In the ever-evolving landscape of workforce development, the Advance 2 Apprenticeship (A2A) program stands as a beacon of inclusivity and innovation. This groundbreaking initiative is not only improving access to apprenticeship opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities but also providing a fresh talent pipeline for New York State manufacturers grappling with workforce challenges.

The term “disabled” often carries a stigma that fails to recognize the inherent capabilities and potential of individuals with diverse abilities. The A2A program challenges this outdated mindset, showcasing the remarkable success stories of apprenticeship programs tailored for individuals with disabilities in the Empire State. Through a powerful video, viewers can witness firsthand the transformative impact of these initiatives, inspiring a shift in perspective and fostering a more inclusive workforce.

Join host Steve Melito as he engages in a thought-provoking dialogue with a dedicated team of workforce professionals spearheading the A2A program. This insightful conversation promises to shed light on the program’s innovative approach, its successes, and the invaluable contributions of individuals with diverse abilities to the manufacturing sector.


Steve Melito: Hey everybody, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Hey, are you a manufacturer? If you are, there’s a good chance. You’re having some workforce challenges these days. You can’t find the workers that you need, you can’t attract candidates with the right skills and it can be hard to get even good people to stick around. That’s why we’ll be talking about a potential solution. It’s called the Advance to Apprenticeship Program, and this employment initiative is providing opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s also helping manufacturers like you and developmental disabilities. It’s also helping manufacturers like you. We’ll be speaking with Colleen Blagg, the Manager of Apprenticeship and Workforce Development at MACNY, the Manufacturers Association of Central New York. We’ll also be talking to two wonderful guests from the University of Rochester. Marilee Boylan is the Director of Employment Programs there and Brandy Solomon is the Employment Project Coordinator. Last but not least, we’ll be speaking with Pat Dowse of the Dowse Factor. Pat is a consultant to MACNY who helped make this podcast happen, and I dare say she’s a force of nature. I’d also like to mention our friend, franca Armstrong of Mohawk Valley Community College, or MVCC. Franca is the Executive Director of Apprenticeship Programs there and I interviewed her for a podcast last fall, so make sure to check that one out. Without further ado, let’s get started. Welcome everyone to New York State Manufacturing Now. So, Colleen Blagg, let’s start with you. There are a lot of people working on workforce challenges, and MACNY is a manufacturers association that already does a lot of different things. Why get involved in workforce development, and what exactly is the Advanced to Apprenticeship Program?

Colleen Blagg: Hi Steve, that’s a really great question. So back in 2016, MACNY started what’s called the Manufacturer’s Intermediary Apprenticeship Program with the help of New York State and the New York State Department of Labor, and we started that program in order to help our manufacturers who are really struggling to fill their middle skilled positions, so tradespeople within the factories, and that apprenticeship program has since expanded across the state. So in every corner of New York state, if you are a manufacturer and you want to start an apprenticeship program to train your employees, you’re able to do so with the help of our alliance. So in central New York, MACNY is a group sponsor of 14 different registered apprenticeship trades in advanced manufacturing, and we also do some software development trades as well. And one of the things that we realized as we have been expanding this program is it’s a great training tool for incumbent workers. But employers were still struggling to find entry-level employees who could then train for a few months and get into a registered apprenticeship program at their factory. So we decided to start two pre-apprenticeship programs, one of which is called the Real Life Roses program and the other one is Advanced to Apprenticeship. So we were approached by the University of Rochester and we tapped Pat Dowse because she’s got such expertise in the field to help individuals who may have a disability with finding careers and career pathways in advanced manufacturing. So the advanced to apprenticeship program is currently in Rochester with the help of our alliance partner RTMA program is currently in Rochester with the help of our alliance partner RTMA, and it is also now in the Mohawk Valley and that is something that MACNY provides a lot of support for the program. And we also have really great partners in Working Solutions, which is the local workforce investment board in the Mohawk Valley and Mohawk Valley Community College. So you did mention Franca earlier. She’s been really instrumental in helping get the program off the ground in the Mohawk Valley Community College. So you did mention Franca earlier. She’s been really instrumental in helping get the program off the ground in the Mohawk Valley. Both our pre apprenticeship programs follow a very similar model. So it’s a 12-week program, it’s free for the participants and the only real requirement to join is that you have an interest in career in manufacturing and you’re over the age of 18 and you’re able to work in the United States. So those are the three main criteria to join the program. We do some employability skills training, so help with power, skills like networking, interviewing skills, resume writing that kind of thing. And we also do an introduction to manufacturing, do an introduction to manufacturing so participants learn CNC machining, an introduction to it, additive manufacturing, some programmable logic controls just different topics in manufacturing. If they’re successful in the program they’re able to go on company tours. So we’ll actually be going on a tour of ConMed later this month so the participants will get an idea of what it’s like to work in manufacturing. And then they will also be able to interview for at least three different registered apprenticeship programs in the Mohawk Valley. So we’ll have employers come on site to Mohawk Valley Community College and interview the participants for their open jobs.

