We grabbed coffee with Ian Straughter to discuss workforce development, leadership, and the importance of relationship building.
Ian is a Principal at Karp Strategies. After a decade working in both the government and nonprofit world, Ian brings his varied expertise to his role at Karp Strategies. He considers himself a generalist and can apply his workforce and economic development experience to projects across sectors at Karp Strategies.
How do you like your coffee?
I take my coffee with cream and sugar, and I generally drink espresso. It feels bougie, but for someone who drinks as much coffee as me, it’s definitely worth it.
Why did you join Karp Strategies?
Rebecca originally reached out to me about joining the team. While we were talking, what stood out for me was the opportunity to manage larger teams. I wanted to enable people to succeed at whatever it is they’re doing. I saw an opportunity to further develop that skill here while leaning into my generalist background. I have done a variety of work—workforce development and policy, hiring transactions, business development, nonprofit business development, etc. This was a unique experience to utilize all these prior skills and lenses to approach the problem in front of me.
How do you see workforce development changing as we move to clean energy?
With offshore wind, there’s a huge opportunity to get people into jobs that simply didn’t exist before. I also note that we saw a different clean energy strategy have a similar kind of flashiness to it 10-12 years ago—this was solar energy. At the time, a lot of workforce programs went out of their way to try to pivot, but the market did not pan out as much as we thought. What keeps me up at night with offshore wind is that what happened with solar might happen with offshore wind: where we do all this prep work, but then the market doesn’t pan out. A lot of people in the clean energy field have the notion that offshore wind jobs require new skills development, but there’s still a good portion of jobs where the skills are transferable from other industries (for example, construction and welding). There’s a critical opportunity for workforce development advocates and programs to hold the clean energy industry accountable, to make sure that new workers have a real opportunity to enter the industry with minimal to no resistance.
You currently teach a workforce development course in the Department of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College. What are some of the key lessons you share with your students regarding workforce development and its role in planning?
I want my students to come out of the course with a toolkit of best practices within the workforce development ecosystem. I try to contextualize these skills and lessons with their own interests, and I also strive to ground the classes by bringing in guest speakers who can speak to real life scenarios. By the end of the course, the group puts together policy proposals that are relevant to their focus areas, and I help them think through what’s needed from a grant-making or a fundraising perspective. What steps are needed to make their policy vision a reality? It’s an incredibly fun experience.
What is your biggest takeaway from your Coro experience?
For me, it was the peer consulting methodology—it was mind-blowing. I have deployed this strategy a number of times here at Karp Strategies and while I was at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). We used the peer consulting model with the commissioner and his staff, and it helped the team take a step back and look at a complex issue with a fresh, outsider perspective, which can inform new ways to tackle a challenge. Outside of skills, I gained incredible friendships and relationships—I’ve been able to solve some complicated problems that I couldn’t have done without those relationships I made in Coro. Coro also exposed me to aspects of workforce development that I wouldn't have learned about otherwise. That variety of experience, exposure, and thought was so illuminating.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
What fuels me the most in my work is enabling the success of others. I really appreciate that I can be vulnerable to others when I’m struggling with a problem. We can then, as a team, talk through the issues out loud; t’s important for a leader to demonstrate this in front of the team because it shows no one is above that moment of being stuck or lost. What I really enjoy about teaching is being able to provide an engaging environment—figuring out how to make an idea work for students who are new to these ideas within planning. The best part is when I go from group to group and help them work through their challenges. It all goes back to enabling success—and their perception of it.
Last TV show I binge-watched: The Diplomat
Restaurant (delivery) I’d recommend to close friends: Peaches Prime in Downtown Brooklyn
Best concert I’ve ever experienced: Boyz II Men at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Movie I’d pay to see again and again: Tenet (I solved it!)
My Heroes are: My mom.