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For some, the promise of a whole new generation of minority and female construction workers seems years away.

Not to Eric Johnson.

"I think our goals can be met. I think they're attainable," Johnson said. "I also know people need to see more measurable results."

Johnson was named this week as project director of the Buffalo Niagara JOBS Initiative, a labor-backed program for training women and minorities as carpenters, electricians, painters and other skilled tradesmen.

The hope is that Johnson, who spent three years working on diversity issues for LP Ciminelli, one of the region's largest construction companies, will get the training program back on track.

"Eric brings a tremendous amount of knowledge of the area, the construction industry and a great ability for relating to young people in the inner city," said Kevin Donovan, chairman of the Economic Development Group.

The EDG, an arm of the local AFL-CIO, took over the training program after a similar program, a union-run facility on the East Side, shut down last year. The program came about as part of Buffalo's 10-year, $1 billion school construction project and its emphasis on creating job opportunities for women and minorities.

On paper, the project is meeting or close to meeting its goals for work force diversity -- 22 percent of the project's employees are minorities and 7 percent are women -- but there are doubts about the pledge to train and employ hundreds of new workers.

The doubts stem from the dozens of contractors who fell short of individual hiring goals during the first wave of construction and the inability of the region's building trade unions to better diversify their membership.

At last count, only about one of every 10 unionized construction workers in the area was a minority and only one of 50 was a woman.

The EDG's first training class, which still has 50 openings for interested candidates, is about to begin. For more information, call 854-0400.


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