive economy. Does City Academy help in that regard as well?

I think City Academy definitely helps because we are providing training at no cost to individuals who may be interested in good paying jobs, but may not necessarily have the money to go through a training and say, get their CDL licenses or obtain their licensure to become an EMT. Otherwise, they’re going to have to first go through school and pay for that.

I would say it’s the untapped talent that we’re able to tap into because of the resources we’re making available.

City Academy participants attend a hoisting training session at Suffolk Construction.

Apart from City Academy, are there other training pipelines or talent sources that the City relies on?

Developers in the City have to put so much money into the [Neighborhood Jobs Trust] pool in order for grants to be given to community folks to get trained for various positions. That’s very helpful. Then you have [MassHire] Career Centers that are looking at people’s resumes, what type of jobs they’re interested in, offering various workshops, helping them find out about City Academy.

Anything else you want to add about City Academy or training pipelines generally?

Creating training pipelines is the key in order for us to be competitive but also for us to make sure that we are opening doors for people who are residing in our communities. If we’re giving people hope that there are opportunities, I think that will make us a better City overall. Because people take pride when they can work for the City that they are living in. It gives them an opportunity to make a difference and have an impact.

We’re very grateful that Mayor Walsh continues to push us to think about how to accomplish this, how to continue to open doors to our community.

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