How a nine-month training program changed this Buffalo resident’s life

Story originally ran on Friday, May 6, 2022 on Brand Ave Studios

Paris Thomas is going places.

“Hopefully when all COVID-19 is over, I can go to Japan and finally visit. It has always been a dream of mine since I was young,” Thomas said, a Buffalo resident who works as a maintenance technician. “Now, with where I am in my life and what I earn working at Tesla, I can do that.”

Not long ago, a trip overseas and a job at one of the world’s leading companies seemed out of reach for Thomas, who was working in the food-service industry. But in 2020, he enrolled in the Mechatronics program at Buffalo-based Northland Training Center. The nine-month program changed his life.

“Before, my job was just cleaning up areas and fixing tables,” he said. “And now I am able to fix machinery and electronics. It’s a massive increase in pay.”

Creating a skilled workforce

Northland houses two co-located training facilities — the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center and the Utility of the Future & Clean Energy Training Center — to increase the number and quality of local candidates prepared for energy and advanced manufacturing careers. Northland provides for-credit, certificate and degree programs through its educational partners, SUNY Alfred State College and SUNY Erie Community College. Regardless of program, the goal of any trainee entering Northland is clear: permanent employment in a field that has a future.

With a flexible curriculum, the school aims to serve those in the upstate New York area who have barriers to secondary education. “Especially for an urban area, the kids in our area should know it’s just as good as any college,” he said.

The workforce training Northland provides sets people up to work in growing sectors such as advanced manufacturing and energy. Strong mentorship from skilled educators helps students meet career goals. The length and scope of each program varies, but there is a measure of flexibility in most tracks. Thomas described his program as 70% hands-on classroom work and 30% book work.

“It gives a ray of hope,” Thomas said. “The instructors are just as good as any other. But this school is for those who can’t make it financially at some of the other places. For urban kids and career changers, you can change your life.”

A proven record of job placement

In addition to the technical skills to thrive in the workforce, Northland equips graduates with communication skills and career resources to help them thrive in the job market.

The school actively works with recruiters from companies upstate to help graduates find jobs.

“They are actively looking while you are in school for places you can apply,” Thomas said. “They are bringing in employers in your last few weeks of school, bringing in people to interview students.”

For the people in Thomas’ program, the results speak for themselves. Within a few months of graduating, he had landed his position at Tesla.

“In my class there were many people making minimum wage and now they are making over $20 an hour,” he said. “It was a life-changing experience for so many of us.