After high school, Patricio Siaca went straight to work and over the years held various jobs, ranging from a factory equipment operator to retail management.
Geneo Brown dropped out of high school to help raise his child. But he never gave up on his education and eventually earned his GED.
Both men struggled to find stable, good-paying careers and wanted nothing more than to build a better life for themselves and their families.
“I want to bust my behind so that my children can go to college,” Patricio said.
When an opportunity came along for education and hands-on training in a high-demand field at no cost and to earn a certificate in half the time, they enrolled in Monroe Community College’s accelerated precision tooling certificate program and became workforce-ready in six months.
With job-placement assistance from Rochester Technology and Manufacturing Association, both men are now employed and thriving as CNC operators, their future bright and full of possibilities. It’s a transformational moment in their lives that has made the promise of economic mobility a reality for their families.
In Rochester, N.Y., unemployment rates in some city neighborhoods exceed 30% and childhood poverty rates top national lists. As thousands of residents languish in poverty, across our region thousands of middle-skill jobs go unfilled because of a shortage of qualified workers.
In hopes of eradicating poverty, local leaders—from industry, education, labor, community-based organizations and local government—are working collectively on building bridges to opportunity that put people on the path to a family-sustaining wage and stable, rewarding careers.
Several major initiatives are in the works.
- Rochester is the site selected for a multimillion-dollar photonics research institute being established as part of a federal plan to support the manufacturing sector. The institute will partner with local higher education and bring thousands of jobs to the Greater Rochester region, creating opportunities for more individuals to move up and out of poverty.
- As the primary trainer of the local workforce, MCC plays a vital role in the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, a groundbreaking program that has brought together state, county, city and community resources to achieve two goals: reduce poverty by 50% in 15 years and increase the number of families that are self-sufficient.
- MCC is also an integral partner in the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, a locally driven effort convened by Governor Andrew Cuomo as part of a broader strategic plan aimed at accelerating job creation and economic activity across the state. The council’s latest proposals in competition for state funding include an optics manufacturing expansion.
By putting workforce development at the heart of these initiatives, we hope to finally close the skills gap and help people in poverty today secure good-paying jobs tomorrow. To this end, solutions to these challenges must go deeper than offering new training programs.
Rather, we must work together with local employers and community partners to provide a comprehensive community support net and create paths—in terms of access to affordable, quality education and academic support—for individuals and families to gain employment.
Some families in Rochester’s distressed neighborhoods may not know about the educational opportunities available to them, and those who are aware may face obstacles that prevent them from gaining access.
Whether it’s owning a car or paying bus fares, transportation is a significant cost to families that are already struggling to make ends meet. Similarly, the cost of child care may prevent a single parent from pursuing a college education. And individuals who are holding down jobs while going to college might not have enough time to get from work to class.
To remove these barriers, MCC offers training programs in city neighborhoods. We have partnered with community groups such as the Ibero-American Action League, a dual-language human services agency that serves Hispanic residents, to offer educational opportunities right in the communities that would benefit from them most.
To help with child care, we partner with community providers to provide services and have secured state grants to offset costs for students.
MCC has one of the lowest tuition rate among community colleges in Upstate New York. We strive to be the most affordable, highest quality option for students in our region.
Community colleges cannot let the cost of education become a barrier to opportunity.
In addition to doing everything we can to keep tuition low, we work aggressively to ensure more members of our community complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to gain access to financial aid.
In just one year, after partnering with the Rochester College Access Network, the number of local urban students completing the FAFSA increased by 9%.
We have also partnered with our college foundation to increase the number and amount of scholarships. This year, the MCC Foundation transferred over $1 million in scholarship funds, many created by local businesses to support their future workforce.
Many people who might benefit from job training lack the skills to excel in typical programs. Students cannot succeed in a precision machining program if they have deficits in their ability to read or perform basic math.
This is a major challenge we’ve discovered in reaching out to distressed neighborhoods, and it became the inspiration behind our efforts to create a bridge program that ensures individuals are academically prepared for the coursework prior to their enrollment in one of MCC’s accelerated certificate programs. The bridge program is supported through a $320,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase as part of its New Skills at Work initiative.
Launched in January 2016, the 10-week middle-skills bridge program provides students with an accelerated developmental education experience. Reading, writing and math are taught within neighborhood centers like the Veterans Outreach Center. Upon completion of the bridge program, students begin their accelerated training, which will enable them to earn a certificate in half the time and promptly gain employment.
Essentially, this program will move people from where they are now to a good-paying career that will lift them out of poverty, in as little time as possible. To be truly effective in alleviating poverty, our programs need to move people along this bridge quickly, so they can begin their career and start making wages to support their family.
We can’t eliminate every barrier that students will face on their pathways to career and personal success, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. When a strong bridge is constructed in the right location, it can help pave the way for many more people to climb from poverty to good-paying jobs in a growing field.
Dr. Anne M. Kress is president of Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y. The college has a specialized department in workforce development.