BUFFALO, N.Y. – WNY Tech Skills Initiative is all about breaking down barriers, helping New Yorkers learn new skills for a new job.

It all starts by getting rid of needing a physical space to learn. The Tech Space at M&T Bank's Lafayette Court location has been empty since March, with its employees working remotely. While M&T was able preserve its workforce, many companies across Western New York were forced to make layoffs, leaving more offices empty.

In the summer, an idea was born, explains Sarah Tanbakuchi, a Senior Tech Manager at M&T Bank.

"We recognized that the community was really hurting, feeling the economic impact of  COVID-19,"  Tanbakuchi said. "So, we asked ourselves and our community partners, what can we do?"

The answer was simple. Give people an opportunity to better their skill-set in the one industry that just keeps growing: technology.

"So, the four focus areas are intro to coding, data analysis, digital marketing and user experience," Tanbakuchi explained.

You don't need experience to become one of the 3,000 participants, rather a degree in curiosity. The first phase is underway now, and is self-taught.

Then, phase two will get underway next month and participants have instructors. Phase three is set to begin either March or April and is a ten week course. Did we mention this is all free?

"This is part of an emerging economy," Oswaldo Mestre, the City of Buffalo’s Chief Service Officer & Director of Citizen Services said. "We are a blue-collar city and these are the blue-collar jobs of the future. Be part of this."

Mestre says the unemployment rate in Buffalo is 11%, and this program will be a game changer to bridge the gap.

"One of the departments that I run is a call center,"Mestre said. "We are using technology, data analysis, and we are talking about opportunities, this may be a feeder to that."

If you're worried about getting connected, that's where Goodwill of WNY and the dozen other community partners come in.

"Over 90 percent of the jobs that were lost in the city of Buffalo were in a few miles of our location," Tom Ulbrich the President and CEO of Goodwill of WNY said. "So, we have computer labs, we have access that's easy to get to and support systems for some of the people who are in the programs."

Ulbrich says a recent study the Goodwill conducted showed if at least 4 to 5% of the minority community learned these types of tech skills it would mean 6,200 jobs in the community.

"Which would lead to more than a $1 million for a person who had one of these jobs over their career and almost $8.5 billion of economic impact over those 40 years in just one community," Ulbrich said.

It's possible now and just a click away. To enroll in WNY Tech Skills Initiative: Text SKILLS to 716-710-6901 or visit this link.

"We believe in order to lead to sustained economic recovery, a diverse and inclusive workforce is absolutely necessary," Tanbakuchi said.

The new initiative is step one toward M&T Bank's Tech Academy. It will be located at its new space in Seneca One.