Steve Melito: So that’s great. So currently we’ve got two locations, Mohawk Valley and Rochester, and we’ve got a number of players, all of whom really understand manufacturing and clearly there’s a need. So we’re going to head over to Marilee Boylan from the University of Rochester and Marilee. When I think of U of R, I think of great undergraduate programs and the amazing research that your scientists and scholars do. Why work with MACNY on an apprenticeship initiative? How did this come about?

Marilee Boylan: So we are from the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, which is one of three university centers of excellence in developmental disabilities across our state. We look at research and apply it to practice, so we are trying to get folks who have developmental disabilities to enter the workforce. We were able to receive a five-year grant through the Council on Developmental Disabilities that allowed us to create this pilot project to help people improve their access to apprenticeship work opportunities. It’s really a foundational course meant to allow students to explore the manufacturing field or, if they already are in the field, maybe they’re bumping up their skill level. The course itself utilizes a lower student-teacher ratio, there’s built-in tutoring and there’s wraparound community supports as well that are available. In addition, that we’re offering training to give the community, college and the businesses additional tools in hiring and instructing people with various learning styles. And the reason why this is so important is that we understand from research that if you look at the current labor shortages and the trajectory, some of the research is really indicating that there could be 2 million unfilled jobs by 2030. And that really brought to the forefront that diversifying the manufacturing workforce is an important tool for manufacturers to try to get more people through the door, and that includes people with disabilities. So we’re trying to just remind people that disabilities is also a good pool of candidates to consider.

Steve Melito: Absolutely so. Brandi Solomon, you work with Merrilee at U of R and I’ve got a tough question for you. My friend, some of the manufacturers who are listening are probably wondering about the skill levels that they might see and, frankly, they may also be concerned about whether the folks they’ll engage with are going to have the ongoing support that they need. What would you say to them?

Brandy Solomon: Well, thanks for that question, Steve. I would say that Advanced to Apprenticeship and similar programs that include pre-apprenticeship instruction equips your future workforce with skills to make them highly effective employees for you. In our program, students get a taste of the world of manufacturing and gain skills that involve basic industry overview, effective communication, teamwork, dynamics, time management and OSHA 10 certification, just to name a few, all in preparation to support technical instruction and ultimately become a registered apprenticeship at your company. Each person will continue to up-skill within your organization based on the principles and processes of your company. Each person has the ability and is expected to adhere to the existing standards, while remaining open to training and coaching on your way of doing things as they increase their proficiency in their role. The supports received both externally and internally will be ongoing, based on the support needs of each person and ultimately, are vital to well-trained employee retention.

Steve Melito: You hit a home run with that, Brandi. That’s a great answer and it really brings it back to the fact that it’s not just about doing the right thing. It’s also about training people in a way that they can have rewarding careers at manufacturing establishments, helping those companies. So thank you for that answer. After hearing everything so far, some manufacturers may still be skeptical that this type of program can work. So I got to ask you has a New York State manufacturer ever engaged people with disabilities in a successful apprenticeship program?

