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Another Voice: Workforce development system must work for all

By Jeffrey M. Conrad

There has been much discussion lately regarding the state of Buffalo’s job market and whether the current data provides an optimistic picture of Buffalo’s job market.

The fact that December’s unemployment rate in the Buffalo Niagara region is currently at its lowest rate since 2006 is welcome news to a region that struggled for many years to add jobs. Adding to this trend, the investments in SolarCity and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus are also likely to have a positive effect.

Other great news is that our new economy bodes well for current high school and college students due to the development of curriculums that fit emerging sectors, such as health care, manufacturing and clean energy. Say Yes Buffalo’s presence in Buffalo public schools and the emergence of the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology will only further solidify the fact that local students will fulfill future hiring needs.

However, in looking at the data, The Buffalo News, the Partnership for the Public Good and the Brookings Institute have all mentioned that although enormous strides have been made to improve our economy, there are limits to our success. A recent News article aptly explained that adding jobs does not naturally translate into economic success for all.

A Partnership for the Public Good publication, “Working Toward Equity,” went further and pointed out that local unemployment rates are higher and earnings are lower for African-Americans and Hispanics even during this improved economic period. Additionally, many residents who are working poor or frequently unemployed face multiple barriers to employment, such as low educational levels, language barriers, criminal backgrounds, disabilities and limited means of transportation.

Given that Buffalo’s unemployment is down and our economy is much stronger today, this is the ideal time to focus our efforts on these populations that need additional services. If we want to have an inclusive economy, then we need to expand funding for programming that works to help connect people with employment barriers to the workforce.

We should also fund more collaborations to ensure that we are connecting programs that can provide a variety of services to these populations in a coordinated way. Lastly, capturing local employment data more broadly to influence local workforce development policies and funding commitments will help direct resources and craft strategies that have a foundation in actual data.

Buffalo’s economy is positioned to continue improving in the years to come. Supporting all residents of the city to connect to the workforce will ensure that no people will be left behind in the “new Buffalo.”

Jeffrey M. Conrad is New York State director of the Center for Employment Opportunities.