The Western New York Workforce Development Center is located on Northland Avenue in Buffalo, N.Y. Jim Courtney
A substantial state and city investment in a Buffalo East Side neighborhood is beginning to bear fruit this fall, as a pre-apprentice training program saw its first graduating class in October.
Five students have completed the first eight-week Pre-Apprentice Training Program, which focuses on the manufacturing and energy sectors, and another five are set to graduate before the end of the year. The program is part of the Northland Project Labor Agreement between the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. and the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, which was created to revitalize the high-poverty Northland Corridor neighborhood. The agreement, which was signed in June, also includes a community workforce plan.
"Our goal is to build a very strong, integrated, diverse community," Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown says. "In construction trades, there is some lack of diversity. We've been able to partner with Buffalo's building trades to create this apprenticeship program."
In conjunction with the New York Power Authority, the city recruits low-income, minority adults into the training program, which Brown said will benefit city government, trades programs, and local businesses. But most importantly, residents in Northland Corridor zip codes who are at high-risk for recidivism or incarceration and are seeing unemployment or underemployment can now earn wages for their family and neighborhood.
"This really required incredible buy-in by all parties for us to get to this point," Brown says.
Crystal Rodriguez has played a key role in recruiting the trainees for the 20 paid, pre-apprenticeship training slots that are available for each eight-week session.
"We're going into the community," Rodriguez says. "We go to them. Talking to the people who are prospective candidates. Really getting a sense of where they are. It allows them to feel comfortable with us."
Brandon Corchado from Buffalo's East Side is an early success story, Rodriguez says. A graduate of the Northland Project's first class, the formerly incarcerated citizen is working in a carpenters' union.
"He's expressed to me a sense of confidence that he would be able to finish out, work, and not being able to worry about recidivism," Rodriguez says.
Currently, trainees are taking courses primarily at City Hall, and one of the graduates' earliest projects is building a new locker room and break room for City Hall security in the basement. However, the $60 million Northland Belt Line Corridor project, part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Buffalo Billion Upstate New York investment plan, includes building a workforce training center on Northland Avenue at the former Clearing Niagara headquarters. The governor announced $44 million in funding for the training center, which is expected to be finished in July 2018. In total, the project will see $70 million in investment.