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Judging from the "help-wanted" signs springing up at supermarkets, restaurants and manufacturing plants, there are plenty of jobs available in Western New York.

Most are entry-level, most do not require more than a high school education, and most can be springboards to promotion -- but applicants better have skills in communication, computers and interpersonal relationships.

That's according to a two-year "un-scientific survey" conducted by the Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce, which made its findings public at a press conference at Luminescent Systems Inc. Tuesday.

"We represent 650 business members in Aurora, Colden, Elma, Holland, Marilla and the Village of East Aurora," said Gary Grote, executive director of the chamber. "Two years ago our education committee, which has guidance counselors, business leaders, teachers and school administrators, began its research in an effort to help students prepare for their career paths and satisfy the expectations of the workplace."

After sending questionnaires out to 68 manufacturing, retail and service companies, the team, led by James Kramer, vice president of Luminescent Systems Inc., followed up with 14 selected businesses to learn about entry-level advancement in their areas and the skills employees needed in order to advance.

East Aurora, Holland, Iroquois and Orchard Park school districts and BOCES representatives also were included. The aim was to find out what they were teaching and share with them what the business community believes are skills they need to teach.

A poll of members also determined that, surprisingly, more entry-level jobs are available in manufacturing here than in any other area of employment.

"Of the 2,700 entry-level jobs we have in our area, about 950 are in manufacturing, with food service and retail each offering abut 300 postions," Kramer said. "There have been virtually no agricultural, government or technology hires in recent years, but health care offers about 250 jobs, finance about 100 and another 50 professional entry-level jobs seem to be available, although many of those are filled today.

"I know we have been expanding, hired perhaps 10 to 15 people on both manufacturing and office jobs in the last six months," Kramer added.

He said the committee's findings were no surprise, but that educators ought to keep them im mind when planning future curricula.

"First, reading, writing and math skills are critical for everyone," Kramer said. "Second, there is a disparity in what the schools offer for employment skills and what employers need. Most said they are willing to train new hires, but those people have to be trainable.

"Specifically -- in manufacturing -- they have to be able to learn how to run modern computer-controlled tools," Kramer said. "That does not mean that employers want a trained machinist, but that they want someone who can be trained quickly, and most vocational programs do not have the modern CNC equipment or staff to train students in their use."

Employers surveyed said they are hiring abut 50 percent high school graduates, 25 percent who have some additional trade school or community college training, and another 25 percent with bachelor's degrees.

"And no matter what level of education these new hires have," Kramer added, "they must have the reading, writing and math skills and the three core job skills that matter most in today's business climate: An ability to communicate, get along with others and the ability to learn computerized tools."

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