By Jeffrey M. Conrad
A recent Buffalo News article highlighted the need for skilled workers in Buffalo’s growing economy. The article aptly stated that our educational institutions will play a critical role in preparing students for tomorrow’s job market. However, our next workforce is years from entering the job market. Industries such as health care, advanced manufacturing, construction and tourism are expanding now, creating an immediate need for trained and skilled workers. Workforce development can and should play a pivotal role in meeting today’s workforce needs.
The economic development boom we are experiencing translates into jobs, and for workforce development agencies this means opportunities. Often times the “next big job market” simply never arrives, thus wasting time and money. However, this time is different, the jobs are here and many more are on the way. There is no guessing game, thanks to the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and Empire State Development, which developed regional priorities that will provide the Buffalo area with opportunities for high-paying jobs for years to come.
There is no doubt that our region will be able to fill some of these jobs through many of the 8,000 college students that graduate locally each year, or through displaced Buffalonians who want to return home. However, we cannot dismiss the fact that there is a large constituency of undereducated, less-skilled workers currently living in poverty in the City of Buffalo who can benefit tremendously from current job opportunities. A large majority of these residents want to enter or re-enter the workplace, and many more incumbent workers are hoping to make a transition to these higher-paying jobs.
However, many residents are not sure how to gain access to these sectors, nor do they know what services or trainings are available.
Disconnect between residents and stakeholders is just one of several barriers that prohibit job seekers from finding gainful employment. Transportation, low literacy and math skills, and no money for vocational training are additional obstacles for many wishing to advance. All of these barriers can be remedied if the NFTA, the private sector, adult education and workforce development agencies come to the table and build a system that works for our regional needs. Today’s economic boom is a chance for Buffalo to reinvent itself.
This is not just about filling jobs; there are much larger impacts both socially and governmentally attached to building an effective workforce development system. Buffalo’s poverty statistics are very concerning, but most should be alleviated by providing ample opportunity for all residents who want to benefit from today’s progress.
Jeffrey M. Conrad is regional director of the Center for Employment Opportunities.