Decades ago Peter Pecor’s father had a close friend and a relative who were involved in the union movement, one with the clothing union and the other with the Teamsters.
“We used to get together at family outings, and it used to be fun to listen to them talking about what’s going on in contracts and things of this nature,” he says.
It was these conversations that eventually led Pecor, 68, to a position as the executive director of RochesterWorks Inc., Monroe County’s largest employment and training initiative, largely funded by the state Department of Labor.
RochesterWorks employs 62 people and has three offices, on Goodman Street, Waring Road and St. Paul Street. It has an annual budget of some $8 million.
After graduating from McQuaid Jesuit High School in 1964, Pecor attended Le Moyne College in Syracuse to pursue the interest instilled in him by his family’s participation in the labor movement and earned his bachelor’s degree in science and industrial labor relations.
“My senior year at Le Moyne, one of our projects in the last semester was helping Onondaga County negotiate their first contract under the Public Employee Relations Board,” Pecor says. “At that time there was no legislation covering public employees.
“That was the first contract in New York State for the public employees. We were the gophers, the research people. It was interesting. I found it all interesting, but of course when I got out of school there weren’t any jobs available in industrial labor relations as such.”
After graduating from college in 1968, Pecor went into the commercial banking business. He spent almost 30 years there. At the same time he was involved in local politics, which is where he pursued putting his labor education to use.
“I started out in my town on the zoning board, planning board and became a town board member,” Pecor says. “I was a county legislator. Then got involved in the state in the Department of Labor, and here I am.”
He was a member of the Monroe County Legislature from 1991 to 2000.
While with the state Department of Labor, Pecor served as regional administrator from 2000 to 2008. He oversaw employment programs and labor exchange relations for the nine-county Finger Lakes region, including 12 offices and 130 employees.
“I was getting into a field that I was very excited about,” Pecor says. “From a contribution standpoint, you look at everything we do: our growth, our job, our economy, our global competitiveness. It all ties into the workforce … having a skilled labor force, are people employed. I was excited getting into the whole arena.”
Pecor also served on the Monroe County/Rochester Workforce Investment Board that has overseen RochesterWorks since its inception in 2000.
When the opportunity came up to run RochesterWorks he was eager for a chance to spend more time in Rochester rather than continually traveling throughout the nine counties in the region.
“I think the resiliency of this area, the ability for not only our people but also our businesses to weather the storm and still grow, says an awful lot for this community,” Pecor says. “Anybody else, if you look at what happened here, the number of people just in Kodak alone, downsizing from 60,000 to 2,500 people, you would think it would be like a Detroit, like a ghost city. It’s not. Very fragile economy, still. Not everyone is working to their fullest extent. Not everybody’s doing what they probably thought they were going to do when they were in college or wherever, but there are still opportunities here, and we’re still growing. We see pockets growing, and there is life in this area.”
RochesterWorks is open to the public and its services are free. Because of its relationship with the Department of Labor, when someone is laid off or loses their job, they receive a letter inviting them to an orientation. RochesterWorks operates under the direction of the Workforce Development Board with oversight from the county to provide employment and training services to jobseekers and businesses.
Laid off workers who apply for unemployment benefits, that is where some 60 percent of the organization’s job seekers come from, Pecor says. The other 40 percent represent people out there working or people who may be working part-time who come in and avail themselves of the services.
Pecor is proud of his team’s efforts in helping the community via the programs.
“I think we’ve been able to stay in the forefront with some innovative ideas, changing services or delivering services,” he says.
The St. Paul Street location offers employability assessment, work experience and on-the-job training programs in addition to its full career center.
“There’s a lot of unique (offerings), even just in the workshops, we’re not just going over cover letters and resumes and online job searching,” says Ruthann Campbell, communications specialist at RochesterWorks. “There are a lot more personal things and positivity and maintaining your stress levels and taking care of yourself.”
Participants in the work experience program are assigned to work at local non-profit organizations based on their skills and interests. More than 200 non-profit sites collaborate with RochesterWorks through this program.
“(It’s) pretty boring to come in the same place and look for a job,” Pecor says. “If we look at having some different kinds of workshops, some topics that are very in tune with what’s going on today with technology, those types of things. I think that’s some of the things that we’ve done that I’m very proud of. When I meet with my counterparts across the state, they look at us and they say, ‘Gee, that’s a great idea.’ Many times they’ll try to mirror us.”
One example is its youth services. RochesterWorks was among the first to have an online application for a summer youth employment program that they worked on with the city of Rochester, called the Summer of Opportunity Program. Last summer it had 3,300 applicants online.
“When we first got into it a few years ago we thought, ‘Uh oh, this is going to be a bust,’” Pecor says. “I tell you what, it’s a great success. I just wish we had more opportunities for young people.”
He often says, “We are not job creators, we are job identifiers.”
RochesterWorks is not a placement agency, but provides the tools for individuals to find job or career opportunities.“I always say to people, somebody doesn’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m going to go to the dry cleaners and grocery store and stop at RochesterWorks.’ You have to have a reason to come to RochesterWorks. I think what we’ve done … is make it a very good and rewarding experience,” Pecor says.
