Workforce Development

Meet Sonja Brown – Regional Director at the Workforce Development Institute (WDI)

Sonja Brown and Harold King at the 2019 Manufacturing Champions Award Breakfast 

Sonja Brown is the Regional Director at the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) in the lower Hudson Valley: Westchester and Putnam county. She works directly with employers in the area by “listening to their challenges and finding innovative solutions to help the business get through their struggles.” Whether it’s a non-profit, union, business, government or education provider, Sonja does her part to help them all.

WDI is a statewide non-profit organization with a range of tools – including ground level information, workforce expertise, and funding – to facilitate projects that build skills and strengthen employers’ ability to hire and promote workers. This often fills gaps not covered by other organizations and is accomplished through partnerships and collaborations.

Sonja has always had a passion for helping others. Before becoming a Regional Director at WDI she owned her own business, which used State and Federal funds to help students and their families in Westchester get through difficult times. Sonja recognized that there are many barriers to learning that school districts can’t solve on their own. They need additional support to provide students with the education they deserve. She worked with families who were struggling to the pay rent, feed their children or find stable jobs and helped give them the resources, services and support they needed for their children to succeed at school.

Sonja told us that the experience she gained helping these families prepared her for her job today at WDI. “You see the challenge, you find the solution and you form good networks and partnerships to provide the best support for the problem.” Throughout her time at WDI Sonja has worked with several members of the Council of Industry to help solve their workforce challenges. She told us that most manufacturers come to WDI needing assistance with training employees and updating equipment.

After years of use equipment gets worn down or outdated causing companies to lose their competitive edge, and updating old equipment or purchasing new state of the art machines can be a costly endeavor. Sonja has helped a handful of manufacturers get that updated equipment without messing up their budget, and in some cases the company is even able to bring on more employees as a result. “It’s a win for everyone.” Said Sonja. “WDI wins, the employers win, the employees win and even the individuals looking to get hired win.”

WDI also offers training for current employees and for individuals who are looking to enter the industry. As the manufacturing workforce continues to change and the need for skilled employees grows, Sonja has provided manufacturers with the financial help needed to develop their workforce. Mandated certifications can popup at difficult times but WDI is available to help. Sonja also told us that in the case that WDI’s funding is insufficient for the employers needs she does the necessary research to find additional funding mechanisms to cover the remaining cost.

Sonja shared with us that the application process is so simple even she struggled to believe it when she first started. The entire application is under 6 pages long and it’s all about your company, what you need the money for and your projections on how it will impact the business. A Regional Director, like Sonja, works along side you to fill out the application and in under a week you will know if you’ve been approved. “We know that these employers don’t need help tomorrow, they need help today,” said Sonja, which is why WDI has worked hard to simplify the entire process.  

Sonja’s hard work and dedication has been a huge help to the Council of Industry and many of its members. Earlier this year the Council of Industry recognized WDI by awarding them with the Supporting Organization Award at the 2019 Manufacturing Champion Awards Breakfast. WDI was selected because of the significant role that Sonja and Mary Jane Bertram, Regional Director of the Upper Hudson Valley, have played in helping our members address their workforce opportunities and challenges.

If you’re interested in speaking with Sonja about how she can help you, you can contact her at If you’re located in Sullivan, Orange, Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia or Rockland county you can reach Mary Jane at for more information. To learn more about Mary Jane you can read her spotlight article here.

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Meet Mary Jane – Regional Director at the Workforce Development Institute (WDI)


Mary Jane is the Regional Director at the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) in the seven counties: Sullivan, Orange, Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia and Rockland. Her job is to work with partners in the region on expanding, promoting and retaining the workforce. Mary Jane works with non-profits, unions, businesses, government and education providers to identify regional workforce challenges and find solutions to those problems. WDI also gathers data on the jobs of tomorrow and uses that information to help prepare the future workforce and employers in an effort to keep those jobs in the region.

