SCHENECTADY — Austin Manhey has always been interested in craft brewing, but never imagined he would become a brewer.
But when Manhey, 24, graduated with a criminal justice degree at the onset of the pandemic, he faced difficulty finding a job and eventually began working at Frog Alley Brewing, where he has slowly been learning a number of jobs over the last two years, including a bit about the brewing process.
He immediately took a liking to it, which is why when he was approached about enrolling in a new apprenticeship program Frog Alley recently formed with SUNY Schenectady and the state’s Department of Labor that would allow him to gain hands-on experience in becoming a brewer while earning college credit, Manhey jumped at the opportunity.
On Tuesday, he became the first person enrolled in the state’s craft brewer/distiller registered apprenticeship program, which will see him complete 3,000 hours of on-the-job training and classroom work over a 20-month period at Frog Alley, where he hopes to continue to work as a brewer once he completes the program.
“You never know where life is going to take you,” Manhey said.
But for the growing number of breweries and distilleries that have cropped up across the state in recent years, the hope is that the program will lead to a more robust workforce.
The number of craft breweries across New York has exploded in recent years, from 49 in 2012 to 490 this year, according to the New York State Brewers Association.
In the Capital Region alone, there are 84 registered breweries and 32 distilleries, which support hundreds of jobs and account for millions in wages and tax revenue annually according to Mark Eagan, president and CEO for the Center of Economic Growth.
Breweries in Schenectady County employed 64 and paid over $2 million in wages in 2020 alone, Eagan said.
“Not only are these businesses impacting our economies and workforce, but they’re adding vibrancy, and yes, flavor, to our communities,” he said during a press conference Tuesday celebrating the first participants in the apprenticeship program.
In addition to Frog Alley, Albany Distilling Co. has also agreed to participate in the program.
John Curtin, who founded the distilling company 10 years ago, said the industry’s recent growth has made it difficult to find brewers and distillers with the right knowledge and experience.
The apprenticeship program, he added, will ensure the growing industry has the workforce needed to continue expanding.
“Without a long-term plan, this industry does not have a future,” Curtin said. “What we’re seeing here today is one of the key facets of the long-term plan and that is providing a workforce so that as our industry grows, there are people who are there that can grow with us.”
Apprenticeship programs have become increasingly popular in New York in recent years, according to Roberta Reardon, commissioner of the state’s Department of Labor.
There are currently 18,386 registered apprentices being trained across 975 programs throughout the state. The number of programs grew by 33 during the pandemic.
“It’s through apprenticeship programs like this that we are able to keep jobs local, we get to develop a skilled workforce right here and we get to expand and sustain this industry,” she said.
Rich Michaels, a master brewer at Frog Alley, agreed.
“It’s a great industry and one of the challenges is finding skilled employees,” he said. “This is a great way to help us train people entering the industry.”
Michaels currently teaches brewing classes at SUNY Schenectady, but said the hands-on experience gained through the apprenticeship program will help elevate students further.
Manhey, meanwhile, is currently enrolled in an introduction to craft brewing class at SUNY Schenectady, which recently migrated its brewing classes to Frog Alley.
The class is preparing to make its first beer, which he said he’s excited for.
“Making a beer and watching people drink that beer just brings a lot of joy,” he said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.