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Route to Success

E1B-NFTA partnership spurs dozens of new skilled laborers

Julie Reeve stands next to an NFTA bus.Julie Reeve wanted to follow a new career path when she began exploring courses at Erie 1 BOCES’ Workforce Development Center, and she found success with support from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA).

The Derby native is one of 64 people recruited and sponsored by the NFTA to take the 600-hour Electromechanical Maintenance (EMM) program at Erie 1 BOCES.

“A lot of information in the course was new to me since I previously worked with printing presses, and electricity was intriguing to me,” Reeve explained. “The EMM program gave me enough knowledge base to start a career and start more advanced training at the NFTA.”

The NFTA sponsored students after securing a workforce development grant in 2015. After partnering with Erie 1 BOCES, the two entities molded the already-existing EMM course to educate both incumbent NFTA employees and external candidates, shaping them into skilled laborers.

“Over three years, to say we hired about 20 individuals out of one education facility is huge,” noted John Dembik, NFTA bus maintenance superintendent. “The average age of our workforce was over 50 years, and that Baby Boomer generation will be retiring, which is why we sought this grant. We have 168 mechanic positions in bus maintenance, and looking for an avenue to fill them, this fit the bill.”

The EMM course touches on the basics of 12 trade areas, including industrial electricity, hydraulics, pneumatics and programmable logic controls. Many recruited students had little experience in these areas, according to Patricia Riegle, Workforce Development senior supervisor at Erie 1 BOCES.

“What’s been great about the NFTA is their willingness to work with us,” Riegle stated. “John sits on our program advisory committee, which helps us make changes to benefit students so when they go out into industry, they can hit the ground running.”

After the course, the students have enough basic knowledge to attempt the NFTA’s written entrance test as a mechanic.

“It’s mechanical aptitude and fundamental knowledge, and that’s what the EMM course is about – the basics of how things operate, mechanical functions and how electricity works,” Dembik explained. “This isn’t an easy test, but after this course and once they’re in the door, the handoff is to us to teach them how a 32,000-pound bus works and teach them that next level.”

Reeve passed her test and began working at the NFTA rebuilding radiators. She then transferred to the Vehicle Electronics (ITS) Department, where she is now a mechanic for radio and electronics communication equipment and fare boxes.

As the grant comes to an end, the lines of communication are remaining open between Erie 1 BOCES and the NFTA. Dembik said the NFTA is seeing whether it can offer a reimbursement for successful EMM graduates when they get hired. Riegle added Erie 1 BOCES will continue to refer EMM students to the NFTA for job opportunities.

“It’s been a good relationship, and I think we’ve both helped each other out,” Dembik concluded.

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Erie 1 BOCES does not discriminate. Erie 1 BOCES is a fully inclusive organization that believes in our established values of respect, diversity and pluralism. Read our non-discrimination notice here.

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