WDI is a statewide non-profit organization with a range of tools – including ground level information, workforce expertise, and funding – to facilitate projects that build skills and strengthen employers’ ability to hire and promote workers. This often fills gaps not covered by other organizations and is accomplished through partnerships and collaborations.

Mary Jane has helped countless organizations within the Hudson Valley region, including the Council of Industry. She played a big role in launching the Council of Industry’s NYS Registered Apprentice Program and maintaining its success. Every registered company is eligible for $2,000 per apprentice to offset the cost of running the program. Mary Jane helped to simplify the application process for this money by creating a “common app.” Participating companies are now only required to fill in a small section of information in a pre-populated application form, significantly reducing the amount of time and paperwork this process would typically demand. This has been a huge factor in motivating participating companies to apply for the grant. “The apprentice program model has proven itself to be the best way to prepare and train your upcoming workforce.” Said Mary Jane, “It’s important to expand and deepen these opportunities.”

The Council of Industry’s Apprentice Program officially reached over 60 Apprentices in April and continues to grow. The program is supporting apprentices all throughout the Hudson Valley region and on Long Island. Through a combination of on-the-job training and related instruction the program is designed to help improve and expand upon the apprentices’ overall understanding of the trade as well as the manufacturing industry overall. There are currently six registered trades: Machinist (CNC)Electro-Mechanical TechnicianMaintenance MechanicQuality Assurance AuditorToolmaker and Industrial Manufacturing Technician. Upon completion of the program apprentices receive a nationally recognized accreditation as a journey level worker.

Mary Jane has made a major impact on the manufacturing industry specifically. She’s done her part in helping to keep manufacturers from leaving the state when they outgrow their facilities, and helped companies “upscale” some of their employees with grants to pay for online training. Many companies can become intimidated by the thought of applying for grants. However, WDI has an interactive grant program that simplifies and streamlines the application process. Regional staff work with you directly to understand the issues at hand and then help develop a response. Once completed, turnaround is quick, allowing the entire process to move forward in a timely manner.

Mary Jane’s efforts have not gone unrecognized. WDI was honored last Friday, May 17th, at the 2019 Manufacturing Champions Award Breakfast. WDI was recognized as the organization champion for their work in identifying targeted strategies that address workforce development opportunities and challenges. WDI believes that a healthy manufacturing base is a key driver to grow the rest of the economy and they’re interested in seeing the new jobs of manufacturing – with solid wages and career trajectories – come to New York State. Mary Jane was unable to attend the event, but Sonja Brown, Regional Director in Westchester who has also worked closely with the Council of Industry and many of its members, was able to accept the award.

Mary Jane’s hard work and dedication has been a huge help to the Council of Industry and many of its members. She has been supportive in many other initiatives beyond just the apprentice program. If you’re interested in speaking with Mary Jane about how she can help you, you can contact her at If you’re located in Putnam or Westchester county you can reach Sonja Brown at

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The Council of Industry’s Collaborative Recruiting Program Is Helping Hudson Valley Manufacturers Find the Talent they Need

When Johnnieanne Hansen began her role as Director of Workforce Development and Apprentice Coordinator for the Council of Industry her first priority was to recruit companies to participate in the newly formed Intermediary Apprentice Program. Her first order of business was to visit with member CEO’s and HR professionals to pitch the idea.  What she heard from them, while not completely surprising, did raise some alarm bells in her head and prompted her to rethink her priorities.

“They loved the apprentice idea, they really did.  They recognized that it was one solution to finding the skilled workers they needed.” Ms. Hansen remembers. “But they also said that they did not have the time to think about apprentices or to take on a project like that because they ‘need people now!’  So unless I was walking in with people on my shoulders for them to hire, they had more pressing recruiting problems.”

She prodded them further about how they were recruiting and where they were finding candidates.  As she did so an idea began take shape in her mind that these small and mid-sized manufacturers, all different, yet all a little alike, could pool their resources to market careers with Hudson Valley manufacturers and develop a system to organize and manage candidates.

Thus, in March of 2018 the Collaborative Recruiting Initiative was hatched.

