TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Led by Ithaca Area Economic Development, local workforce development officials are aiming at a population that is traditionally overlooked, particularly in the modern job market: young adults who have graduated high school but aren’t going to college.

That’s the goal of the new Direct-to-Work pilot program, which has begun its recruiting push and was the subject of an extensive presentation at Monday’s Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee meeting by Danielle Szabo, the new Director of Workforce Innovation for IAED.

The program is a collaboration between IAED, Alliance for Manufacturing and Technology and Idea Kraft, the latter of which will handle marketing the campaign to local youths.

To start, the program will accept 10-12 individuals who have graduated high school but aren’t planning to attend college. They’d be placed into a 6-week training program which would give them an entry-level manufacturing associate certification. For now, the program is only accepting people from either 2020, 2021 or 2022 high school graduating classes. There is also a $500 bonus for completing the class and obtaining the certification.

Szabo said her work often focuses on the manufacturing, construction, healthcare and hospitality industries.

“It’s finding targeted industries that provide inclusive career pathways,” Szabo said. “Meaning getting people into the entry-level, their foot in the door, then working with local employers and educational partners to figure out how people can advance, whether it’s within the organization or within the industry to become mid-skill or even leadership.”

The main success gauges of the program will be seeing how many people apply to be involved, as well as the graduation and certification completion and how it leads to job placement and retention after 30, 60, 90 days and after a year.

“Retention is the key,” she said. “Long-term, we want to reduce the cost of turnover and onboarding for employers.”

In a signifier of the new methods of reaching young people, the marketing is currently being done through YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. In-person work is also being done at TST-BOCES, she said.

The short-term strategy is in motion, but Szabo also made her long-term vision clear, reiterating earlier points about building partnerships throughout industries (manufacturing, healthcare, etc) to craft a reliable pipeline of sorts, but with wide variety of options.

Legislator Randy Brown (R-District 8) inquired about possibly expanding the scope of the program, such as introducing Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) trainings to provide another pathway to work (in an industry going through a particular flux currently).

“In terms of timeline, manufacturing, construction and trades, are [paramount] right now,” Szabo said. “I’m actively engaging with the trade council and working with them to understand what their employment needs are, as well as figuring out how we can create programming for them. But for this pilot, manufacturing is priority. Healthcare as well.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at