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The Live Well Erie Workforce Development Pilot Project (“the Project”), a comprehensive approach designed to help individuals receiving social service benefits overcome workforce barriers and transition into higher-paying job opportunities, kicked off today at Rosina Foods in West Seneca with a gathering of elected officials, business and community partners, supporting agencies and residents. Many employees entering the workforce face a “benefit cliff” as their earnings increase, causing them to exceed eligibility limits for a variety of public programs and hindering their career path. Supplemental supports will be provided to help employees enrolled in the Project meet family needs for food, housing, childcare, healthcare and more to help these individuals overcome these “benefit cliff” workforce barriers and reach higher-paying job opportunities.
“Workforce development is an ongoing need in Erie County, with many sectors of the economy searching for workers. This pilot Project will help individuals overcome barriers to better employment, with supports for them to access along the way, with the goal of them ultimately needing fewer or no services as they build into a better-paying career,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “This pilot would not be possible without the assistance of strong and committed partners, such as the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Buffalo Wire Works, Rosina Foods, Goodwill of WNY, and others who understand the real and negative effects the benefit cliff has on workers as well as businesses. Together we are working to better our residents’ lives and strengthen our economy.”
Erie County Social Services Commissioner Marie A. Cannon added, “Our ultimate goal is to assist people in reaching their full potential. We have designed a comprehensive wholistic pilot program that is a win, win, win. It is a win for employees who will be able to sharpen their skills and advance in their careers, it is a win for employers who will have well trained employees and it is a win for our community who will have residents contributing to the economy. “
A “benefit cliff” occurs when an individual’s increase in pay results in a loss of supports such as childcare assistance or other aid, meaning that many underemployed workers become stuck in jobs they may be overqualified for, or are ready to upskill, but stay in their positions due to the benefit cliff; the potential of getting better pay would not compensate for the loss of their supports. This number is different for all individuals but has widespread impacts as businesses lose out on recruiting talent and employees lose out on career advancement and higher pay.
To foster better understanding of the “benefit cliff” and its effects on individuals and employers, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s Employ Buffalo Niagara initiative partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to create an easy-to-use Benefits Cliff Calculator.
Buffalo Niagara Partnership President & CEO Dottie Gallagher said, “We are grateful for the County Executive’s leadership in developing an innovative pilot that supports people that are investing in their own future. Through this Pilot, these individuals will be supported and rewarded for improving their skills. Everyone wins - employers fill key jobs, families increase their income and taxpayers spend less for supports. It will take innovative public/private partnerships like this one to break the cycle of poverty for our residents while we unlock the talent and potential of lower wage workers.”
This Live Well Erie program effectively brings together available Workforce Development community resources and supports them through a set of short-term up-skilling opportunities, wraparound and supplemental services. Through the support of the Innovation Fund, the two-year pilot program will directly support 100-200 participants in the five leading WNY industry sectors: Manufacturing, Health Care, Hospitality, Business/Customer Service and Technology. The Innovation Fund will be designed to address the participants’ social determinates of health and further the goals and objectives of the Live Well Erie initiatives. Partners also include the Karen Society, Mt. Urban, Elim Christian Fellowship, and the UB School of Social Work as the evaluator.
Employers interested in participating in the pilot program should contact Amy Dvorak, Employer Relations Coordinator, at Amy.Dvorak@erie.gov or at 716-858-1060.
“Rosina Food Products is honored and excited to be participating in the Erie County Live Well Erie Workforce Development Pilot Program. The powerful desire by both entities to improve work opportunities, provide continuous training, career growth, and therefore improve overall quality of life for individuals in Erie County is at the heart of the Pilot Program,” said Rosina Food Products, Inc. Senior Vice-President – Business Development John Zimmerman. “Rosina is committed to Erie County, the Live Well Erie Workforce Development Pilot Program, and the need for individuals to prosper and grow with long-term employment to strengthen our community.”
Workforce Development programs fill the demand for durable skills with industry-aligned, community-based training. Programs such as Goodwill’s Goodskills Career Builder will be complemented through technical assistance and evaluation, career coaching to ensure job placement, and career advancement support to overcome workforce advancement barriers. The program will also work closely with the Department of Social Services PIVOT program, Workforce Investment Board, Buffalo Niagara Partnership, private sector businesses and other community partners to provide additional resources that will support career advancement.
“Navigating benefit cliffs remains one of the largest barriers to individuals seeking higher wages and career progression in Western New York. Goodwill is proud to partner with Erie County on implementing this innovative initiative focused on reimagining social services in a way that empowers workers to mitigate the impact of these cliffs on their journey to sustainable wages and benefits,” said Thomas Ulbrich, President and CEO, Goodwill of Western New York.
“We at Buffalo Wire Works are excited to partner with Erie County and the LIVE WELL Erie Workforce Development Pilot program. At Buffalo Wire Works, for the past 150 plus years, we have been committed to developing our employees’ careers and skills. We offer free training to help our employees develop their manufacturing skills with room to advance within our company,” said Max Davis, President of Buffalo Wire Works. “Now, with this new partnership with the LIVE WELL Erie Workforce Development Pilot program in Erie County we are teaming up to help our employees learn new skills and advance in their manufacturing careers.”
Work readiness training and upskill training is critical to hiring and career advancement as there is often a gap between the skills employers look for and the skills workers indicate they have. For instance, 51% of employers seek customer service skills, yet only 30% of potential and current employees have these skills. Workforce readiness skills training also provides more diverse economic opportunities to underserved communities and bridges the wage gap for people of color. For example, people of color are overrepresented in entry-level jobs, comprising 24% of all such workers, but they comprise 26% of all entry-level workers in the region; these jobs pay below the regional average wage.
Among the fifty most common occupations in recent job postings, only eleven pay above the regional average wage and people of color are underrepresented in all but one of these positions. Workforce readiness and upskills training are even more important for underemployed individuals seeking career advancement into higher-paying positions—the skills provided in these trainings are found in 96% of higher-paying job postings, compared to 80% of lower-paying entry level jobs.
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