Manufacturing program opens doors for Synergy students

EAST HARTFORD — Two Synergy High School seniors, who once lacked the drive to graduate and find a career, have completed a rigorous pre-apprenticeship manufacturing program and landed entry-level positions at Advanced Composites & Metalforming Technology.

At a celebratory ceremony held at Synergy Alternative High School on Friday, 13 students received certificates for completing a 72-hour online training program called ToolingU. Two seniors, Olivia Hernandez and Faviela Delgado, completed an additional 72 hours working as pre-apprentices at ACMT and have signed work commitment letters to work there after graduation.

The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. coordinates the pre-apprenticeship training program, which aims to prepare alternative high school students for entry-level manufacturing jobs while paying students as part-time interns.

Participating companies, including ACMT, Spartan Aerospace in Manchester, and Triumph Manufacturing in East Hartford, helped put together a curriculum for the program.

At Friday’s event, Synergy Principal Craig Outhouse said that nearly 40,000 students are disengaged and disconnected in the state, while thousands of unfilled manufacturing jobs need to be filled.

The pre-apprenticeship program allows students to learn facets of manufacturing they’re interested in, and Outhouse found that manufacturing students had higher attendance rates and grade-point averages, and were better prepared for careers.

Career Development Coordinator Dan Rios said he was impressed by the students’ drive and character, adding that they exceeded expectations by scoring 85 percent or higher on their training evaluations.

Both Hernandez and Delgado transferred to Synergy from East Hartford High School and didn’t know what the future held for them.

“Back then, I didn’t have a future,” Hernandez said, adding that she didn’t know if she’d be able to finish her classes.

Outhouse said that Hernandez needed help finding a path to graduation a year ago, but so much has changed through her involvement in manufacturing. Both women worked in the composites department at ACMT.

She and the other students were given a leg up, Hernandez said, and manufacturing opened doors to them.

The two were chosen for the pre-apprenticeship program based on their grades, and were unsure if they were up to the challenge, but said they ended up enjoying and thriving at ACMT over 3½ months.

“I enjoyed every second of it,” Hernandez said.

Jeffrey Pearce of Education and Workforce Development at CCAT, who oversaw the seniors’ work, said they were unsure of the opportunity at first but over time began putting in their best effort. They “buckled down,” he said, and saw clear improvements in their attendance and attention.

Very few students who participate in the pre-apprenticeship program have any job experience, so it’s a new area of study for them, Pearce said.

Allan Lehrer, president of Spartan Aerospace, said that pre-apprentices can test out various areas within manufacturing to find their passion, such as welding, laser operating, or machines. The program gives them a leg-up to compete with college graduates.

Pre-apprentices are “getting their feet and hands dirty,” he said, becoming valuable employees by learning differently.