“In my previous positions as a recruiter and corporate trainer I had done some research into Applicant Tracking Systems. It occurred to me that the Council could purchase a subscription and make the service available to participating members.”  Hansen said.  “Hiring managers get a system where they can post jobs, sort and track candidates and get other resources and support throughout the hiring process. Posted jobs are distributed to over 100 job boards like: Indeed, Hotjobs, Monster, Zip Recruiter, LinkedIn and Glassdoor.”

Additionally, all the jobs are listed in one place  and a social media marketing campaign is in place to encourage people to visit the site.  The campaign is designed to target individuals most likely to be interested in careers in manufacturing.

“We thought that this might be a valuable tool for our members.  A way to give them some resources that are otherwise not accessible to them, or at least cost probative.” Hansen added.

The program launched in March 2018 with 10 companies posting about 25 jobs. Today 29 participating companies keep roughly 100 jobs posted at any point in time at  There have been more than 100 positions filled in that time from nearly 5,000 applicants.

“It’s working.” Says Hansen. “Of course it could be better.”  She suggests that more could be done to take advantage of the applicant pool and that marketing the positions and Hudson Valley Manufacturing, in general, could be stronger.   “Every additional company that participates, every additional job that gets posted makes the program stronger,” Hansen said. “We’re good, it’s solid and it will be even better in 12 more months.”

All Council members are welcome to participate in the Collaborative Recruiting Program and its new pricing model will make it easier for any firm to participate. If you want to learn more visit or email Johnnieanne Hansen at

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New York State Apprentice Program Information Session

On December 6th the Council of Industry held an information session for members interested in the New York State Registered Apprenticeship Program. While it was well attended, there maybe be some members that were not able to attend but are interested in receiving more information.  

The NYS registered apprenticeship program has two basic requirements. The first, On-the-Job Training (OJT), consists of a journey-level, skilled worker capable and willing to share their experience with an apprentice, in a hands-on manner.

The second, Related Instruction (RI), consists of learning more theoretical or knowledge-based aspects of a trade. This related instruction component requires apprentices to complete 144 hours of classroom or online training per year.

The process to complete an apprenticeship can take between 16 months and 4 years, but exceptions can be made for someone with previous experience.

Available Trades:


Where do the apprentices come from?

Existing Employees – Tools for Retention

An apprentice can be an existing employee who you are seeking to retain or develop for advancement. In this case, your current employee would have access to free online and classroom training to augment the on the job training provided. This model lends itself to the continuous development of employees while backfilling entry-level staff with a clear path for skills development.

New Employee – Career Path Opportunity

Companies can enroll their newly hired employee into an apprenticeship program. This allows new employees a formalized skills development path, access to additional training resources and onboarding assistance.

Searching for New Talent – Recruiting Tool

Job seekers are looking for steady work with the opportunity for advancement. Many job seekers are drawn to apprenticeships and jobs posted as ‘apprenticeable’ traditionally receive more applicants. If you are unsure where to start to recruit potential apprentices, learn more about our recruiting initiative and our candidate pool resources.

Incentives…Incentives and More Incentives

It’s a great time to implement an apprenticeship program. We have partnered with various organizations to offer incentives to registered apprentices.

  • SUNY Apprenticeship Grant – Registered apprentices may have the opportunity to receive up $5,000 worth of courses at SUNY Community Colleges.
  • WDI, Workforce Development Institute – WDI is offering up to $2,000 per registered apprentice to offset the trainers time.
  • NYS Tax Credits – NYS offers $2,000+ tax credit per apprentice; this amount increases each year eventually offer $5,000 per apprentice.
  • Free online training – Each registered apprentice receives a Tooling U license to complete online trade specific training. $500+ value.
  • Administrative help – The Council of Industry manages the administrative aspects of the program. This includes registration, department of labor requirements and setup.

What’s in it for the apprentice?

