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'Change your job, change your life' is message from manufacturing training center

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Mike Desmond
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WBFO News

If you look at local job ads, there are usually pages of open jobs but an acute shortage of people with needed skills. The Northland Workforce Training Center is ramping up its recruitment for skills training.

The center is gradually moving into its new home on Northland Avenue, near Fillmore Avenue, with formal classes scheduled to start September 10. Eventually, the goal is to have 300 students starting every year, with 3,100 vacant manufacturing jobs now and 20,000 expected over the next 10 years. That gap is what the training center was created to fill.

Manufacturing-related skills being emphasized by the center are math and reading, as well as "soft" skills like showing up on time for work.

Duncan Kirkwood, center manager of outreach and recruiting, told those in attendance at Mt. Olive Baptist Church Wednesday night about his best friend - a friend with life problems who turned it all around on a different path, as a welder.

"Twenty years old, my exact same age, he come to pick me up in his drop-top Corvette. He got a jeweler. He made $80,000. He only worked nine months out of the year because they can't dive in the winter," Kirkwood said. "He led a real good life and I'm a broke college student. I'm not saying one is better than the other. I'm saying there are different paths to have a successful life and make good money and have the life that you want, right?"

Even the meeting Wednesday night was a sign of the obstacles some young and not-so-young people are trying to overcome.

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Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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WBFO News
The meeting was not well attended.

"We got word from one of the community members that there were some young men who wanted to come and be a part of Northland, but the Broadway area [where the center is currently located] was somebody else's turf," Kirkwood said. "So we wanted to do this pre-enrollment in a safe space and co-sponsor with the Buffalo Peacemakers. So now people could feel a little bit more safer and open to come out to this pre-enrollment."

Unemployed pre-school teacher Kristeka Rogers was there, looking for a better job and a different future.

"Everyone thinks they have to be the average doctor or lawyer just to get money and there are different jobs out there. There are different opportunities and, with Northland, they offer you these different opportunities," Rogers said. "So it's all about what you're willing to put in, what you get out. So all you have to do is take that test and they help you. If you fail to pass the test, they still help you to get to where you need to be - and that's what I like about it."

Rogers said she is leaning toward training as a welder or an electrician climbing power poles. She already has an associate's degree and a work history.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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