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State to help WNY nonprofits train workers with second round of Workforce Development Challenge

Tom Dinki/WBFO News
Amanda Mays, director of Empire State Development’s regional office, discusses the Workforce Development Challenge to nonprofit leaders Wednesday at the Buffalo History Museum.";

A program that trains Buffalo social services recipients to work in hospitals preventing infections. A manufacturing center at Niagara County Community College. Culinary classes to help replenish Southern Tier restaurants and casinos.


These are some of Western New York nonprofits’ wish-list items that could get a boost thanks to New York state funding.


Nonprofit leaders gathered at the Buffalo History Museum Wednesday to hear more about the second round of Empire State Development’s $11.5 million Workforce Development Challenge.


The Buffalo Billion program, which is funded with $10 million from the state and $1.5 million from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, gave $4 million to local nonprofits in 2018 and will provide grants worth at least $250,000 each this year. 


The program is meant to help nonprofits train Western New York’s workforce for the future of the region’s economy. 


“We want to train those entry level and mid-skilled workers and create a pipeline toward a livable wage, which we identify as about $45,000 (a year),” said Amanda Mays, director of Empire State Development’s regional office. “So we want to really create a pathway to finding economic sustainability.”


The state is specifically looking to fund nonprofits that train workers in advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, tech, tourism, energy and agriculture. Those are the sectors that the state’s Strategy for Prosperity identified as being ripe for growth in Western New York.


“We know Western New York has a huge manufacturing history, so we want to be able to train people for those jobs to stay in manufacturing but also adapt to how technology is maybe taking it into different directions,” Mays explained. “Health and life sciences, we have the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that’s a big boon. … Agriculture is huge in our southern counties … We know there’s a labor market shortage (in tech). … And with energy, the governor's got his challenge to be carbon-free by 2040, so whatever we can do to help get people into those jobs of the future, we want to be able to provide that training.”


One of the nonprofits interested in applying is the Salvation Army of Buffalo. 


Christina Schweizter, director of employment services, said the Salvation Army has helped trained 33 people since 2017 to become certified healthcare environmental services technicians, who clean and disinfect hospitals to prevent healthcare-associated infections.


The trainees were referred by the Department of Social Services via a workfare program.


“We don’t just want to provide charity. We want to promote training and self-sufficiency,” said Schweizter, adding she hopes grant funding would boost that program and the Salvation Army’s other employment trainings.


Cattaraugus Community Action Inc. is also interested in applying. 


Director of Food Security John Hayley said the nonprofit hopes to launch a culinary training program in both Salamanca and Olean. Salamanca is home to the Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino, while Olean has been trying to attract more restaurants and dining options to its main street.


“There’s a great need for it,” he said. “The casinos are always looking for qualified cooks and chefs, and they’re a great employer. They employ a large percentage of Cattaraugus County residents so that’d be huge if we could get people trained.”


NCCC hopes to get help with renovating a campus building into a manufacturing, energy and agriculture training center. Brian Michel, NCCC director of grants and resource development, said Niagara County needs more welders and those who can work in the energy sector.


“They need credentialed people to put to work,” he said. “The opportunity is there, they just need to level up the experience and credentialing with the opportunity.” 


Applications are due March 2. Winners will be announced sometime this summer.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.