Pat Dowse: And the answer is yes, resounding yes. Part of the reason that this project actually won the hearts and the funding from the Council on Developmental Disabilities is because of a pioneer by the name of Frank Falatyn. With Fala Technologies down in the Hudson Valley region, federal contracts engaged some people to work and he realized that they were individuals who might need some additional supports in order to be successful on the job. With that in mind, frank contacted the local independent living center. There are independent living centers throughout New York State that can assist any business to support an employee who has a disability or acquires a disability. You know, so often, Steve, we talk about people with disabilities, helping them find jobs, when the reality is that anyone on your workforce could become somebody who is challenged by a physical or mental or health disability these days, and that doesn’t mean that you need to lose them as an employee. So I want to put a little plug in there for reminding people that this isn’t always just about the first time someone’s getting a job. They indeed could be people that are already valued as employees and you want to keep them on the job, are already valued as employees and you want to keep them on the job, and certainly small, medium-sized manufacturers that are part of your FuzeHub audience are also needing to keep those valued employees. So, but Frank saw the need and the interest. He worked with a local university to find candidates and then worked to develop a program called Steps, and I understand, actually, Steve, that Frank is interested in promoting that around the state as well. So it might be something you would consider bringing to your audience as well is what goes on in Steps and how that works. But it was his start that helped us look at how to build Advanced to Apprenticeship. He actually sits on our advisory committee and keeps an eye on the things that we’re building to make sure that they are coordinated and working. He has two, I believe, employees now that he values immensely that have a neurodiversity disability. They are part of a video that we’ve created and we’ll be happy to share that with you and you can share that, too with your audience, and we’ll be happy to share that with you and you can share that, too, with your audience at some point in the future if you’d like.

Steve Melito: Excellent, we will do that.

Colleen Blagg: I do want to add that Fala Technologies out in the Hudson Valley, which she’s talking about, Frank, they are part of our registered apprenticeship program too, so they do offer their employees at Fala Technologies the ability to become registered apprentices with New York State Department of Labor, and the two individuals in the video are registered apprentices, so it’s a really great training method and way to up-skill your employees too.

Pat Dowse: So he’d be somebody that, as a business owner, he is the president and CEO of the company, being able to talk to other colleagues around. How to start this all? Get it connected to MACNY. Look at the ability to build apprentice opportunities in your company. He’s definitely a good guy for that kind of stuff, Steve.

Steve Melito: Good to know and I’d like to have him on the podcast at some point. So, frank, if you’re listening, I’ll be back in touch with you. We’ve spoken before. So, pat, that’s great information. We have a success story. Colleen and Marilee, do you have some other examples of how your programming has helped manufacturers in the Mohawk Valley and Rochester regions?

Colleen Blagg: Okay. So we did just run our first pilot program in the Mohawk Valley last fall and we had several different companies came and had the ability to interview our candidates for open positions. So we did have Wolfspeed Indium Corporation and Semikron Danfoss were able to come on site to Mohawk Valley Community College and interview eight people all in a row for their open positions. So it does save the recruiters a lot of time and effort because, as you can imagine, it can be really difficult to schedule all those people and actually have them show up number one. So that’s been really great and we have had some feedback from our employers that they were really impressed with the candidates. Several of them were offered positions and I believe one of the participants is now in a mechatronics course at MVCC with the hopes of getting into an apprenticeship soon.

Steve Melito: That’s great. I mean those are some names. Certainly in the Mohawk Valley and beyond that people are familiar with Marilee. Anything in the Rochester region you can point to as a success.

Marilee Boylan: Yep. So our first cohort is finishing now or winding down, and we have a person who is in a welding course, so they are wrapping up the course and starting to do some kind of shadows and looking at different business opportunities.

Brandy Solomon: Additionally, in the Rochester area we have had the opportunity through our TMA, which is our Rochester Technology and Manufacturing Association, to conduct business trainings on embracing greater diversity and making sure that they have that, you know, primer, to get them ready to accept the students that are coming through Advanced to Apprenticeship and other diverse students that are coming, you know, from other areas. We just want them ready and willing and open to take in this untraditionally not seen workforce so that the process and moving from the technical instruction into the employment scope, trying to really develop where they want to be in the welding world, that is very vast.

