New center to provide employment training to community
By David Yarger
The staff of Orleans/Niagara BOCES is once again taking steps to help members of the community find employment.
The center will provide certified training to post-high school graduates looking for employment in fields ranging from nursing to plumbing to welding and more. The facility also houses a new literacy zone to help those in the community meet requirements necessary for future training and employment.
Joe Steinmetz, director of the continuation education department, said the facility's goal is to help those unemployed in the region get into a steady job.
"We'll get them to that next level of training, so they can come out of here with a skill that's marketable," Steinmetz said. "Right now, you hear from employers all the time - they're headed towards a retirement cliff. ... They're going to need electricians, they're going to need building trades, they're gonna need welders, they're going to need machinists - all these companies are looking for people who show up for work everyday and will put in a good day's work."
BOCES has several locations in Medina and Sanborn, but a big reason for the establishment in Niagara Falls is because of the demographics. In downtown, poverty and unemployment rates are higher, and with the new facility, those who are underprivileged now have a place to study and train to work toward future employment.
The population is also higher in the NF region.
Another big reason for the establishment was transportation. The location makes it easier for locals to reach, rather than trying to find a way to Sanborn or Medina.
Students in the courses range in age from 17 all the way up to 60 and higher. Literacy courses run daily throughout the week.
Karen Kwandrans, workforce coordinator, said the nursing program will begin July 31 - four days a week - and 34 students have already been accepted.
The three-story building has several literacy zone classrooms that give students the essential math, social, science, computer and literacy skills to move on to extensive job training, as well as job training areas on the first floor; open space on the second floor, which Steinmetz said BOCES is looking into possible tenants; and the third floor consists of the licensed practicing nurses area, where full-fledged nursing training will take place.
Charles Deimert said BOCES is brainstorming ideas for certain rooms available in the building. For example, Deimert pointed out one room possibly introducing the retail and customer service sides to culinary arts.
"They'll be making some very basic food, but the idea ... is much, much more the retail experience; cashing; the customer service experience and actual presence with customers, so they can learn how to interact and then hopefully send them off to whatever their next step would be," Deimert said.
He noted hospitality and tourism is a big need in the community at the moment, and the culinary aspect could possibly turn into a public lunch spot for the community.
Deimert talked about the center's computer lab, as well. The lab is used for myriad activities, including computer skills, online high school equivalency exams, public speakers and online job application assistance.
"In a world of breaking down the barriers, it's about bringing in as many speakers as we can to address those things," Deimert said. "Anything that could be causing an issue between employment and education, we bring in a speaker to address it."
Susan Deimert, literacy specialist and Charles' mother, received high praise from Dr. Clark Godshall, BOCES superintendent. Susan said she had a dream for a literacy zone in the Falls to help assist those in the community.
"I gotta give full credit to Sue," Godshall said. "(It was) her vision in terms of having a state-of-the-art facility where we can provide services and, of course, being in Niagara Falls.
"For years, they've been wanting us to have a presence in terms of adult continuing trades. ... As a BOCES, we wanted a presence."
Susan and Kwandrans said they found the facility on 6th Street just by driving around and looking for places in the city to implement their vision.
Susan said, "You have to be in the highest neighborhood of highest poverty, and Trott was it, and so was this. ... It makes sense for us to do this, because, when her (Kwandrans') nursing students are maybe having difficulty, they come to my literacy teachers for remediation or we send them upstairs when they decide they want to go into the health field. So, it's a bonus - and to have all the other trades here - the people in the neighborhood are actually coming in and say 'When are you gonna start the programs?' "
Kwandrans, who oversees the LPN unit, said the employment rate is extremely successful.
"If you want a job in LPN or CNA (certified nursing assistant), you will get a job the second - and even before - you graduate," she said.
Kwandrans added that, in surveys from a past class, some students are making almost $40,000 annually and she said she believes pay could be higher than that. Kwandrans also said LPN's train for 1,256 hours in order to get certified, and pass rates for the classes have never gone under 90 percent.
As far as the services in Sanborn and Medina, all high school services will still be provided. The area in Niagara Falls will be used for adults. BOCES will open a near copy of the NF facility in Lockport, at 50 Main St., on Sept. 1, which will provide the same skills required for training, but different trades compared to what Niagara Falls will provide.
Feedback has been positive already, Kwandrans and Susan said.
"People were asking the contractors, 'When is it opening,' and "What's gonna be in this building?' " Kwandrans said.
Karen Kwandrans demonstrates one of the LPN simulators at the new Workforce Training Center.
Patricia McKenna teaches students in her literacy classroom.