Job opportunities abound through Northland’s training program
Story originally ran on Sunday, March 1, 2022 in The Buffalo News
While finishing up his prison sentence, Derek Frank, Sr. was focused on the future. Counselors and teachers within the prison program believed his expectations for life on “the other side” were unrealistic, that he was setting himself up for failure.
“I wasn’t going to settle for working at Walmart,” says Frank. “I thought I’d pursue a degree in computer science or technology when I was out. I wanted to be a professional, to get married and have another child.”
Frank’s son, a high school senior at the time, told him about the options available at Northland Workforce Training Center. The pair thought maybe they’d learn to be electricians together.
The Center, part of the state’s Buffalo Billion initiative, was created in response to the projection that, in just a decade, the region’s manufacturing and clean energy sectors will have more than 20,000 job vacancies. Many of these vacancies will be created by retiring skilled laborers.
“There’s no pipeline of young apprentices or people training for these positions,” says Stephen Tucker, Northland’s president and chief executive officer. “Young people, educators, and parents are either unaware of the need and the opportunity these career paths provide, or they believe a 4-year college and a desk job are the only path to the middle class.”
Northland focuses on a broader range of career paths, with technical training programs that include welding technology, electrical construction and maintenance, mechatronics, mechanical engineering technology and CNC manufacturing and machining. Many of the students leave with SUNY Erie and Alfred State College certificates and degrees; the center serves as an extension campus for both colleges.
“People may not realize these jobs offer family-sustaining wages and great benefits,” says Tucker.
According to labor statistics, Tucker says average salaries for advanced manufacturing and the energy sector are about $50,000 a year. Many of Northland’s students earn that as a starting wage.
Frank graduated last spring with a degree in Electrical Construction Maintenance. Thinking ahead, he also earned a CDL license and maintained a 40-hour-per-week job throughout his time as a full-time student at Northland. This sometimes included going from work to school and back to work again without sleeping in between.
“Every student has challenges,” he says. “Mine was that my TAP and Pell grants were going to come up short. But my team at Northland found a grant that allowed me to finish the program.”
That support became available through Northland’s Student Success Model which offers all enrollees multiple forms of support, including assistance navigating financial aid, paid bus passes or other free transportation to and from school, and even support with childcare.
This unique form of wraparound support includes helping those who need to obtain a high school equivalency degree or additional reading and math proficiency at no cost in preparation for enrolling in Northland’s work force training.
“Our services are very personalized and consistent to get people all the way to the graduation point,” says Tucker.
Post-graduation, this kind of assistance continues with advice and support for career advancement and job retention.
Today Frank is married and earning more than the amount he aimed for when setting his goals in prison. His current employer quickly saw his ambition and ability and has already covered the cost for additional training that will allow him to advance further.
“The Northland staff cares; they support students by teaching them different tactics or tools to combat the issues they have inside and outside the program,” says Frank. “Northland changed my life.”
Interested adults and students can learn more about eligibility and the application process by visiting the website.