Last year more than 1,700 people participated in skill development and occupational training through RochesterWorks and more than 900 youth were employed through summer programs.
“I think the approach that he typically takes and encourages us to take is one of kind of collaborative,” says John Premo, the RochesterWorks director for community and business services. “I think he’s always encouraging us as staff, whether it’s a project we pursue, a partnership we pursue…he’s always encouraging us to kind of work collaboratively.”
Premo has been with RochesterWorks for 13 years, and oversees the business services department, which connects businesses with people and resources in the community, providing recruitment training and resource connection services for local businesses.
“Then the community side of it is really looking for opportunities to engage and embed with our community partners as well as community events, efforts and initiatives,” Premo says. “We have a person now who is really dedicated to helping us with our messaging and our communication.”
Sergio Esteban, CEO of LaBella Associates DPC, and chairman of RochesterWorks, says Pecor brought the organization to another level, through his commitment to the community, which was one of the reasons he was appointed executive director.
“He understands the need to work with other businesses,” Esteban says.
RochesterWorks expands its reach through many partnerships with other organizations in the Rochester community such as the Al Sigl Center, BOCES, the Re-Entry Task Force and the Judicial Process Commission.
“There’s so many folks, so many resources that are available in our community,” Premo says. “I think the nature of our business should be and is very complimentary to a lot of what folks are doing out there and a lot of the initiatives and the challenges that we have.”
Taking the helm
Pecor took charge as executive director—succeeding Matthew Hurlbutt—in the midst of the global financial crisis of 2008, but says the organization’s numbers did not change dramatically because of it.
“For a number of years, even before the great recession, we probably always had 30,000 new customers who came through our doors every year,” Pecor says. “I think maybe the only year we saw a decrease was last year with 28,000.”
The average unemployment rate for Monroe County in 2008 was 5.4 percent and jumped to 8.3 percent the following year, staying above 8 percent until 2013, when it dropped to 7.7 percent. As of August, the unemployment rate for the county was 5 percent—the lowest since the recession.
“We really never saw a major decrease in the number of individuals seeking employment,” Pecor says. “What we did experience is that because of the large number of individuals who are out there, we’ll say in our talent bay, the employers were very selective. We see a little bit of that loosening up now, not a lot, but there’s a little bit reprieve.”
The job outlook for Monroe County is definitely getting better, even if it is not in leaps.
“This past year, for all the successes we had, there were also 1,600 announced layoffs of individuals,” Pecor says. “It’s a balancing act. Is the employment situation improved? Yes, but not dramatically.”
One of the biggest things Pecor brought to RochesterWorks as its executive director was a sense of stability during the crisis.
“I think one of the benefits or the encouraging things was that I don’t think he came in and really changed a lot,” Premo says. “I think he recognized that the organization was doing great things and was quite efficient and focused on what it was doing. I think he really helped to maintain that. He reminds us and keeps us on task to not forget that standard and high level of service provision.”
Pecor attributes RochesterWorks success to his staff rather than any changes he brought about.
“As a leader, he’s a very … consensus-type individual,” Premo says. “He really challenges us as supervisors, managers, but at the same token I think kind of leads by example too. He backs up what he says and I think he expects us to do that as well.
“I think coming in when he did as our leader, I think he recognized the good folks that we have and the good things that we do and really made a concerted effort to maintain that and also grow that where appropriate.”
Off the job
When he is not navigating labor crises, Pecor is navigating the waters of Irondequoit Bay, cooking, working in the yard.
“I enjoy boating. My boat is on Irondequoit Bay. I’ve been on Irondequoit Bay almost all my life,” he says.
Pecor also is a do-it-yourselfer.
“I love doing things. I love having projects. I’ve refinished furniture,” he says.
Pecor will even fix the occasional cabinet at the RochesterWorks office.
“I have my little socket kit over there on the desk,” he says.
Pecor married his longtime sweetheart, Carole, right away upon graduating from Le Moyne in 1968.
“I didn’t waste any time,” he says.
The two are Irondequoit natives and have two children and four grandchildren. His wife is retired but worked for the East Irondequoit School District for 25 years in special education. They still live in the town.
Pecor says his philosophy for life is that whatever you do, you need to do it your best because no matter what field you are in there is always a customer.
“The best professional, personal and customer service you can provide will make you a winner and you and your organization a success,” Pecor says. “I feel that very strongly because I think that’s what success of RochesterWorks is.
“We really provide the best customer service we possibly can. We may not always have a customer who’s willing to accept that service because many times people come in, they’re very angry. They’re upset with being laid off, whatever. I think if we look at doing the best we can for that customer, we’re going to be successful.”
Lisa Maria Rickman is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
Title: Executive director of RochesterWorks Inc.
Education: B.S. in industrial relations, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, 1968
Family: Wife, Carole; daughter, Michelle, 43; son, Scott, 40; four grandchildren
Interests: Navigating the waters of Irondequoit Bay, cooking, working in the yard and being a do-it-yourselfer
Quote: “We are not job creators, we are job identifiers.”
9/25/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.