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Local companies investing in Alden HS skilled trades program to help grow local workforce

The school district, Moog, and other industry partners have put together a campaign to raise $100,000 for new machines and tools at the school.

ALDEN, N.Y. — Several businesses in Western New York are making significant investments to help grow both the curriculum at Alden High School and the local workforce.

Two years ago, the school district started Bulldog Manufacturing — a student-run business that introduces more students to skilled trades, like welding and machining. As the program continues to grow, local companies and industry partners are taking notice and joining forces with the students.

Together they've started a campaign to raise $100,000 for new machines and tools at the high school. Moog has already donated $10,000. The company also connects students with experienced workers as part of a mentoring relationship.

Mike Garrison is Moog's manager of strategic planning and operational excellence. His job is to look at the long-term needs of the company, forecast growth and find ways for continuous improvement — but he's also a parent in the district who saw a gap when it comes to skilled trades. He and others at Moog hope that investing time and money now will create a pipeline of skilled workers in the near future.

"Many of the local companies in Western New York are suppliers to Moog. Our supply chain is benefitting from anything we do together to strengthen the workforce," said Garrison. "It's a connection between not only our long-term strategy at Moog for growth — how do we maintain the staff for machinists, assembly and test technicians — but also [a connection with] our own kids in the community."

Western New York also has an aging workforce to contend with, and time is of the essence because you can't replace decades of experience overnight.

"It takes probably 12 to 18 months to onboard somebody into a program like machining, so to start here in the school system where they learn measuring and geometric dimensions and tolerances, blueprint reading... just to be exposed to it to see if there's any natural inclination toward it, is a help," said Dawn Delzer, human resources manager for Casey Machine Co. in Lancaster. 

Casey Machine offers internships and hires some students right out of the program, which is crucial because even though they can teach students from the ground up, it takes time.

The early introduction to the skilled trades helps students find their passion and maybe cross certain career paths off their list. 

"No matter what industry they want to go into, it's all about giving them as much experience as possible so they understand what is out there but also the industries. Maybe they like the metal industry, but they don't want to deal with metal. They want to do sales," said Alden technology teacher Arthur Eggink.

The program partners hope this model of collaboration and investment will spread across the region — not just to build things but also build bridges so students can explore new careers and help grow the workforce in Western New York.

"By us giving back to our community, we are able to inspire the next generation to work on products like medical devices and launch vehicles or commercial airplanes or Formula One race cars," said Kate Nowicki, director of organizational learning for Moog's space and defense group. "Give exposure to kids so they can see the art of possible so they can see the long careers they can have in skilled trades."