Ten years ago, the biggest problem in Central New York was lack of jobs. Today, it might well be the shortage of qualified employees. As chair of the Assembly Committee on Small Business, I speak to manufacturers and other local companies often. The greatest challenge they face is finding good candidates to fill vacant positions. Right now, in our area, there are hundreds of open positions, including jobs for welders, machinists, assemblers and engineers of all types. Left unaddressed, this problem will only get worse in the years ahead.
There are several things we can do to help address this challenge right here in Central New York. The first involves training. In recent years, I’ve been working with Onondaga Community College, SUNY Educational Opportunity Center and other organizations to offer training programs that prepare job seekers for open positions in manufacturing. Through a machinist training program and a manufactures boot camp, more than a hundred local residents have gained the skills needed to find good-paying employment. Other efforts, including the Work Train program at CenterState CEO and the apprenticeship program run by the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, are helping to match potential employees with openings in fields like health care and manufacturing. Similarly, OCM BOCES offers adult education programs that can place candidates in these same industries and many others.
The second thing we can do is make it easier for workers to get to where the jobs are. One major problem with our pattern of growth over the last several decades is that many large employers, which used to be primarily in the City of Syracuse, are now in the suburbs – far away from the population center that could serve as a workforce. Because of that, suburban manufacturers often have trouble filling openings simply because workers don’t have access to public transportation to get them there. I’ve been working with CENTRO in recent months to add routes that will make it easier to get from Syracuse to places like Hancock Business Park in Cicero. As a community, we also need to encourage more businesses to establish a permanent presence closer to the urban core – which could also help address unemployment and poverty issues in our region.
Third, we need to find ways to support young people who want to pursue a career in the trades and as engineers. These are the jobs that often go unfilled in our area and yet also offer the best prospects for long-term growth. Supporting these career paths means everything from enabling more hands-on learning at the elementary school level, using maker spaces and other programs, to eliminating the stigma that exists with getting a technical degree.
Finally, we should let our kids know that they don’t need to move out of Central New York to get a good job. This notion is simply not true anymore. There are so many open jobs and possible careers in our area that anyone who wants to live and work here and who is willing to get the right training, should be able to do so.
As always, my door is open. If you have questions about this or any other issue, feel free to contact me at 315.452.1115 or at StirpeA@nyassembly.gov.