The rising demand for data analytics and cybersecurity workers could open the door to more students for Trocaire College.
The college renovated the second floor of its extension center in Lancaster to create its Technology Institute, outfitting the space in the college's red and black colors and filling the rooms with tools of the technology trade.
The $1.6 million project represents a brand-new look for part of Trocaire's building. But it also marks an expansion by the South Buffalo-based college into new areas of career training, joining other area colleges in preparing students for fast-growing tech fields.
"Most of our students are from here and they stay here," said Bassam Deeb, Trocaire's president. "Therefore the businesses hire our folks and we want to make sure that we're not only serving the students, but the people who may eventually hire our students. So it's kind of a dual purpose."
For a college known for training health care workers, the tech program represents a way for the college to carve a niche in a new, fast-growing field at a time when many private colleges are scrambling to attract students.
Demand for tech-savvy workers seems to be everywhere. M&T Bank plans to hire 1,000 people for a tech hub the bank is opening inside Seneca One tower. Catholic Health System and Kaleida Health are each pouring more than $100 million into their electronic medical records systems. Companies in all types of industries are adding tech workers to analyze customer data and protect themselves against cyberattacks.
Two years ago, Trocaire reviewed its courses and saw an opportunity to prepare students for tech careers, based on job projections by government agencies.
When Trocaire converted the second floor of its building off Transit Road into its Technology Institute, the college deliberately gave the space a look distinct from its Russell J. Salvatore School of Hospitality and Business on the first floor, to provide the institute with its own identity, said Richard Linn, Trocaire senior vice president.
The makeup of Trocaire's student population – about 1,300 students per semester – differs from many other colleges in the area. The average age of its students is 27, and 85% of its students are women.
"We're hoping to also make a dent in providing programs and enrollment in areas where there are underrepresented populations," said Deeb, Trocaire's president since 2012.
The Technology Institute reflects the college's long-standing connection to workforce development, given that its graduates will likely stay and work here, Deeb said.
"We have to be responsive to what's happening in the marketplace in this community. We can't offer academic programs where the bulk of the employment is in Florida," he said.
Trocaire points to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections that computer and information technology jobs will grow 12% through 2026. Information security jobs will grow 28% over that span, and data science jobs will grow 15% to 19%. The State Department of Labor projects computer occupations, a category covering a wide swath of jobs, in Western New York will grow 9.2% through 2026.
Before launching the project, Trocaire took stock of what some other colleges had done with their own tech programs.
"We looked at what other models existed, but we also wanted to be our own," Deeb said. "And frankly, it needed to fit within our domain and budget. We could have done a whole building, but that's not in the cards, so we made it work for us."
A state grant covered about a quarter of the cost of the Technology Institute; the college covered the rest of the expense.
The institute includes a data visualization lab, and meeting rooms known as "sandboxes" where students can collaborate on projects. A hallmark of the renovated space is flexibility. Rooms and furniture can be rearranged to accommodate larger or smaller groups.
One feature of the center is a server room, where students can conduct security and penetration testing on computer systems.
"It's not connected to our network," Linn said. "It's a total virtual network, contained in this building. They can play with it, they can break it, if they have to, and then the next morning we can start it all up again and start fresh."
Deeb is looking longer range, too. He sees potential for businesses to use the center for training sessions. And there is potential for the Technology Institute to offer distance learning for off-site students.
"The programs that we're offering do give us the opportunity to draw or be attractive to folks outside of a traditional market as we look to grow that part of it," he said.
Trocaire's data analytics and cybersecurity programs are just getting started. If those programs get traction, they could broaden the college's local identity.
"Historically, people see us as heavily into nursing, maybe some other health care," Deeb said. "I think we wanted the message to come across loud and clear: We are not abandoning health care, that is who we are, historically, but we're about the entire picture.
"And given the fact we've always offered programs that are in demand in this community, we anticipate based on the data this was going to be next sector in this marketplace that's going to grow, and we want to be part of it," he said.