Upon completion, the apprentice will be registered with the department of labor as a certified tradesman. For example, an apprentice who completes 8,000 hours as a CNC apprentice will receive a certification from NYS DOL and a pocket card identifying him as a Certified CNC Machinist. The apprentice will also earn foundational knowledge and skills to increase their income and potentially qualify for future advancement.

What’s in it for the company?

Most of our members indicate that workforce is their number one concern. Many of them also indicate they are hiring and training on the job. The apprentice program allows companies to enhance their current training program while creating a clear pathway that makes sense to job seekers and employees alike. Companies participating in the program are always training and developing the skills of their employees, this allows them to fill jobs from within and build the talent they need instead of hoping to find the unique skills necessary to fill positions. It is a retention tool to keep employees engaged and a recruiting tool to help differentiate your company.

The on-the-job training is done with someone from your company that already performs that trade and can be the journeyman for the apprentice to learn from. The program requires between 4,000 and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training dependant on the trade. An internship or previous training in that trade can count towards these hours. Much of this time is not instructional but time that the apprentice practices the skills taught by the journeyman while performing his work tasks. Hours are logged each day by the apprentice in relation to which skill was covered during that day’s labor.

The related instruction portion of the training can be done through an online training program called Tooling U, which is free to registered apprentices or through the local community colleges which also are offering related instruction free to registered apprentices. Time spent on this instruction can be paid or unpaid as determined by the company. The apprentice is required to complete 144 hours of related instruction each year.

There is a wage progression required as the apprentice becomes more skilled, but the company sets the starting wage and the rate of progression. Since this is a government backed program anyone that completes it will have a national certification. This is an excellent tool for companies looking to recruit people into these trades and a good way to keep people that are already showing potential.

The Council of Industry is the only organization in the Hudson Valley able to act as a sponsor and administrate this program. We are also in the process of creating a pipeline of possible apprentices but for now, it is best to consider someone you already have working at your company that has potential and interest in becoming a master of one of the trades above.

Even if you are on the fence about registering an apprentice you can still start the paperwork so that once you are ready to go it is a shorter process. There currently is no charge to register an apprentice but there this is something that may change in the future. There is also no penalty for changing your mind. If an apprentice is not working out, you can discontinue the program or switch to a new person and start over. It is relatively painless to register and just requires meeting with Johnnieanne, the Apprentice Coordinator for The Council of Industry, and signing a few papers. If you still have a question or better yet are ready to sign up, contact Johnnieanne Hansen at or call (845) 565-1355.




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2018 Manufacturing Employment Trends


As the younger generations continue to enter the workforce at a rapid pace, employers are forced to adjust how they operate. There were several employment trends throughout 2018 that affected the manufacturing industry specifically.

The most prominent trend is the increased emphasis on training and development. As the economy continues to improve, and the manufacturing industry grows, companies are investing more in the training of their employees. This workforce development will be essential in the retention and improvement of young employees. The manufacturing skills gap has been an ongoing issue and that will only be resolved through training and development, and manufacturing companies began to make that adjustment in 2018.

The aging workforce has also continued to cause problems. It’s estimated that “about three in every four Americans plan to work past retirement age, with almost two-thirds projected to work part-time.” This means that fewer jobs and opportunities are available for younger employees. “The population of seniors in the U.S. is expected to more than double from 41 to 86 million between now and 2050.” This lack of opportunity for younger employees is also leading to high turnover rates.

Advancements in technology and artificial intelligence are also making an obvious impact on the workplace. This trend began in 2017 and continues to accelerate with time. Warehouses are using automated order pickers, and algorithms are being used to make the supply chain process more efficient. This technology has made significant improvements in manufacturing, including the level of accuracy and overall productivity. Experts are predicting that these advancements will be even more impactful in the years to come.

Other trends include an increased focus on employee mental health, changes in the reference checking process and an increase in employee interactions. Each of these trends have had significant implications, both positive and negative. It will be interesting to see which of these trends will continue into 2019 and what new trends will arise.

For the full article and list of 2018 employment trends click here.