Steve Melito: That’s fantastic.

Colleen Blagg: I do want to mention that SUNY has just made some funding available for incentives for employers who are interested in hiring pre-apprentices or putting a pre-apprentice through a pre-apprenticeship program and then into registered apprenticeships. So there are some incentive dollars right now through SUNY to be able to do that and there are also dollars available now to train your incumbent workers who might be entry-level employees through a pre-apprenticeship program. There’s funding for tuition and so if you want to send an employee who you think has some potential but maybe need some additional help in some coursework, they’re also welcome to join the Advanced to Apprenticeship program to get kind of more of a background in manufacturing before you move them into a registered apprenticeship.

Pat Dowse: So Steve Colleen is reinforcing the state supports federally, though it’s important to note and I’m sure many businesses are paying attention to this that there’s a commitment from the existing administration to continue to build apprenticeship opportunities throughout the country. So MACNY has applied and we are waiting eagerly to hear. But we’re thinking June could be the magic month where we would understand whether or not we’ve been successfully able to get some additional federal funding to take advance to apprenticeship throughout the state. So I know your folks that are listening are from all over New York State. Never fear, you’re not going to have to just come to Mohawk Valley or to Rochester. Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to take this to your local community college at any point in time. So being able to reach out to Colleen at MACNY and take a look at, explore what it means to be a part of a pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship process now would be good planning as far as I’m concerned, from a business perspective.

Steve Melito: I think so. And, Colleen, if someone’s listening to this and they just say I don’t want to wait, I want to talk to Colleen Blagg now, how do they get in touch with you?

Colleen Blagg: They are free to call me or they can email me. My email address is cblagg at That’s C as in cat B as in boy, L-A-G-G at

Steve Melito: Excellent, thank you. Hey, Pat. I’d like to give you the last question, because you were so instrumental in making today’s podcast happen, and I’d like to play a little bit of word association with you. One is a term that you used before on neurodiversity, and the second is a term people with you. One is a term that you used before on neurodiversity, and the second is a term people with disabilities. What do you want manufacturers to understand about those two terms?

Pat Dowse: They’re clinical terms. They’re not terms that should ever define a person’s capacity to be who they are and can be. We have terms that have to get used throughout our lives in order to make us eligible for different things, and I would suggest to you that those are terms that create that. Each of us has a set of abilities. Some of us are challenged by different things. Neurodiversity, some would argue, is a challenge, and those that live in that realm are amazing people that don’t have to worry about anything because they see their world the way they want to. We need to embrace all abilities and stop worrying about what the dis-ability might be. Nothing about us without us is a phrase that everyone should be using because we’re a part of this world, and so our programs here are helping manufacturers recognize that there are people out there that are ready, willing and able to learn about their industry and to be a successful employee. So reach out to MACNY, touch base with Colleen, see Brandy and Marilee through the work that they’re doing at the University of Rochester, and your industries are going to be stronger and we’re going to do great things here in New York in the manufacturing world.

Steve Melito: I love it. And if all else fails, she can’t get a hold of anybody reach out to FuzeHub and I’ll make sure to get you in touch with the right person. So thank you everyone today for being a part of New York State Manufacturing Now.

Marilee Boylan: Thanks for having me, thanks for the opportunity, thank you.

Steve Melito: You, betcha. So you’ve been listening to our podcast about the Advanced to Apprenticeship Program and before we go today, I wanted to share a statistic with you. Before we go today, I wanted to share a statistic with you. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22.5% of people with a disability were employed in 2023. That’s the highest level since data was first collected in 2008, but it also means that 77.5% of people with a disability were unemployed. We can do better, especially in a time of unprecedented workforce challenges. Advance to apprenticeship is a step in the right direction and I hope that you’ll consider it. On behalf of New York State Manufacturing Now. This is Steve Melito signing off.

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