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Homegrown talent in Buffalo

Buffalo, New York, is a bucolic city known for its artistic community and extensive network of parks. It is also one of the largest centers of advanced manufacturing in the region, employing over 66,000 people and generating $6.3 billion in gross regional product.

In the current talent climate, many local employers are struggling to fill in-demand tech positions through traditional talent pipelines.

“As a region, we will need to fill approximately 20,000 vacancies in the advanced manufacturing and clean energy sectors, primarily due to retirements,” said Stephen Tucker, President and CEO. from the Northland Workforce Training Center. “But young people either aren’t aware of these jobs or they don’t have the technical skills to do them.”

So city and state leaders stepped in to fill the void.

Buffalo Billion is a state grant program created to invest $1 billion in the local economy to spur economic development. Local training programs, including NWTC and TechBuffalo, leverage these resources to provide life-changing training to underserved and disadvantaged citizens across the community.

University degree with a kick

NWTC is an industry-focused public-private partnership that works with local employers to develop talent to meet their specific workplace needs. Applicants only need a GED to apply, and selected students have access to free college education through partnerships with SUNY Alfred State College and SUNY Erie Community College. They can choose from a variety of one-year certificates or a two-year associate’s degree.

But NWTC students don’t just take college courses. The learning experience is designed to meet the unique needs of students and employers who support the program. “Instead of taking a reading class or a math class, students take math for machines or standard operating procedures for welders,” Tucker says. This makes each lesson relevant to the work they will eventually do.

The program also surrounds each student with a support team that includes an outreach specialist, career coaches, and admissions and financial aid coordinators who help them overcome any obstacles they may face during their studies. their studies. In addition to providing academic support, the team ensures that students have access to daily transportation, childcare, rental allowances and mental health services throughout the training process. Upon completion of their program, NWTC secures them interviews with one of the partner companies.

The program completion rate is currently 65%, twice the national average for community colleges and three times the local average. Tucker attributes this success to the support structure they build around their students and the guidance they offer, from recruiting to job placement. “We’re not trying to just put cigarette butts in the seats. We want them to understand what a career as an electrician or machinist really means,” he says. “Career development theory shows that people will succeed in careers that match their interests, skills, and personality.”

The NWTC has had many success stories, including Derek Frank, who earned a two-year degree after spending time in prison for drug trafficking. Frank is now employed as an electrician earning $60,000 a year, and his 21-year-old son has also completed the program and is now also working in the field.

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Frank said. He liked how the program initially focused on safety, allowing students to learn skills using doorbell circuits and 24-volt applications before moving on to more complex, high-risk lessons. . He also appreciated the involvement of the instructors in his learning process. “They noticed if my grades were dropping and proactively offered tutoring, or help with travel or supplies,” he says. “They made sure there was no reason for me not to pass.”

When Frank graduated, he landed five interviews in two weeks and had several offers to choose from. Now he loves his job. “It’s not just the money. Everything I learned, I now practice on the pitch,” he says. They made it so easy for me.

Data Analysis Bootcamp

TechBuffalo is another innovative workforce development program that provides job-specific training in computer science, data analytics, and other in-demand skills. Their goal is to create new tech talent and create an inclusive tech culture, says Sarah Tanbakuchi, CEO and President of TechBuffalo. “Focusing on communities that have historically been underrepresented in tech careers – women, veterans, communities of color – underpins our mission.”

Like NWTC, TechBuffalo partners with local employers to understand the technical skills they need and where there are gaps in the talent pool. Then they create training bootcamps to fill those gaps.

One of its most recent successes is the 12-week full-time data analytics bootcamp pilot, which ran from January to April 2022. The Tanbakuchi team developed the program in conjunction with five Buffalo employers representing automotive, financial services, health care, advanced services manufacturing and foodservice. “Bringing together so many employers from so many different industries was a unique model for community training,” she says. “But this skill set is relevant to all industries.”

Employers have agreed to bring in data analytics experts and HR leadership to help develop the program and create career paths once graduates are hired. “Their long-term success will depend on the hiring manager and subject matter expert developing policies to support employee retention and engagement,” Tanbakuchi says.

General Assembly, which was one of the supporting employers, provided the core curriculum and then worked with SMEs from each of the companies to tailor it for entry-level positions in their organizations.

Then, TechBuffalo engaged community organizations across the region to recruit candidates who, like NWTC applicants, only needed a GED to qualify. They received 160 applications from candidates of all ages and backgrounds. A third of the applicants were women, more than half had household incomes of less than $50,000 a year, and about 40% identified as non-white.

To select the final cohort, they used a behavioral assessment and a baseline programming test to determine if the applicants had the ambition and ability to learn the program. “We wanted to make sure we had candidates who had the best chance of success,” she says.

The pilot program had 19 participants who spent 12 weeks in the program full-time. During this time, they provided students with employer-backed financial stipends, as well as daily meals, career counseling, transportation, Wi-Fi, childcare, and any other resources they needed. They also helped them write resumes and practice their interview skills. “We have customized our services for students so they can focus on learning, because if they can’t focus on learning, it reduces their ability to successfully complete the program,” says Tanbakuchi.

And while the students aren’t guaranteed a job after graduation, the companies that support them — and other members of the community — are eager to meet them.

At the end of the program (which all 19 passed), the students presented capstone projects in front of all the supporting employers, and then the two groups selected who they wanted to interview.

“From there it was a whirlwind,” says Tanbakuchi.

Half of the class landed jobs through these initial interviews, and several more were hired by employers in the community eager to work with this new talent pool. “These students, who had never been exposed to data analytics, are now starting jobs in one of the fastest growing fields in the world,” Tanbakuchi says. “It’s very exciting.”

time to change

The first cohort included Namita Acharya, who worked in admissions at the University of Buffalo International Education but wanted to change careers to a technology field where she could build a better career. She had originally planned to take online classes on her own when she heard about TechBuffalo.

She passed the application test, which involved learning basic SQL skills, and was accepted into the program. “It was exciting because it confirmed that it was something I could do,” says Acharya.

She dove into the training and loved the additional support provided by her instructors, which ranged from programming tips and help to creating a personal pitch and creating her LinkedIn profile. “It was empowering,” she says. “It was a hundred times more valuable than doing it myself online.”

After his final presentation, Acharya landed several interviews and received an offer from ACV Auctions, which was his first choice. She is now a Data Analyst 1, which has given her a better salary, benefits and a vision for the future. “I feel like I’m on a new career path now,” she says.

Find a partner

TechBuffalo and NWTC prove that when employers and community learning programs work together, they can create new talent pools while driving economic mobility for underserved populations.

Tucker notes that in Buffalo there are 3,000 job openings for which his students are qualified. “Partners who support us have access to our students first, and many of them receive multiple offers before they even graduate,” he says. For companies facing constant stress in the job market, partnering with community organizations like NWTC and TechBuffalo just makes good business sense.

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