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7 Things You Can Do to Make Your Event a Success

Students at Mfg Day


How can you make sure your Manufacturing Day event is a success? One of the most important things to do is to establish a connection with your guests. Those few hours you spend with them are your chance to communicate the importance of what you do — and the creativity, advanced skills and technology required to do it. Ideally, your passion will spark something similar in the young people who you introduce to manufacturing, inspiring them to learn more about the industry and one day join the manufacturing team.

Follow these seven rules of thumb to improve your chances of connecting with your guests and inspire the next generation of modern manufacturers.

1. Don’t assume visitors know anything about manufacturing.

In planning a good tour — especially when the intended audience members are primarily people with no manufacturing background — you have to start by creating a story of your company that anyone could understand.
  • How did your company get started?
  • What do you make? Who buys your products?
  • What do they do with them?
Keep explanations simple and free of industry jargon. Think storytelling with illustrations rather than textbooks packed with pages of small print.

2. You can’t show everything.

The quickest way to lose the interest of your visitors is to try to show every bit of minutiae. Pick a few stops that represent key stages in the production process and allow you to demonstrate the progress a product makes through the shop.
  • What are the best places in the plant to give an overview of the production process and highlight the work of your people and machinery? 
  • Where will visitors get the best view? Can they hear you?
  • Which of your team members are the most enthusiastic about their work and comfortable explaining what they do and why it is important to the process and the company?
These considerations should guide you in planning the tour.

3. Create a display and offer hands-on experiences.

Of course you can’t allow visitors to get up close and personal with your machinery, but you could create a display that illustrates what a product looks like in various stages of completion, where they could be allowed to pick up and hold something they’ve seen made.
Maybe you even have something that one of your machines can make that they could take with them as a souvenir? (This doesn’t mean one of your production parts or finished products!)

4. Clean up before your visitors arrive.

No clutter, everything in its place, floors swept clean, a path through the shop is easy to follow.
Remember that part of the reason to invite visitors to Manufacturing Day events is to prove that manufacturing facilities are great places to work. First impressions count: What does your company look like as visitors approach from the parking lot? Let’s dispel the myths that manufacturing is dark, dirty and dangerous.
Also, make sure employees are dressed neat and clean on tour day and if they have a role to play in explaining things to your visitors, they should be wearing a name badge so that they can be addressed by name when there are questions.

5. Cater to student visitors.

Students are the workforce of the future. This is your opportunity to provide advice about the kinds of careers that your company offers, the type of training and educational coursework you seek when hiring employees. There is no better time to offer comments about opportunities available to dedicated workers with a professional attitude. If there are specific kinds of training or skills that you need and find it hard to hire for, let them know.

6. Put up a welcome sign.

This is important both literally and figuratively. Put a sign on the door, shake hands with visitors, thank them for coming, and demonstrate your enthusiasm for the opportunity you have to share your company’s information with them.

7. Send invitations.

Manufacturing Day is a national celebration of the 12 million talented men and women who work in the industry. Who could you invite to share this celebration with you? Here are some ideas:
  • The families of your employees. If family events aren’t a common occurrence at your company, this is a perfect day to invite families to come and see where their family member works and learn what they do. Maybe you could do a special event just for family members at the end of the workday.
  • Your elected officials. Ever complain about the fact that your elected officials (local, state, federal) don’t make good choices as related to manufacturing? Invite them to come to your plant and see for themselves. Remember: Most elected officials have never set foot inside a manufacturing facility, which means you can educate them!
  • Potential customers. Give these folks a reason to want to do business with you. Invite them in on a day when they can see how great your organization is.
  • Current customers. Make Manufacturing Day your customer appreciation day. Your business service providers. When was the last time you were visited by your banker, insurance agent or accountant?
  • Media. Is there a local reporter who seems to have a serious interest in manufacturing? Invite them to visit your plant on Manufacturing Day. They are always looking for interesting stories to tell. Why not make it yours?
  • Youth organizations. Are you active in, or do you know someone who is active in the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or a similar youth organization? Invite them to visit your company as a field trip. Better yet, invite a school group.

