A new program aims to promote high-tech manufacturing careers in high schools across Western New York. Dream it, Do it WNY educates high school students about the broad range of careers available in the industry.
The educational program was started several years ago by National Association of Manufacturers, but really took off this year after local manufacturers reported a severe shortage in qualified workers, partly due to the high numbers of workers retiring.
The Charter School for Applied Technology in Buffalo was the first school in the area to sign on to the program. A guidance counselor at the Charter School, Reuben Owens, says it’s important for students to learn about manufacturing careers as early as possible.
“Definitely the main reason is the financial aspect. A lot of our students are on [a] free or reduced lunch, which shows that they don’t have a high household income, so for them to go straight to college threes going to be a little expense to it," said Owens. "A lot of my students know I’m a realist and so I would hate to see my students to go to school start off in college, go for two years, not finish and get stuck with that bill.”
This introduction. Owens says, also allows students to dip their toes into the job market and decide on some preferences. He says the school is promoting the high-tech careers through class presentations, field trips and internships. They are also challenging a lot of the misconceptions about manufacturing.
“The old thought process of a manufacturer of factory is it’s a lot of nitty gritty work and you come out all greasy. But now it’s a lot of technology and computer-based programs and the individual just runs the machine. So we went over to the GM plant and they actually had a chance to see the engine being built and they were in awe,” he said.
Owens says the program also strives to keep young people from moving out-of-state to find jobs.
The program has continued to expand throughout Chautauqua, Alleghany, Erie, Cattaraugus and Niagara counties since 2009. DIDI WNY is supported by the WNY Regional Economic Development (REDC) through a $500,000, three-year grant to those five counties. The grant is structured to match private-sector dollars, so fundraising will also support the program.
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The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.