SCHENECTADY — Rebecca Conover always wanted to be a nurse, but was squeamish about blood.
So, the Esperance resident began searching for a career that would allow her to help others without the potential gore. After a brief unemployment spell, she found herself working at Schenectady ARC at one of the organization’s dayhab programs.
Six years later, Conover, 26, is now a program manager at one of the nonprofit’s housing units, where she oversees the care of others without the worry of blood.
“This is kind of the best of both worlds,” she said. “You get to interact with people and be that people person, as well as being the nurse — basically passing meds and making sure people are OK.”
Conover is now looking to move up the corporate ladder, having just completed a two-year apprenticeship program available through a partnership with Schenectady ARC, SUNY Schenectady and the state’s Department of Labor.
She and two other ARC employees — Darline Nicolas and Sarah Laird, both 36 — graduated from the program earlier this year and received their certificates at a special ceremony hosted at ARC’s State Street headquarters, where they were joined by state and local officials commemorating National Apprenticeship Week.
The Direct Support Professional Apprenticeship Program, launched in 2019, allows ARC employees to earn up to 25 credits through SUNY Schenectady while continuing to work as a direct support professional at the organization.
Costs for the program are covered by up to $5,000, and the credits can be transferred through to various associate degree programs at SUNY Schenectady. Participants receive 4,000 hours of on-the-job training.
A pair of hourly wage increases of 25 cents are received as participants work their way through the program. A 50-cent raise is earned for those who graduate.
Apprenticeship programs are vital to growing the state’s economy and affording advancement opportunities to those looking to expand their career who lack the financial means, said Roberta Reardon, commissioner of the state’s labor department.
“If you want a career and you want to earn money while earning those skills that you’ll use for the rest of your lives, run out today and find an apprenticeship program,” she said.
Currently, there are more than 18,000 apprentices across the state in various programs, including 1,400 in the Capital Region, Reardon said.
A total of 88 individuals across the state are enrolled in programs catered toward direct support individuals, who will go on to work with individuals with developmental disabilities.
It’s a field that provides critical services to those in need, according to Kirk Lewis, executive director of Schenectady ARC.
Lewis said he hopes to expand the apprenticeship program in the future, which he believes is well suited for the profession, which requires a wide array of knowledge including medicine, psychology and group dynamics that must be utilized on a daily basis.
“The apprenticeship model of learning at the school … and then putting that to work in the program and in the field and learning how those abstract skills apply is a tremendous model and we’re very pleased we have been able to develop it,” Lewis said.
In addition to the three recent graduates, two other ARC employees are making their way through the program, according to Dr. Steady Moono, president of SUNY Schenectady. Moono said the program aligns with the college’s mission to provide high quality education for the entire community.
The graduates, meanwhile, are planning their next move.
Laird, who has worked with ARC for the past eight years, is planning to get her associate degree in human services at SUNY Schenectady starting next semester. Nicolas, who has also spent the last eight years with the organization, is hoping to use her credits to pursue a nursing career. She has applications out to The College of Saint Rose and the Sage Colleges in Albany.
Conover has yet to decide her future plans, but would like to continue working with ARC. She is considering going back to college and is currently eyeing another apprenticeship program geared towards supervisors.
“With me already being a supervisor here, I’m considering looking into it,” she said. “I’m looking to see how far that one will go just to get those experiences, but I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.