During a 2015 tour of Currier Plastics, Auburn High School freshman eye some of the mechanical operations of the several robotic machines at the company’s factory.  (Citizen file photo)

The future of our country’s workforce is about as hot of a topic as any. With employers’ needs changing as fast as ever to keep up with the demands of new technology and global competition, it’s a daunting challenge to stay on top of workforce development. Leaders from President Trump to Gov. Cuomo have made workforce development a priority.

In my role as economic development specialist for CEDA, I meet with a myriad of businesses across our county. One of the common themes that I hear as a challenge to doing business in Cayuga County is a lack of a qualified workforce. Evidenced by taking a drive out Routes 5 and 20 in Aurelius, “Help wanted” signs are frequently up in front of businesses. The difficulty many of our employers are having is finding people, qualified people, to fill the jobs that are available.

There is certainly no easy solution to this problem. There are many programs being implemented and developed to close the widening skills gap. The skills that are needed in our county are becoming more technical, requiring a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition, finding truck drivers is another significant recruitment challenge for local transportation and distribution businesses.

We see many efforts locally, such as the P-Tech program in the Auburn Enlarged City School District, which is administered in conjunction with the Manufactures Association of Central New York. P-Tech Auburn is an academic and career-oriented program that combines high school with college and professional, work-based learning experience. Students participating in P-Tech have the ability to graduate high school with an associate degree and several years of work-based experience.

In response to the local demand for skilled workers, Cayuga Community College developed the Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Program. The program offers concentrations in mechanical technology and plastics manufacturing. In January 2016, CCC unveiled its  Advanced Manufacturing Institute and Plastics Laboratory in honor of Raymond Currier, founder of Currier Plastics. The facility is a state-of-the-art, 3,000-square-foot facility designed to serve the training needs of Cayuga County and regional employers and students preparing for high-demand careers by offering a range of industrial courses with emphasis on mechanical, plastics and electrical technologies.

With these efforts underway, it is hopeful that the next generation of job seekers and employers will be ahead of the curve in the face of workforce development challenges. Currently, local companies do have the ability to access incentives for training and hiring. Any employer who has not sought out the services of Cayuga Works, at Cayuga Community College, specifically in the area of accessing on-the-job training dollars, is missing out.

In addition, the Workforce Development Institute, a statewide nonprofit funded by the state of New York, offers workforce training grants. The WDI has the ability to assist with training costs, workforce development initiatives, and equipment purchases that result in new hires.

We are excited to have two members of WDI’s team speaking at this year’s Economic Forecast Luncheon: Deputy Director Vivian Benton and Central New York Regional Director David Goodness. Both work with businesses on regional solutions to the skills gap and will share their thoughts on the present state and their vision of the future of workforce development. Please join us for this event Thursday, Jan. 25, at Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn. Register online via the link on CEDA’s homepage, cayugaeda.org. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $40, include lunch, and can be paid online or at the door.

Bruce Sherman is an economic development specialist with the Cayuga Economic Development Agency. To contact Bruce, call (315) 252-3500 or email bsherman@cayugaeda.org.
Published in the January 18, 2018, edition of The Citizen.