ITHACA N.Y.— Ithaca Area Economic Development (IAED) was selected to receive just over $1 million from the federal government to help meet its goal of securing gainful, entry-level employment for locals through its Direct-To-Work (DTW) Pathways to Employment program.
The DTW program emerged in 2022 as a result of collaborative discussions between a group of local manufacturing employers and members of the organization to pinpoint possible solutions to meet the growing demand for entry-level employment in Tompkins County.
The Director of Workforce Innovation at IAED Danielle Szabo said stakeholders agreed to build out the program by creating partnerships with industry employers.
Shortly after the program began earlier this year, leaders recognized its potential to expand to partner with employers in other trade industries looking for entry-level hires in Tompkins County.
IAED will receive a total of $1,173,278 over the course of three years, and received the first round of funding Oct. 1. Szabo said the money will be used primarily to build out a secondary industrial partnership model with employers in other technical trades, starting with construction.
The funding comes from the Department of Labor as part of its Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities (WORC) initiative, which funds grant projects addressing the employment and training needs of the local and regional workforce in Appalachia, the lower Mississippi delta and the northern border regions.
The project will serve Tompkins County and a surrounding 8-county area of the Southern Tier within the state’s Appalachian region.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote a letter to the department in support of the organization’s grant application according to a statement from his office released Sept. 28.
“This funding will supercharge the Southern Tier’s workforce and help drive the region’s continued economic resurgence,” Schumer is quoted as saying in the statement.
Currently, eight local manufacturing companies participate in the program and hire employees directly from it: Knickerbocker Bed Company, Precision Filters, Incodema3D, BorgWarner, Therm, C&D Assembly, Stork H&E Blading and Lansing Instrument.
With this new funding, IAED anticipates establishing partnerships with 18 employers total, comprising 10 manufacturers and 8 in the construction trades. The organization estimates the expanded partnerships will result in “at least” 135 workers obtaining entry-level positions, according to the statement.
Manufacturers eligible to participate are only those offering starting wages between $16.67/hour to $24/hour, paid time off and a full benefits package, along with proper infrastructure for employees to advance within the company according to Szabo.
The program requires participants to take a four-week, full-time training curriculum in which, according to Szabo, from Monday to Friday, they commute to the program, punch a timeclock and model behaviors “as if they were on the job.”
They also attend half-day “field trips” to each manufacturer eligible to hire them once they complete the training program to “hear, see and smell the production floors.”
Participants then sit for a national exam to be certified as manufacturing associates when they finish the curriculum either in-person or online using a laptop provided by the IAED. The certification is nationally recognized so it can be used to apply for jobs anywhere in the country.
“We’re looking for people who don’t know anything about manufacturing and are looking to take a chance on the opportunity to experience eight manufacturers in our community that offer living wage jobs, full benefits, financial stability and upward mobility around career pathways,” Szabo said.
Szabo said the project has a placement rate of 83%, with 34 people having gone through the process. Sixteen people were referred to employers by the IAED and 13 of them have been placed in direct employment.
There are still many barriers in the community that need to be addressed to increase that rate, Szabo said. She mentioned they work with individuals with conviction records that negatively affects their hireability.
“The biggest barrier to completing the program we’re seeing is around childcare and transportation,” Szabo said. “That is one of the things that we’ll be focusing on through this grant — how we can put more money into the community to maybe create a car buyer program or a car repair program to help get people the transportation they need.”
The training program is unpaid, but participants who successfully complete the curriculum receive a $500 stipend, which was made possible through funding IAED received from Tompkins County last year.