Skip to main contentSkip to main navigationSkip to footer content

College Awarded $1 Million To Expand Apprenticeship Programs

Sarah Laird working in warehouse


When she graduated from the Direct Support Professional (DSP) Certificate program and earned the DSP Apprenticeship Title, Sarah Laird ’21, a Work Area Leader at Schenectady ARC, said she had a deeper understanding of those with disabilities.

“I have definitely gained a lot of experience at ARC and the DSP Certificate at SUNY Schenectady and apprenticeship brought me to the next level,” she said.

“I learned more in-depth about different disabilities by taking the Psychology of Disabilities course and Human Services courses. I felt like there was a good partnership between ARC and SUNY Schenectady. There was a lot of support for us. They were our cheerleaders and they wanted us to succeed.”

SUNY Schenectady was recently awarded another $1 million through 2025 for apprenticeship programs, one of only 42 organizations across the state awarded funding through the Workforce Development Initiative Consolidated Funding Application grant. Apprenticeships provide a no-cost/low-cost way for those in the industry to expand their skills through hands-on training at their place of work and related instruction at the College. Under SUNY Apprenticeship funds, apprentices have $5,000 to support tuition and other related expenses (fees, books, equipment). 

SUNY Schenectady and Schenectady ARC began partnering on the development and implementation of the DSP Apprenticeship Program in 2017, making it the first of its kind in the Capital Region. SUNY Schenectady is the SUNY fiscal lead for apprenticeship programs in healthcare. The College began with a $1 million award from New York State in the 2016/2017 academic year for health care apprenticeships. Initial focus was on the DSP and has expanded to Certified Nursing Assistant and Community Health Worker titles among others.

Sarah Wilson-Sparrow, Vice President of Workforce Development and Community Education, sees apprenticeships as a way to respond to the need for skilled employees in health care and other fields.

“The pandemic made apprenticeships difficult, especially in health care. This new funding will allow us to move past the pandemic and support apprenticeship titles that exist now, as we also develop new ones. Apprenticeship programs support partnering companies in the retention, promotion, improved wage progression, and upskilling of their workforce which is a win-win for the employer and employee.”

She pointed to the new Brewer/Distiller Apprenticeship title approved by the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) this summer and noted that other titles in Biological Technician, Pharmacy Technician, and Central Sterile Processing Technician are also in the pipeline.

Sarah Laird in warehouse

More about Sarah Laird's DSP Apprenticeship Program Experience

Sarah has worked at ARC for eight years, first as a Team Leader for Life Prep 2, a day program, working with clients on their goals and life skills, helping them to live as independently as possible. When SUNY Schenectady and Schenectady ARC began partnering on the DSP Apprenticeship Title, Sarah took advantage of the opportunity to attend the College and expand her knowledge of the role of Direct Support Professionals, who provide support to those with disabilities or chronic conditions and the elderly.

Here’s how it works: Sarah had a mentor, also called a journey worker, at Schenectady ARC and worked with her mentor on fulfilling the goal areas of the DSP Certificate program including best practices in community support, crisis management and prevention, empowering and advocating for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, understanding wellness and effective communications, and learning how to teach and support others. As part of the apprenticeship program, the cost of attending SUNY Schenectady for her DSP Certificate was covered.

She worked full time, and went to school part time attending online classes during the pandemic. In December 2021, she graduated with her DSP Certificate from the College and in April 2021 she earned her DSP Apprenticeship Title.

Sarah is now a Work Area Leader at Pine Ridge Industries, part of Schenectady ARC, working with an integrated group of employees, individuals with disabilities and those without, as they package and ship items for local businesses.

Now that she holds the DSP Apprenticeship Title, Sarah will become a mentor/journey worker to someone else in the program. She also plans to go back to college.

“I was 35 at the time I started the apprenticeship and as an adult I wanted to go back to school, but I didn’t have the money or the motivation. This helped me out of my comfort zone and it was paid for through my employer. I want to go back to school again for my bachelor’s degree in DSP.”