Workforce Development Challenge

Designed to promote and invest in innovative approaches to workforce training for underserved populations, the Workforce Development Challenge (WDC) was created to ensure the region’s workforce pipeline is responsive to industry demands. The WDC will help scale up organizations doing high-impact, result-oriented workforce training that can demonstrate strong outcomes in training, job placement and retention. It will facilitate partnerships with community and neighborhood-based organizations with proven track records for outreach and recruitment. It will also support target sectors ripe for growth in jobs and career ladder opportunities for entry-level and mid-skill workers, while funding best practice models that maximize collaboration between business and workforce trainers. To qualify for funding, projects must foster workforce development in at least one of the region’s target industry sectors: advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, tourism and hospitality, clean energy and agriculture. In addition, the region sees a growing need for investments in the tech sector, and as all aspect of our economy have become more reliant on the sector during the pandemic, projects that prepare workers for tech occupations across all industry sectors are also encouraged.

The WDC was created by Empire State Development (ESD)—New York’s chief economic development agency, whose mission is to promote a vigorous and growing economy, encourage the creation of new job and economic opportunities, increase revenues to the State and its municipalities, and achieve stable and diversified local economies. The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, with a focus on skills training and education leading to sustainable career pathways and good paying jobs for young adults and families is a funding partner. The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo is the WDC’s grant administrator.

How to Apply

Applications must be submitted electronically online through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo’s Foundant Grant Lifecycle manager. Only applications submitted online through Foundant will be accepted.

Grant Opportunity

The Workforce Development Challenge-Empire State Development will consider proposals that:

  • Support target industry sectors ripe for growth by expanding the workforce pipeline through meaningful industry partnerships leading to industry-driven training
  • Prepare unemployed and underemployed populations for high-demand, higher paying jobs with potential for career advancement
  • Ensure that workers of all skill levels, socioeconomic groups and geographies have opportunities to progress in the labor force
  • Create career opportunities for entry-level and mid-skill workers
  • Provide direct placement into job opportunities through partnerships with industry
  • Respond to industry needs and workforce challenges that may be a direct result of our changing economy from the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Increase the capacity of grassroots, community-based organizations with proven track records in results-oriented workforce training
  • Invest in both innovative approaches to workforce training to better serve industry needs, as well as best practice models that maximize collaboration among industry, employers and workforce trainers

Grant awards are determined by Empire State Development.

Additional Information

Please click here to download the Workforce Development Challenge general information and guidelines.

Please click here to download the Workforce Development Challenge Frequently Asked Questions.




Please check back for updates.


Applicants must:

  • Be a not-for-profit corporation with Section 501(c)(3) status, as determined by the Internal Revenue Service. A not-for-profit corporation must be registered and up-to-date with filings with the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau.
  • Have an established track record of effective training and trusted relationships within communities.
  • Be located in or provide services to Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and/or Allegany counties.
  • Demonstrate the development and financial management expertise to successfully develop, design, construct, manage and implement the project.
  • Demonstrate ownership or site control (i.e., lease or letter of intent to lease) of all real estate considered part of the proposed projects (for capital projects).

Projects must:

  • Foster workforce development in at least one of the region’s target industry sectors, including advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, tourism and hospitality, cleanenergy, agriculture and tech occupations.
  • Be developed in partnership with a business, or multiple businesses to maximize industry focused curriculum development and provide direct job placement
  • Train populations that are out of the labor force, unemployed, underemployed/working poor and/or employed workers seeking upskilling, upgrades and/or career advancements. Preference will be given to those projects that specifically target historically underrepresented people, underemployed populations and employed populations seeking career advancement.
  • Prepare participants with entry and advancement in the aforementioned regional target industries with a preference for high-demand, living wage jobs (i.e., jobs that pay the regional average of about $45,000 a year or more) with career advancement
  • Be a new program or project or expansion of an existing program or project (increase in participants, services, or outreach) and be considered a best-practice model that is able to be replicated
  • Include trainee supports – activities that will be made available to program participants to reduce barriers to training (e.g., childcare, online programming, public transit passes or other transportation supports, career coaching, soft skills or success skills, free or reduced price programming, etc.)


For questions regarding the Community Foundation’s online applications system, please contact Ba Zan Lin at

For all other questions related to the Workforce Development Challenge, please contact John Risio at