Instead of treating this Labor Day as just another opportunity to fire up the grill, consider what this holiday means in terms of the area’s workforce.
Technology is creating jobs at both ends of the pay scale. It is disrupting the way in which we shop for groceries, catch a ride and trade time for money. But in order to grow, this region must provide long-term, sustainable jobs.
The Buffalo Billion-funded 43North business plan competition is one place to start the process. The best and the brightest come from all over the world in hopes of winning support for their businesses. Buffalo benefits from a brain gain, since winners must relocate to the area for one year. The hope, of course, is that these new companies stick around, prosper and become major employers.
Many startups fail – that’s the nature of entrepreneurship. But even an occasional success story is worth the effort. Consider ACV Auctions. The 43North winner in 2015 is an online automotive marketplace headquartered in Buffalo. It grew from 65 employees back in September and 98 in March; a couple of months after receiving major expansion funding to get it into eight new markets, it planned to hire 100.
Job seekers don’t have to rely on startups. Health care continues to play a major role across the country and in our aging region. The University at Buffalo’s new medical school on the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus will offer expanded classes in order to help meet the demand for doctors. Classes move there in January. Health care also offers an opportunity for Erie Community College to shake off some of its financial difficulties. The struggling college must find ways to re-engineer itself. Its nursing program is in high demand. What better place to begin re-engineering?
An educated workforce is important in growing the local economy – as is a robust public transportation system and day care options. But that education requirement does not always mean a four-year college degree. There is a high need for electricians, carpenters and other skilled trades.
The Northland Corridor Project Pre-Apprenticeship Program is a work in progress. Mayor Byron W. Brown’s ambitious plan represents a historic project labor and workforce agreement between the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. and the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council.
It promises work for traditionally underrepresented workers and minority- and women-owned businesses, guaranteeing entry for applicants from the project ZIP code of 14215 and surrounding ZIP codes into the eight-week paid training program.
There is a great need in welding, auto mechanics and plumbing fields. Collision shop owners are desperately seeking trained help. Shop owners have collaborated within their own ranks and with Erie 1 BOCES, which offers training in many fields. There is the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology adult job-training program, which focuses on the unemployed and underemployed in getting them into high-demand jobs in the medical corridor.
Technology has devastated some industries – think how shopping has changed since Amazon started selling books online. Robots are replacing workers in low-skill jobs. Driverless vehicles seem likely to revolutionize the trucking industry. Those jobs will not be coming back, but new technologies will need some workers. Amazon recently went on a hiring spree, seeking hundreds of workers for its planned Lancaster distribution center.
Instacart, the grocery delivery service for consumers who order online from Wegmans, also went on a local hiring spree. Some stores will find a niche and prosper. Whole Foods, recently purchased by Amazon, has been taking applications for more than a hundred spots for its coming store on Sheridan Drive in Amherst.
Workers this Labor Day must consider the changing business landscape and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. The key is likely to be adaptability. Workers who can roll with the punches to one industry and press forward into a new career will be in demand.