Work Train Provides an Avenue to New Opportunities

Upon immigrating to Syracuse from Iraq last February, Hayder Abdullah felt the weight of many transitional pressures. Separated from his family and acclimating to a new language, culture, and climate, Abdullah had a hard time adjusting to his new home. While facing such difficulties, securing a job seemed insurmountable but when he received support from a local initiative, things began to fall into place.

“It was very difficult getting acclimated to life in Syracuse and I was having a hard time locating the resources to help me in my job search,” said Abdullah. “I heard about Work Train and was hopeful getting involved would help me on my path to finding a job.”

With the help of a Community Foundation grant and support from other local funders and community partners, CenterState CEO established Work Train to help fill employment gaps for Central New York employers while fostering new career opportunities for the un-and-underemployed. Housed within the Economic Inclusion pillar of CenterState CEO, the initiative is driven by a collaborative of funders and community partners that represent: business, economic development, philanthropy, workforce development, local government, training and education, and grassroots organizations. Since its launch in July 2014, the workforce development platform has transformed the lives of more than 150 people.


Work Train participants take part in a ceremony and celebration after graduating from Loretto’s Certified Nurse Aide Training Program.

“Many individuals in our community are eager to find employment but may need additional skills and preparation to access even entry level jobs,” said Pascale Mevs, Assistant Director of Work Train. “We’ve been working together with partners in our community to design solutions that address this skills gap and the associated challenges.”

Work Train develops solutions for industries with persistent, robust demand that offer good wages and opportunities for career advancement. It does this by bringing together employers, business organizations, educational institutions and community partners to collaborate within Industry Partnerships. Through Industry Partnerships, Work Train identifies local employers’ specialized employment needs and collaborates with local education partners and community service organizations to train interested individuals in those fields before placement. This system has begun to plug a hole in the “skills gap” and connect the supply and demand, both of which are seeking each other out, but sometimes don’t have the vehicle to find each other.

“This work wouldn’t be possible without the commitment and will of our partners in the business and local community that we rely on to help design, test, sustain and scale solutions,” said Mevs. “Local government and foundations, employers, community-based organizations—they’ve all been instrumental in enabling us to connect low-income residents to jobs that have clear career pathways and lead to family-sustaining wages.”

Work Train currently operates Industry Partnerships in manufacturing and healthcare, both of which they are hoping to expand upon. Among its list of health partners – including St. Joseph’s Hospital, Crouse Hospital, SUNY Upstate Hospital, and Loretto – is the Cottages at Garden Grove where Abdullah works as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

“I was always curious about getting involved in nursing so it was the perfect place to start,” said Abdullah. “Work Train was the vital missing piece to my puzzle of finding a career that I love. I’m already starting to think about applying to nursing school.”


Work Train graduates pose for a photograph with their teachers before beginning entry-level positions at local healthcare institutions.

Abdullah, like many refugees, has settled into his newly established life in Syracuse with the help of this collaborative platform. Work Train has not only helped him find a great job, but will work with partners to provide ongoing support services, to ensure success now and far into the future. Upon placement, Work Train continues its work with participants by ensuring that long-term career supports are available. Ultimately this will maintain job retention leading to a very positive impact on the quality of life in Central New York.

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