Luckily, Westchester residents have several options when it comes to acquiring new skills. Here’s a closer look at programming and services available at Southern Westchester BOCES, the Westchester-Putnam Career Center Network, and Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES.
Southern Westchester BOCES serves 1,000 students each year in job-training programs. It also provides services to adult learners.
“We offer short-term training in high-demand fields that shift to meet the local employment needs,” says Tracy Racicot, director of Southern Westchester BOCES’ Center for Adult & Community Services. Most courses are held in the evenings and on the weekends to allow adults who may be working during the day and are looking to “upskill” for further career options, she says.
Currently, trades courses (electricity, plumbing, HVAC, welding, and carpentry) and healthcare courses (clinical medical assistant and medical administrative assistant with billing-coding specialist) have the strongest enrollment. “Additionally, we offer automotive service technician and auto body repair, and CISCO networking courses. Where an industry requires or prefers it, there are associated recognized certifications, like CICSO networking, automotive, and all healthcare classes,” she says.
Through its Adult Literacy Program, the school also offers academic programs for adults to earn their high school diploma, improve their English language skills, or take the US Citizenship Exam. “We do not have the resources to provide job placement services, but we share employment opportunities with students all the time and we survey students on their employment status,” Racicot says.
She notes that students are completing more advanced levels of training. “Instead of running a lot of ‘fundamentals’ courses, students are moving on to intermediate and advanced levels of training, causing our schedules to shift. We see this as a positive trend — better student retention and higher-skilled persons being trained for the professions.”
A partnership with the City of White Plains provides training to qualified individuals through a community block grant. “A young father came to our Open House in September and had a job working in the field of HVAC at Pace University promised before his training was complete in December,” she says. “This is a wonderful example of how we can make a life-changing difference in a very short time in the lives of our community members.”
The Westchester-Putnam Career Center Network is made up of four Career Centers located in White Plains, Mount Vernon, Peekskill, and Carmel. The centers are primarily staffed by Westchester County, Putnam County, and New York State Department of Labor (DOL) employees. They provide free state-of-the-art technology, training, resources, and services to youth, adults, and employers. The Career Center Network also includes partner agencies that work in cooperation to provide expanded services.
“Instead of running a lot of ‘fundamentals’ courses, students are moving on to intermediate and advanced levels of training, causing our schedules to shift. We see this as a positive trend — better student retention and higher-skilled persons being trained for the professions.”
—Tracy Racicot, Director, Center for Adult & Community Services, Southern Westchester BOCES
“There are two pieces to what we do,” says Thom Kleiner, executive director of the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Development Board. “There is a soft-skill piece, which includes resume writing, interviewing, and a new addition, digital literacy. And then there are the nuts-and-bolts courses.”
As part of the New York State Department of Labor, the Career Center links to DOL offerings through Coursera, an online platform with nearly 4,000 programs across high-growth industries, including data science, business, and technology. Many of these programs are pathways to professional certificates.
The Career Center Network is also working on a partnership with Job Search Academy, a collaboration between Indeed and the San Antonio Spurs. This is a free job search program “created to help equip job seekers with the skills and knowledge needed to conduct successful job searches and pursue careers that include better, more satisfying work,” Job Search Academy says on its website. The Academy includes search engines, YouTube videos, and webinars designed to help with soft skills that improve success when looking for a job. Kleiner says that his is the first workforce board in the country teaming with this initiative. “As [the Academy is] a subsidiary of Indeed, we think it will attract more people with the Indeed name,” he says.
Local training centers Southern Westchester BOCES and Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES train both high school students and adults in a variety of in-demand trades such as welding, electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and automotive. BOCES is short for “Boards of Cooperative Educational Services” — entities created in 1948 by the New York State legislature to provide shared educational programs to school districts.
PNW BOCES offers high school students and adult learners about 50 programs, with opportunities for certifications, internships, and up to 21 college credits, says Catherine Balestrieri, director of career and technical education. Its English as a New Language (ENL) academy, for older teenagers who can’t earn a high school diploma, provides all-day programs to earn a Spanish GED, learn English, and prepare for bilingual trade opportunities.
Every program has agreements with various colleges, and PNW also hosts committees of business and industry partners. “The partners tell us the equipment we need, the trainings we should offer, and also provide internship and job-shadowing opportunities,” she says.
She reports that PNW BOCES’ construction trade and health academies are “booming.” Students in the traditional trades can earn OSHA accreditation, and students in healthcare programs — including nurse aide, sports medicine, EMT first responder, and patient care technician — can work in rotations at their partner hospitals.
A new program is teaching horizontal directional drilling, which involves a piece of heavy equipment that installs fiber-optic cables without breaking the ground. Trainees work on a simulator donated by the manufacturer. “We partner with Prius and Tesla, and the students learn the software as well as the mechanics,” says Balestrieri.
Numerous other programs, in security, child development, veterinary science, culinary arts, and more are pushing enrollment to all-time highs, she reports. “We are really proud that employers give our students internships that can lead to jobs down the line,” she says. “Our med students have gone on to high-level positions in area hospitals. We just had someone from culinary open a local restaurant. The stories are endless of kids being able to pursue a passion for something.”
What Is SkillsUSA?
The SkillsUSA Championships are career competition events showcasing the best career and technical education students in the nation. Contests begin locally and continue through the state and national levels.
In late April, more than 2,500 students from 83 different trade and technical schools in New York competed in 88 trade- and skill-based contests at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
Students from Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers brought home several prizes from the competition:
- First Place, Extemporaneous Speech: Christina Hernandez
- First Place, Prepared Speech: Nataly Phillipe
- Second Place, Fashion Design: Xavier Polo Cruz
- Second Place, Carpentry: Ryan Quijada
- Third Place, Community Service (3 students): Yajayra Paredes, Shauna Farrell, Mohamed Baker
- Third Place, Electronic Technology: Christopher Altomare
- Third Place, T-shirt Design: Kristina Chopak
Want to become a member of the SkillsUSA organization?
Find out more at nysskillsusa.org.