The Northland Workforce Training Center is forming a partnership with SUNY Empire State College that will allow Northland's students to take online courses through the SUNY school and earn a bachelor's degree.
The college also is pledging $10 million to develop a five-year sustainability operating plan for the Northland Avenue facility, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.
"When they walk in the door at Northland, we want to be able say to them, 'You can be anything you want to be,' " including earning a bachelor's and master's degree, Cuomo said.
"Empire State College will work with anyone who walks in that door to reach whatever goal they want to reach," Cuomo said.
The partnership will allow Northland's students to tap into a SUNY Empire State College program that allows students to accrue college credits based on their work experience, reducing the time and expense associated with obtaining a degree, said James Malatras, the college's president. Additional financial assistance will help students meet college-related expenses, such as books.
The college's School of Labor also will establish a regional hub at the training center to help hone the training center's programs, including the expansion of apprenticeships in growing industries, such as green energy.
A joint partnership between SUNY Empire State College and the Rockefeller Institute of Government will expand a program to identify growing job sectors and identify workforce needs, with a research fellow in Buffalo studying the workforce center's training programs and other local labor and economic issues in Western New York.
"This is not just an education program. This is to assist with everyday needs," Malatras said. "We need a nimble workforce that can adapt quickly."
Cuomo said the expanded educational programs will create opportunities for East Side residents that weren't available in the past. "The East Side of Buffalo that did not get their fair share and the help and success that we've seen in past generations – this time, the story of the East Side is going to be different," he said. "Opportunity for everyone."
Malatras said SUNY Empire State College's program at Northland will get underway in fall 2020. SUNY Empire State College will offer more than 800 online courses to students at Northland, he said.
SUNY Empire State College said it would work alongside two other schools that already have a presence at Northland, Alfred State College and Erie Community College.
Stephen Tucker, president and CEO of the Northland Workforce Training Center, said the center has enrolled about 275 students since it opened about 14 months ago, and that 98% are from low- to moderate-income backgrounds. Tucker hailed the additional educational opportunities that will be available to obtain bachelor's and master's degrees through the center.
With unemployment across the Buffalo Niagara region hovering around 4%, local companies have struggled to find qualified workers. That search has been compounded by the decadeslong decline in factory jobs, which discouraged young workers from pursuing careers in manufacturing related skills.
But now, with older manufacturing workers heading into retirement, those skills are now in demand, prompting the state to launch training programs such as the Northland initiative.
"We now have jobs that we can't fill," Cuomo said. "It's about teaching the skills to the employees so they qualify for these jobs."
The nature of manufacturing also has changed, with factory work becoming more complex, with computerized machinery a staple in modern factories.
"If you can't work that computer, you can't do anything," Cuomo said. "It is about the skills. It is about the education, and that's what Northland is all about."
Story topics: Matt Glynn