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Northland training center expanding into college outpost

Mike Desmond

The Northland Workforce Training Center is expanding beyond just job training into providing college and perhaps graduate degrees.

The center has $175 million to spend as it takes a series of abandoned and decrepit old industrial buildings on Northland Avenue and turns them into a futuristic center to train workers for jobs. Those are advanced manufacturing jobs because even lines of work like auto parts have turned into sophisticated computerized operations and the workers have to receive the skills to even apply for them. Those jobs exist with thousands of retirements expected.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Northland on Tuesday to announce SUNY's Empire State College will be setting up shop at the training center to help workers finish college degrees and potentially graduate degrees to help produce those ever-more highly skilled workers. Empire State College offers college credit to those who can show they have life skills equivalent to college course finishers.

Cuomo said he recently talked to the son of a friend about his desire to skip college and become a mechanic.

"I told him there was the GM Tonawanda engine plant that I went to. They build automobile engines. What you don't see anywhere in the factory are tools. It's all computers and you can't work that computer, you can't do anything. I said if you want to be a mechanic, you have to go to school," Cuomo said.

Empire State College President Jim Malatras said the college gives college credit for work experience. He said new workers need skills their parents and grandparents didn't need.

"We need a nimble workforce that can adapt quickly to changing technology and shifting global trends. That means we need to build an educational and training institution that looks beyond traditional college structures to help people upskill and change directions when needed. That's what SUNY Empire has been doing for nearly 50 years," Malatras said.

Stephen Tucker, the president and CEO of the training center, said trained workers are already out on job sites, with well-paid jobs.

"We opened this center about 14 months ago and since that time, we have enrolled almost 275 students and out of those 275 students only two have had to pay college tuition. Ninety-eight percent of our students are from low to moderate-income and they are able to attend the Northland Workforce Training Center at little to no out-of-pocket expense," Tucker said.

Northland already has placed 88% of its graduates, with pay averaging $17.50 an hour

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.