Finger Lakes Youth Apprenticeship Program provides opportunity for soon-to-be grads

Finger Lakes Youth Apprenticeship Program provides opportunity for soon-to-be grads

East High Finger Lakes Youth Apprentices with Shaun Nelms, superintendent of East Upper and Lower School. (Photo submitted)

Last year, Chris Magee was conducting virtual interviews for his company, Micro Instrument Corp., through the Finger Lakes Youth Apprenticeship Program when he started talking to a senior at Rush Henrietta Senior High School who had no idea what she wanted to do after graduation.

“I explained who and what Micro is, and we agreed that it would be mutually beneficial for her to come in for a half-day shadow experience,” said Magee, senior job leader and apprenticeship and workforce development coordinator at the business.

The young women went to the Rochester-based manufacturer and spent a couple of hours each with a senior level machinist and a senior controls technician, in addition to having a full shop tour.

She expressed an interest in the controls department and Micro brought her in for a paid co-op for the remainder of the school year.

Once she graduated, she began working there on a full-time basis.

“We are so pleased with her progress, her work ethic and all-around pleasant nature,” Magee said. “We foresee her soaring to great heights within our company.”

Magee said Mico would never have had the opportunity to meet the recruit had it not been for FLYAP.

This week marks National Apprenticeship Week. It is a nationwide celebration where industry, labor, equity, workforce, education and government leaders host events to highlight the successes and value of registered apprenticeships for rebuilding the economy, advancing racial and gender equity and supporting underserved communities.

Those who have been involved with FLYAP said it has been doing its part to meet those challenges.

The apprenticeship program — the only one of its kind for advanced manufacturing in the state — is about career exploration. It connects students with advancing manufacturing companies, leading to job shadowing opportunities and paid co-ops.

Launched in the fall of 2019 by the Rochester Technology and Manufacturing Association and Monroe Community College, FLYAP partners with every BOCES and career and technical education high school in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region.

To date, FLYAP has registered nearly 500 students for career exploration opportunities at 150 businesses in the region.

The apprenticeship program is one of many efforts the RTMA makes to emphasize the benefits of a career in advanced manufacturing.

Last month, the organization hosted the inaugural ROC With Your Hands event in Rochester.

It featured dozens of employers who highlighted various careers, offered hands-on demonstrations and provided information on their respective fields.

Students attend ROC With Your Hands event in October in Rochester
Students attend ROC With Your Hands event in October in Rochester. (Photo submitted)

Hundreds of students in grades seven through 12 across Monroe County and the city of Rochester were exposed to careers in advanced manufacturing, skilled trades, automotive technology and heavy equipment. Students, teachers and chaperones were also provided free merchandise and lunch was also provided at no charge.

ROC With Your Hands — which organizers said would become a regular event — was held in partnership with the city of Rochester, Monroe County, the Finger Lakes Youth Apprenticeship Program, Monroe Community College, RochesterWorks!, UNiCON Rochester and the Builders Exchange of Rochester.


Bob Coyne, RTMA executive director, said the RTMA’s vision is to create a pathway for careers in advanced manufacturing.

“It starts with career education and exploration,” Coyne said.

The ROC with Your Hands event provides the first step, with the FLYAP then allowing for career exploration through job shadowing and paid co-ops for students in grades 11 and 12.

Additionally, the RTMA is a group sponsor for more than 15 trades in the advanced manufacturing sector, where, as adults, they get hired in organizations that offer registered apprenticeship programs, which allows the participants to enroll and earn while they learn, he explained.

“That means that you work full time and get paid and go to school at night one class a semester,” Coyne said, adding that the RTMA currently has funding to cover those expenses, resulting in no cost for education and training to the apprentice.

Micro’s Magee said the FLYAP program allows the company to bring entry level students/employees into its facility for a paid co-op, which he views as a sort of test drive for all involved.

It gives Micro the opportunity to work closely with each candidate, as they are paired with a senior employee.

This also gives the student a chance to experience the company, he noted.

During that time, students can determine if Micro is a good fit for them and if they are, in turn, a good fit for Micro, he explained.

“It also provides great soft skills training as they can experience what it’s like in a workplace, how do other employees behave and act and the daily duties they complete,” Magee said.

Scott Nolen, president inTEST Process Technologies, which includes Rochester-based Ambrell Corp., said FLYAP is an asset when promoting the business to potential employees.

“Once employees are in the program it helps with retention since you need to stay in your current role while in the program in order to finish,” Nolen said. “The employees we have in the program have very positive feedback and their skills are improving with each class.”

Nolen also praised ROC With Your Hands, which he said was not only beneficial for future recruitment but also provided development opportunities for some of the company’s junior employees.

“We used a number of shop employees as hosts at our booth and they all came away with a great experience from showing our business to the next generation,” he said.

RTMA has helped Ontario, Wayne County-based OptiPro in many ways, its leaders said, by helping graduate six of Optipro’s employees from the apprenticeship program and transition them into roles as journey workers.

The program ensures that OptiPro’s employees receive on the job training as well as education outside the workplace, in the classroom, at a local college, said Mike Bechtold, OptiPro president.

“It is great seeing our employees go above and beyond to ensure that they receive all the knowledge and experience that is being offered to them,” he said. “Our current employees are given a great opportunity through the RTMA to expand their knowledge and education at no cost to them through the grants that RTMA helps secure.”

The Finger Lakes Youth Apprentice Program has been a great addition for OptiPro, added Rob Bechtold, the company’s vice president, noting that some high school students do not want to go to college and this program allows them to start on-the-job training before they graduate.

“We love having high school juniors and seniors come into OptiPro to give them the opportunity to learn in a hands-on way what we do and what OptiPro and manufacturing is all about,” he said.

The two said students don’t always get the opportunity for real world experience before they graduate high school and enter the workforce.

“We are thrilled to be able to contribute to their learning and advancement in the manufacturing and optics world,” Mike Bechtold said. “Our hope is that OptiPro can help provide on the job experience to these students and that it will lead them back to OptiPro after high school for employment.”

For more information on the FLYAP, go to

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