The Buffalo Arts and Technology Center, led by Amber M. Dixon, is set to roll out next year with the goal of training the unemployed and underemployed for jobs in high demand in the medical field.
Taking those with few prospects and turning them into productive, working members of society is a tall order, but one that holds enormous promise.
The reason for hope lies in location and method. And funding: More than $4 million, primarily from the John R. Oishei Foundation, First Niagara Foundation and Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, along with the Empire State Development Corp. and the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.
Trainees will be schooled in health sciences careers. These aren’t just pie-in-the-sky jobs, but ones targeted after an extensive study of where vacancies exist. Right now, the demand is for medical coders and pharmacy technicians. As Dixon said, these are jobs that begin with salaries in the $30,000 range and can go up to $50,000 to $60,000.
“So, [there is an] ability to walk into what could be a career, in an institution that pays attention to its employees and is about to grow, as opposed to getting ready to pack up and leave town,” Dixon recently told The News’ Brian Meyer during an “In Focus” interview.
Dixon said the program will offer a day-long training schedule for nine months. The most difficult barrier for prospective students is the requirement for reading and math at a 12th-grade level, a high bar in a city where the average adult literacy level might be as low as sixth grade. But there will be remedial help available in these core courses and Buffalo Arts and Technology will provide tutoring.
The center is modeled after the Manchester Bidwell Corp. in Pittsburgh, which incorporates art and vocational training. It reaches adults who are in desperate need of jobs, but also reaches high school students through art, giving them a bridge to further education and their own futures. The graduation rate for high school students who have taken part in the program in Pittsburgh is between 90 percent and 95 percent. The Manchester Bidwell Corp. concept has spread to several cities, including Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Francisco, and has built an international presence.
Its dynamic founder and leader, Bill Strickland, captivates audiences with his own story of being influenced by an art teacher who told him he was too smart to die, and made sure he went to the University of Pittsburgh. He’s now a trustee of that university. His expect-the-best-and-that’s-what-you’ll-get-back approach has worked for the adults who have gone on to jobs and for young people who are more likely to earn diplomas. It’s what Dixon plans on replicating here.
It’s true that there are already a number of programs and agencies in Buffalo and across Western New York serving much of the same constituency. But the new center’s dual goal of keeping students in school and training workers for available jobs makes it different and valuable.
The Buffalo Arts and Technology Center is poised to make a difference.