Our Blog

Meet Sonja Brown – Regional Director at the Workforce Development Institute (WDI)

Post: Sep. 17, 2019

Sonja Brown and Harold King at the 2019 Manufacturing Champions Award Breakfast 

Sonja Brown is the Regional Director at the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) in the lower Hudson Valley: Westchester and Putnam county. She works directly with employers in the area by “listening to their challenges and finding innovative solutions to help the business get through their struggles.” Whether it’s a non-profit, union, business, government or education provider, Sonja does her part to help them all.

WDI is a statewide non-profit organization with a range of tools – including ground level information, workforce expertise, and funding – to facilitate projects that build skills and strengthen employers’ ability to hire and promote workers. This often fills gaps not covered by other organizations and is accomplished through partnerships and collaborations.

Sonja has always had a passion for helping others. Before becoming a Regional Director at WDI she owned her own business, which used State and Federal funds to help students and their families in Westchester get through difficult times. Sonja recognized that there are many barriers to learning that school districts can’t solve on their own. They need additional support to provide students with the education they deserve. She worked with families who were struggling to the pay rent, feed their children or find stable jobs and helped give them the resources, services and support they needed for their children to succeed at school.

Sonja told us that the experience she gained helping these families prepared her for her job today at WDI. “You see the challenge, you find the solution and you form good networks and partnerships to provide the best support for the problem.” Throughout her time at WDI Sonja has worked with several members of the Council of Industry to help solve their workforce challenges. She told us that most manufacturers come to WDI needing assistance with training employees and updating equipment.

After years of use equipment gets worn down or outdated causing companies to lose their competitive edge, and updating old equipment or purchasing new state of the art machines can be a costly endeavor. Sonja has helped a handful of manufacturers get that updated equipment without messing up their budget, and in some cases the company is even able to bring on more employees as a result. “It’s a win for everyone.” Said Sonja. “WDI wins, the employers win, the employees win and even the individuals looking to get hired win.”

WDI also offers training for current employees and for individuals who are looking to enter the industry. As the manufacturing workforce continues to change and the need for skilled employees grows, Sonja has provided manufacturers with the financial help needed to develop their workforce. Mandated certifications can popup at difficult times but WDI is available to help. Sonja also told us that in the case that WDI’s funding is insufficient for the employers needs she does the necessary research to find additional funding mechanisms to cover the remaining cost.

Sonja shared with us that the application process is so simple even she struggled to believe it when she first started. The entire application is under 6 pages long and it’s all about your company, what you need the money for and your projections on how it will impact the business. A Regional Director, like Sonja, works along side you to fill out the application and in under a week you will know if you’ve been approved. “We know that these employers don’t need help tomorrow, they need help today,” said Sonja, which is why WDI has worked hard to simplify the entire process.  

Sonja’s hard work and dedication has been a huge help to the Council of Industry and many of its members. Earlier this year the Council of Industry recognized WDI by awarding them with the Supporting Organization Award at the 2019 Manufacturing Champion Awards Breakfast. WDI was selected because of the significant role that Sonja and Mary Jane Bertram, Regional Director of the Upper Hudson Valley, have played in helping our members address their workforce opportunities and challenges.

If you’re interested in speaking with Sonja about how she can help you, you can contact her at sbrown@wdiny.org. If you’re located in Sullivan, Orange, Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia or Rockland county you can reach Mary Jane at mjbertram@wdiny.org for more information. To learn more about Mary Jane you can read her spotlight article here.