Niagara Falls ramping up vocational training to meet workforce demands

Aug 28, 2020

In the fight over whether students should be studying virtually, in school every day or some combination, there are students caught in the middle. Some are in vocational or career and technical education and need mostly hands-on training. That is hard to do at home.

At the beginning of this year, Robert Restaino made an unusual shift. He put down his gavel as president of the Niagara Falls Board of Education and moved into the mayor's office. That meant he moved from elected head of the school system, which is training workers for the future, to head the economic development efforts to find jobs for those who want the vocational path to a career. That's important because of an increasing number of workers ready to retire and the need to replace them with higher-tech skills.

"Many of the limits imposed because of the virus, some of the programming has had to be shifted and/or modified," Restaino said, "which is going to impact, I would think, based on my knowledge of it before I left the school district, it's going to impact how quickly we can get our students up to speed to replace those in the workforce who are getting ready to retire."

In economic development, Restaino has to promise employers there will be the skilled workers they need to continue and expand factories and workshops. The school system is working with Orleans Niagara BOCES to recruit and train students to be those future workers.

"That's why the focus during my time shifted to put more priority into the technical training," Restaino said. "Again, I know that the superintendent (of BOCES) is still focused on that. We speak weekly. I just know, too, of the challenges of getting kids into school or whether it's virtual."