When Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul visits Buffalo these days, she said she's seeing job training that she's never seen before.
That's because there are finally jobs to be had.
Those Western New York jobs, and the skills needed to do them, were the reason for Hochul's appearance in Buffalo Monday morning as she announced a total of $1.4 million in state funding for seven programs that are all part of a soon-to-be launched workforce program called "Thrive Buffalo."
"We are in a new era here in Buffalo," Hochul said at a news conference at the University at Buffalo's Arthur O. Eve Educational Opportunity Center at 555 Ellicott St. "When I go over to Northland Workforce Training Center and other places I am finally seeing an emergence of places where people are learning skills that the employers are looking for.
"For most of my life, growing up in Western New York, we've not worried about skills training, because there were no jobs to train for. The jobs we all trained for left, when manufacturing left. We know the story of the decline of Western New York.
"Fast forward to today. The number one complaint I get from employers, is not about the taxes or the business climate in the state of New York, it's that they cannot find workers with the skills they need. The challenge is how do we connect the population in hard-hit areas to those jobs. And the link is this program."
Hochul announced that the seven programs that will receive funding are:
The funding comes from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's $25 million Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. The $25 million initiative is designed to aid 16 communities throughout the state in "developing locally driven strategies to reduce poverty and increase economic opportunity."
"We don't really have a true integrated talent pipeline continuum here in Buffalo and Erie County," said Michael Weiner, president and CEO of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, which has overseen the genesis of the Thrive Buffalo initiative. "What we want to do is make it easy for people who are already working, who are in financial hardship because they're in minimum wage jobs ... we want to help them connect with these job opportunities."
This was a second phase of initiative funding for the Thrive Buffalo project. The first phase, Weiner said, was a two-year process funded by $2.4 million which was essentially a fact-finding effort to identify what kind of plan the area would need. The group's research included community outreach, surveys and the study of best practices, including a Houston program (UpSkill Houston) that helped inspire Thrive Buffalo.
"We learned what the barriers to employment are, and learned how to overcome them by responding programmatically and strategically," Weiner said. "What we’ve created is a partnership with key stakeholders that can provide a full range of services and supports."
Weiner said the hope is that these supports will lead to better jobs for those holding minimum wage positions.
"We want to create a culture in this community where people get excited about the fact that … rather than just go and read a website that has a 100 different job opportunities on it, they can talk with a job coach, they can learn about the skill set that they need, they can get some soft skill training on-site or additional required training in the realm of advance manufacturing," he said.
"If we can help people increase their wage by $2, $3, $4, $5 an hour, we’re going in the right direction."
Weiner said Thrive Buffalo will begin with a soft launch next week as they start talking to people and experiment with the system. Staff hiring has been made, community forums will be held and there will be a public relations campaign.