Stephen Tucker has been confronting a challenge.
More than two-thirds of the applicants to his Northland Workforce Training Center have failed to qualify for admission to the school because they couldn't pass the literacy test for reading at a 10th-grade level.
But Tucker hopes a new remedial reading program the center has launched will help overcome it.
Out of about 800 students between the ages of 18 and 65 that have submitted applications, only 25 percent to 30 percent of them have been able to pass the TABE reading test, even if they have a high-school diploma or have a GED certificate, said Tucker, the training center's president and CEO.
That's a requirement imposed upon the new East Side facility by its manufacturing partners, Tucker said, noting the serious risks that these potential employees could face once they enter the workforce.
"We’re preparing these folks for careers in advanced manufacturing, where they will be working on mission-critical parts," he told the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. board this week. "If a component fails, someone could be injured or die."
But that also runs counter to the state-funded center's mission and goals, to not only provide a trained workforce for manufacturers, but also to raise up many of the people who live in the impoverished Buffalo neighborhoods that surround it.
So Tucker – a veteran of workforce development in other cities – developed an academic remediation program onsite to help some people with subpar scores to improve their chances for next time. The education is provided by Catholic Charities, which used to offer the service off-site in conjunction with the Buffalo Urban League but is now using space at Northland five days a week in the afternoons for the tutoring.
He's also worked with a few individuals in specific cases, admitting them to the school "based on their motivation and participation," as long as they also agree to take part in the remediation program while taking the regular classes.
"Why should they be excluded from this opportunity if they are motivated?" Tucker said. "Now we're able to accept them. We support them through having remediation one-on-one."
In one case, he wrote a letter to a judge in Collins on behalf of an applicant who was facing sentencing, and was able to secure probation for the student as long as he stayed in the Workforce Training Center program.
One student was an engineer from Bangladesh, but English was not his first language. Another student, who had an Individualized Education Program that required special accommodations, insisted on taking the test, although it took him seven hours.
"I think he has put in place some cutting-edge and creative programming so that people do not fall through the cracks," said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. "Anyone that has motivation, that wants to work, that wants to get trained, he finds a way to route them somewhere they can bring their skill level up so they do not leave Northland with a sense of hopelessness."