Back to the Hudson Valley, but not the old job
When Hyde Park native Elaine Burns returned to the Hudson Valley after a year in Florida, her old job could still have been an option.
She’d spent 14 years as a rehabilitation aide working with developmentally disabled young adults at the Cardinal Hayes Home and liked the work, but it wasn’t going to happen.
“They wanted me back, but I’m a single mom and the hours and days weren’t going to work for me,” she says.
“My mom was working at Sono-Tek and told me there was an opening there. I thought you know what, it would be fun to learn something new.”
Sono-Tek manufactures ultrasonic spray nozzles based on those invented by its founder, Dr. Harvey Berger.
And from the first moment she set foot in the company’s Milton, N.Y. headquarters, Elaine’s preconceived notions about manufacturing work went straight out the window, never to return.
But there was a lot she’d need to learn to thrive.
Enrolling in an apprenticeship training program
Her supervisor, production manager Vince Whipple, told her about the Council of Industry’s Registered Apprentice Program, and in May of 2019, Elaine became an enrolled apprentice in the Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) trade.
The Registered Apprentice Program is designed to work smoothly with an employer’s priorities and give new hires all the support they need.
The one-year IMT program involves 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of instruction, for which apprentices get a subscription to Tooling-U, an online learning program tailored to the needs of the manufacturing industry.
And thanks to a SUNY apprenticeship grant, Elaine’s receiving $5,000 worth of job-related credits at SUNY at Ulster, meaning she can finish up the associate’s degree she started after high school. (Back then, she was studying criminal justice.)
Elaine felt supported and informed after her meeting with Johnnieanne Hansen, Council of Industry’s Vice President of Operations and Workforce Development.
Johnnieanne Hansen, VP Council of Industry, smoothes the way
“Johnnieanne came in and explained the whole thing to me, broke down the details so I’d understand what I was getting into,” says Elaine.
“If I had any questions, I could always go to Vince, and then I or the both of us would email her.
She’s been a Godsend through this whole thing. It’s nice to have that resource, where I know I can pick up the phone or just shoot her an email and say, hey, I’m stuck, what do I do?”
For someone whose entire career has been spent in an utterly different role, advanced manufacturing can feel intimidating at first.
Advanced manufacturing? “No way!”
Sono-Tek’s welcoming corporate culture helped resolve that problem almost before it began. “I never in a million years would’ve ever seen myself working in manufacturing,” says Elaine..”
My mom did it her whole life. I grew up with her coming home and telling me things that she did, but I never fully understood.
When I first got hired I said ‘I don’t know how this is gonna work out.’ Vince and I had an agreement that there would be no hard feelings if it didn’t.
“But my whole vision of what working in manufacturing would be like was squashed the minute I walked in here.
Within the first week, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere. The atmosphere here is like nothing I had ever seen before.”
Now that the apprenticeship is up and running, she has a bright future in that atmosphere.
Through Tooling-U, she’s been able to take OSHA safety classes that Sono-Tek would otherwise have had to provide.
Just a few months into the program, Elaine is beyond the basics into the intricacies of advanced manufacturing, which she now loves.
“Don’t get me wrong, working in the healthcare field with disabled adults was a very rewarding career,” she says. “I watched them grow and reach goals that they never thought were possible and helped make that happen.
“But here, it’s a different type of reward, a tangible satisfaction.
A rewarding choice
It amazes me every day when I build these tiny little cables or generators that go into these gigantic machines — knowing that if it wasn’t for what I just built, and if I hadn’t done it correctly, these machines would not function the way that they do and have the precision that they have.”
She has good reason to feel that what she does matters.
Sono-Tek’s precision ultrasonic coating systems allow manufacturers to “apply precise, thin-film coatings to protect, strengthen or smooth surfaces on parts and components for the microelectronics/electronics, alternative energy, medical and industrial markets, including specialized glass applications in construction and automotive work. “
Applications that Dr.Berger would never have imagined are being discovered all the time.
For Elaine, it feels as satisfying as cooking up a dynamite pot of soup. “I enjoy cooking and baking and seeing people smiling because of something I made, and this is similar,” she says. “Except now I know the ins and outs of building cables and the basics of mechanical assembly.
I can build a medical box and the panel for it, put it all together, make it look all nice before it goes out to the customer, and know it’ll function.”
Tooling-U, she says, gives her access to a skillset beyond the day-to-day needs of her job.
“Online, I’m not only doing things that pertain to my daily work, I’m learning things that I don’t do on a regular basis, like the 3-d printing process, which is very intriguing.
It’s sparked my interest and now I want to actually get into the coding part of it.”
Path to an associates degree
That’s something she plans to pursue while finishing her associate’s degree at SUNY at Ulster, “This is a whole new world for me,” she says, “and I’d recommend this kind of work to anyone who likes that feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day, of being hands-on productive.
I’d always pictured manufacturing jobs as, you know, four walls and an assembly line, but it’s really cool, actually. Very pleasant. I absolutely love it.”
The Council of Industry’s current program
The Council of Industry’s Apprentice Program currently offers six registered trades: Machinist (CNC), Electro-Mechanical Technician, Maintenance Mechanic, Quality Assurance Auditor, Toolmaker and Industrial Manufacturing Technician and typically takes two to four years to complete.
If you are a manufacturing employer or a potential apprentice, contact Johnnieanne Hansen at (845) 565-1355 or [email protected] to discuss details, requirements, and potential opportunities.