More Resources for Making Your MFG Day Event a Success

Creating a successful MFG Day event is hard work and requires careful planning. To help, The Manufacturing Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers have assembled some useful resources for MFG Day event hosts, which we encourage you to download for more tips on how to make your MFG Day event a success:

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Collaborate Recruitment Initiative Success Story

Fair-Rite Products new hires

Hiring competent, high-quality candidates for open positions is a challenge for all organizations. In an effort to simplify the process for our members The Council of Industry recently began using the applicant tracking software, iCIMS. iCIMS allows Human Resource professionals to more efficiently manage the recruitment process, and helps lessen some of the challenges associated with filling open positions. Debra Sherman, the Human Resources Director at Fair-Rite Products for the last 19 years, started using the program 5 months ago and is extremely satisfied with the results.

Prior to using iCIMS Debra was using Excel Spreadsheets to manage her applicants, and filed resumes manually. She noted the difficulty with sorting through paper resumes and trying to remember which candidates possessed the qualifications she was looking for. During her search to find an applicant tracking system that met her needs The Council of Industry introduced her to iCIMS. The ease of use, and ability to simply search for specific skill sets listed on candidates’ resumes, sparked her interest in the software. She posted her first job on the system 5 months ago, which also published the position to Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and several other employment-oriented platforms. Since that date Fair-Rite Products has posted 17 open positions, received over 350 applications, and filled 10 of those positions.

Debra knew that the software was going to be a success when iCIMS helped her fill a position that Fair-Rite had open for over a year. She was struggling to find a qualified candidate to fill an Applications Engineer position, and had little success uploading the job to LinkedIn and other platforms herself. Once she uploaded the job to iCIMS she finally found the right candidate for the position, and filled the job in just a few short months. Debra believes that iCIMS played a big role in finally finding the ideal person for the job.

iCIMS has vast capabilities, and The Council of Industry continues to assist its members in understanding how to fully utilize the software in order to get the best results. Debra described the system as “robust” and likes that it gives her the ability to easily weed out non-qualified candidates. She also commented on the convenience of always knowing the number of candidates who applied for a job, having the ability to sort candidates by their commuting distance, reviewing the number of days it took to fill a position, and quickly emailing applicants through the system’s email templates. Debra believes that the ability to notify rejected candidates when a position has been filled is a common courtesy that was difficult, if not impossible, to do before she had access to the iCIMS automatic email templates. Now she can easily contact all rejected candidates with just a few clicks.

The success that Debra has experienced at Fair-Rite is a prime example of how beneficial the collaborative recruitment initiative can be for our members. Debra stated that, “The Council of Industry’s solution to our applicant tracking needs has been a huge success and has far surpassed my expectations.” Moving forward she hopes to fully eliminate the paper application with the help of The Council of Industry.

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There’s Gold in the Hills of the Hudson Valley

How Partnering with Education Institutions can Help Identify your Future Workforce

By Guest Blogger Stephen Casa

As I travel around the Hudson Valley meeting with various leaders in industry, I hear the same concern, “We can’t find enough qualified employees to fill the positions that are being left vacant by retirement, innovation, etc.” This is where a value added strategy can benefit employers: developing collaborative partnerships with education.

The value proposition is simple, participate with an educational institution in one of the following ways: content area consulting, curriculum development, field trip provision, guest speaking, mentoring students, job shadowing, providing externship opportunities for educators, providing internships (compensated and non-compensated) for students who demonstrate readiness, sit on advisory boards, etc. All of these opportunities will allow the education institution to provide you with a glimpse of your potential workforce and it will create an opportunity for young people to learn about your business/industry. They will also be trained in your culture. Often these partnerships lead to long term employment, initially they get you what you need, prepared, employable, entry level employees.

Don’t hesitate to act, contact your local BOCES today and ask how you can be a part of the solution.

Stay connected as I will be contributing regularly with more specific instructions for engagement.

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