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Unfilled jobs locally stir urgency on training

An unfortunate disconnect has developed in the local job market. While job openings abound, employers say they can't find qualified applicants.

Business leaders took that message to Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, during a round-table discussion Monday.

"There's something going wrong here," Hochul said. "We've got kids who are looking for jobs, and jobs that are going unfilled at major businesses throughout Western New York. And we need to bridge that gap."

Hochul wants to help build a partnership between schools and businesses through legislation -- the Workforce-Ready Educate America Act, which would give employers a $1,000 tax credit for each student placed in qualified training program.

A quarter of American businesses can't find qualified candidates for job openings, according to statistics provided by Hochul's office.

Executives from HealthNow, Computer Task Group, CUBRC, Western New York Association of College Career Centers and other companies and organizations participated in the discussion held in the HealthNow headquarters on West Genesee Street.

Employers said they need workers with internship experience and communication, analytical and critical-thinking skills. But they're not finding them.

"All we're looking for are basic skills," said Michael D. Moskal, vice president and chief information officer for CUBRC.

But companies often have to train new hires in these skills, which takes away from actually performing their jobs and leaves employers frustrated, Moskal added.

Michael J. Moley, senior vice president of human resources of Catholic Health Systems, said these core competency skills are identified by human resources but are not part of the general school curriculum. He said colleges tend to believe that students innately possess these skills or will learn them on the job.

Hochul said that if the needs of local industry could be factored into school curriculum, it could help spawn an innovative workforce.

"Our kids could be at the cutting edge of these industries if we started teaching them now, and Buffalo can become a real catalyst for innovation because our business community will grow the curriculum with our 21 institutions," she said.

Employers said the educational system, starting from elementary school, could improve its efforts of preparing students for future employment.

Steven J. Harvey, executive director of Western New York College Connection, said area colleges and universities are committed to integrating needed job skills into their programs.

"Without question, it's the top priority of the 21 college presidents," he said.

Last month, Hochul met with area university presidents during similar meetings. Next, she said, she plans to hold a meeting with the presidents and employers to create a sound partnership.

"The last thing I want to hear," Hochul said, "is there's a young person educated at one of our great schools in Western New York who leaves the area in search of a job when there are jobs, right in this community, going unfilled."