Buffalo, almost everyone seems to agree, is on a roll. So much is happening in so many different areas, it seems a different city than it was just a few years ago.
But, as Buffalo understands from its own painful experience, what is true today may not be true a decade or two from now. In addition to celebrating and capitalizing on the city’s renewal, it is also important to ensure that the momentum doesn’t fade away.
There are many ways to do that, but one is to make certain that Western New York students have the skills and training they need to fill the high-tech jobs that are coming to Buffalo and that, if forecasts are correct, will be here for decades to come.
Those efforts are under way as educators look to keep pace with the city’s redevelopment by training students in the disciplines they will need, especially in science, technology, engineering and math – STEM education. It’s important to Buffalo’s future, and for several reasons.
Most obviously, these programs give students the background they need to secure jobs in 21st century industries. Without that base of knowledge, jobs will go exclusively to people who will move into the area, rather than helping to support the families already making their homes in Buffalo and other parts of Western New York.
The outlook for those jobs is as sunny as the region’s ability to fill them is clouded. Over the next decade, the state Labor Department estimates, Buffalo-area employers will need to hire 165,000 workers, and perhaps more, depending upon the pace of baby boomer retirements.
Yet, as Howard Zemsky, co-chairman of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, observed, the area has a “skills mismatch.”
“Too many businesses looking for people, and too many people without the in-demand skills looking for jobs. This problem is poised to get worse with so many retirements on the horizon.”
A commitment to rigorous STEM education will help provide those skills, but it will have the significant side benefit of making Buffalo more attractive to families who would otherwise more likely be drawn to the city’s suburbs. The city’s struggling school district today is a repellent to families who want to ensure their children receive an education that will prepare them for the challenges of the coming decades. A strong education would be a magnet to help further Buffalo’s renewal and to maintain the significant momentum of today.
Plenty of people are taking the time to help develop the area’s educational landscape to match the needs that everyone knows are on the Western New York horizon. That’s a good sign, but it needs to be monitored and adjusted as needed so that this area can take maximum advantage of the opportunity that has come its way.