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Schumer Visits Saranac Lake To Discuss Innovative Job Training Program

WAMC/Pat Bradley

New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in Saranac Lake this morning to discuss his efforts to secure grant funding for an innovative job training program.

Senator Schumer, a Democrat, noted that there is a skills gap throughout the country and New York, yet good jobs are available. At the same time, people who are unemployed or underemployed cannot fill those available jobs because they lack the needed skills. Schumer wants New York’s community colleges to create a link by providing the needed high-tech training.

Schumer explained there is an existing program that he has already helped secure the biggest grant in the country for 30 of New York’s community colleges. A new system-wide grant is now being sought.  “There’s a federal program called TAACCCT.  It stands for Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program.  North Country Community College, along with 30 other SUNY community colleges across the state is applying for a TAACCCT grant. If you win it you survey the local companies and say what kind of jobs do you need? Then the grant gives you the money to buy the equipment needed to train the people and to coordinate with the companies. The companies are in at the community colleges teaching what they need as well as paying some of the teachers to do the job.”

The community college and business partnership training program focuses on a new skills area.  “It’s called mechatronics. Mechatronics is a multi-disciplinary field that incorporates engineering, mechanics, electronics and other technical work. It’s booming in New York State. We need people who work in mechatronics. And the growth means that there’s a need for workers to fill the industry jobs. According to SUNY, the State University of New York, mechatronics will create 800 jobs in the North Country between 2010 and 2020. And in the same ten year period there are 13,000 jobs across New York State.”

Senator Schumer noted that even jobs like welding, car repair and farming are using digital technology and need workers trained in mechatronics, a field incorporating engineering, mechanics, and electronics.

Agrimark Economist Bob Wellington underscored the need for such skills at its Cabot cheese manufacturing plant and on dairy farms.  “We need these skilled workers particularly because we’re automating more and more. I would also add that we have growth in the agricultural production in the North Country now with dairy farms. They’re getting larger and there’s young farmers coming on board. One of the challenges they have is sufficient labor. One of the things they’re looking at is robotics on the farm. That’s really, really important for these large farms. And so we not only want to partner from our plant perspective, we want to partner from our farmers.”

Trudeau Institute President Ron Goldfarb noted that their research is closely related to mechatronics. “We’re developing an emphasis now in immuno-engineering, using the skills of engineering to have new insights into new approaches for making better vaccines and better therapies for a range of infectious diseases.  We will need new people. We hope to expand. We hope to have new companies spinning out. The base of having folks who will be able to deal with the engineering aspects as well as the research technician aspects will be extremely important.”

Fifteen million dollars in grants is being sought for New York’s community colleges for the mechatronics training program.  North Country Community College has applied for $1 million. The grants will be announced this fall.