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Job training is a booming business in Monroe County. New study shows just how big it has become

Angelea Sanchez, a student at Edison Tech, puts on her mask before welding a part for a bench during the women in welding class.
Max Schulte
Angelea Sanchez, a student at Edison Tech, puts on her mask before welding a part for a bench during the women in welding class.

An influx of pandemic relief dollars has fueled an increase in workforce development programming across Monroe County.

There are now 84 organizations providing more than 370 distinct programs, according to a recent study by RochesterWorks, a nonprofit workforce development agency serving Monroe County.

Most of the training programs target the construction, health care, and advanced manufacturing industries.

“This has grown pretty substantially in the past two years,” said Dave Seeley, executive director for RochesterWorks.

How much is unclear. The study created a first census of sorts for what programs are out there and who is – and is not – being served. There is no baseline number to compare, Seeley said. But he estimates the county and city together directed upwards of $40 million in federal recovery funds specifically to new or expanded jobs programs.

Further analysis will focus on capacity and demand. That starts with the city, which is looking at gaps in the system, and how local government can more effectively nurture workforce development.

Listen: Local organizations are helping people with disabilities enter the workforce

Creating opportunity

Jackie Wallace was picking his son up from school in March when someone handed him a flier for a job skills program. He was recently unemployed, and was feeling down on himself.

Jackie Wallace
Provided photo
Jackie Wallace

“Like a leaf in the wind, I was just blowing around,” he said. “I knew I had the ability to go to work, but I just needed to learn the skills to keep the job. And the ERIC program helped me achieve that.”

ERIC stands for Employment Retention Incentive Curriculum. It’s an intensive, four-week course run by Action for a Better Community.

The program is one of only two workforce programs in Monroe County that focuses on retention and advancement – an area that is becoming increasingly important as businesses struggle to hire and hold onto workers.

Dave Seeley, executive director for RochesterWorks
Provided photo
Dave Seeley, executive director for RochesterWorks

“It's not as simple as, here's the job, here's a person, put the person in the job, they'll be employed," Seeley said.

“It's how are we setting that person up for success, and making sure that the employer is able to retain that employee.”

That’s about job readiness but also much more.

The ERIC program doesn’t end after four weeks of classroom time. Participants are paired with a case manager who helps them navigate other obstacles that might arise, from child care to housing, and transportation to mental health.

“More often, these workforce programs are partnering with social services and behavioral health, because they are aligned and can complement each other,” Seeley said.

Mubarak Bashir, who is ABC’s vice president for youth and community services, said all this – job readiness, retention, advancement – is about opportunity.

"Don't let anything that they've been through prevent them from working, because ultimately that is going to affect a lot of things that we see in our community,” he said.

“If people are working, maybe it'll help offset some of the violence that we see. (But) oftentimes, they're not given that chance. And so we want to make sure that people have an opportunity to have access to employment.”

'We need to work better'

But with more programs comes the need to help people navigate what’s available and greater concern about redundancy and overlap.

“The last thing you want to see is, you know, five different CNC (computer numerical control) machinist programs that are fighting for participants,” Seeley said. “That's not helping anyone. So I think, especially on the career technical education side, we need to work better kind of as a whole ecosystem.”

There also are areas – like K-12 career exploration, or with retention and advancement – where officials say more attention is needed.

About 15 students of color at Edison Career and Technology High school are taking a women in welding workshop. Right now, they’re constructing an artistic metal bench.

Navigating what’s available is another key aspect of the RochesterWorks study, which was largely funded by ESL Federal Credit Union.

By Seeley’s estimation, seven to 10 organizations account for two-thirds of the programs. Monroe Community College has several dozen, as does BOCES. The Rochester Educational Opportunity Center also offers programs.

But that leaves dozens of nonprofits for which workforce development is not their primary focus but a secondary or tertiary mission, necessary for their clientele to overcome hurdles to self-sufficiency.

Mubarak Bashir, vice president for youth and community services with Action for a Better Community
Provided photo
Mubarak Bashir, vice president for youth and community services with Action for a Better Community

"One of the goals of this is making sure that those smaller nonprofits ... are aware of these resources that are available for their customers,” Seeley said.

Nonprofits are the most active of all organizations in offering workforce programming, according to the RochesterWorks report. For-profit businesses account for the least. It’s a statistic that Seeley says is a bit misleading as industries help shape the programs, and often are strategic partners.

Bashir echoes the need for collaboration.

“I think everyone thinks that what they're providing is beneficial, which could be true, right? I mean, that's not for me to say,” Bashir said. “But I think the main thing is partnership … because we can’t do everything, right? And then if we don't have our partners we can't do it effectively.”

Which brings us back to Wallace.

He is now working for a residential treatment facility helping people in recovery. He said the training he received has made all the difference.

“It helped me gain awareness about the potential that I have,” he said, recounting lessons in job readiness as well as conflict resolution and critical thinking.

“I just needed things tweaked, you know what I'm saying? And then I needed that encouragement . . . like, oh, I can do this. This is going to be successful.”

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.