The Tonawanda News
In reading Sunday’s cover story by reporter Jill Keppeler, readers probably shared our shock in the success story that is the Erie Community College industrial technology program. Given this program is finding well-paying job opportunities for literally all of its graduates, it’s certainly worth a closer inspection.
The first fact that can’t be overstated is the dire need for qualified workers in the region’s hundreds of machine shops. Since the steel mills went silent 40 years ago, business reporting has focused far too much on the top line industrial employers. We at the Tonawanda News are as guilty of it as anyone. The decline (and more recently the resurgence) of General Motors dominates our perspective of the region’s industrial base. Its status as once being among the region’s largest employers justifies that attention, but a more mature look at manufacturing in Western New York should take into account the fate of hundreds of businesses that employ people by the dozens as well as the thousands.
Those small businesses, which dot industrial business parks across the region, are facing a vast shortage of qualified workers. Owners such as Doug Taylor of Taylor Devices in North Tonawanda tell a story that seems almost incomprehensible if all you’ve read about is the difficulties facing our region’s largest industrial employers.
Taylor and other business leaders heaped praise on ECC’s industrial tech program as being the best, and too frequently the only place producing properly trained workers.
“I have no doubt that if they graduated 10 times the machinists, they’d all be snapped up,” Taylor lamented in the story.
If that sentiment isn’t reason enough to abolish the stereotype that all blue collar workers are doomed, what is?
To be sure, programs like ECC should be expanded, and the numbers support the anecdotal evidence. With a deficit of qualified workers already in place, employers are going to face an even greater challenge when you consider the average age of a worker at many of these small tool-and-die shops is just shy of 60.
With retirement in the not-too-distant future for so many workers, Western New York faces a choice: Meet the demand for qualified industrial workers or risk watching those jobs go elsewhere.
When evaluating job creation prospects, experts frequently turn to the quality of a region’s workforce. The more educated, the better. In ECC’s case, the industrial tech program’s 100 percent job placement rate is evidence enough that we need to expand and build upon their efforts.
If we take our leaders of industry at their word, there are literally thousands of jobs in search of a worker sitting right under our noses.
Kudos to the folks at ECC for their work. Theirs is a success story worth retelling. Moreover, it’s worth recreating.