Think you need a traditional college degree to succeed in today’s economy? These young workers prove otherwise.
Nick Wasiczko, 24, born and raised in Yonkers, always loved tinkering with engines. He began working in a mechanic shop while at Saunders Trades & Technical High School. At age 19, he joined the Army, where he served for four years as a wheeled vehicle mechanic specialist. For the past two years, he has been an employee at Transit Construction Corp. as a mechanic apprentice under the Operating Engineers Local 137.
“I was never big on school,” he says. “I did well, but it just wasn’t really my thing. It was hard to focus. I couldn’t sit still.” At Transit, he works on “a mixture of everything — diesel, light-duty pickup, welding, engine repair. Cars and trucks have always interested me. I like being around them, working on them. I don’t see it as work sometimes. It’s more like a hobby.”
That hobby, though, currently pays him almost $42 an hour. When he earns his union card, the full rate will be nearly $60 an hour. “People question why I didn’t go to [college], but it just wasn’t for me,” he says. “They don’t really question how I’m doing. They can see I’m doing pretty good.”
SUNY Westchester Community College collaborates with Metallica (yes, that Metallica) through the band’s foundation, All Within My Hands, to offer certification programs in advanced manufacturing via the Metallica Scholars Initiative (MSI). Stacy Yonnone, 20, of New Windsor, had dropped out of Orange County Community College and taken a job on an assembly line when she “stumbled into the Metallica program through my job,” she says. “I saw that this was trying to actually get you ready for the workforce, actually showed you what you needed.”
She had moved from the assembly line into a machinist apprenticeship at Bantam Tools in Peekskill, and jumped at the chance to increase her practical knowledge. “You can never learn too much,” she says. “The field is really starting to grow, and I just want to learn more about the field. There is more than meets the eye, and I love it.” She currently earns about $21 an hour, and could end up making $50 or more, she says.
“I understand the point of education. We need common core classes,” she says. “At the same time, you need to know you’re going into the workforce. College can teach broad aspects of a field, but MSI got into the nitty-gritty of it.”
Her advice to others in her position: “Try different things out. Once you find something, you will just know when you find what’s right for you.”
“We need common core classes. At the same time, you need to know you’re going into the workforce. College can teach broad aspects of a field, but [my training program] got into the nitty-gritty of it.”
EDWARD AIKEN III
Musician and Future Audio Engineer
If you search for the artist King Lavaughn on Spotify, you will find the music of a Middletown native more formally known as Edward Aiken III. Aiken, 21, left a four-year college in Illinois, where he was studying exercise science when he found it wasn’t his passion and he “didn’t think the time was worth the reward.”
Music was his interest, and he produced some songs at home while working at The Home Depot. “People found out I was doing it, and a friend of mine who came over to record told me about this school” — SAE Institute of Technology in New York. Aiken enrolled the next day in a one-year audio engineering program. “I found something I actually wanted to do, and it took less time and less money to get me into the field of work,” he says.
“I found something I actually wanted to do, and it took less time and less money to get me into the field of work.”
Aiken had earned an associate’s degree from SUNY Westchester Community College (WCC) in film studies, but music “has been in me for a long time, probably since I was a baby.” He took an intro audio engineering course at WCC, “and then the pandemic hit. The teacher told us to download software and make music, [and] that’s when I really caught on to it. Ever since then, that’s where I want my career to reside. If I do go back to school, it will be for business and marketing for a music career.”
Alexis Lloyd thought she wanted to be an athletic trainer, but after enrolling at Tallahassee Community College, she realized “that was not something I wanted to wake up and do every day.” So the 26-year-old Mount Vernon native came back to New York in 2019 and began taking certificate courses with Soulful Synergy. She ended up earning five in all, in such areas as OSHA compliance, security, and fire safety. “I love learning new things, and these were for free, so why not?” she says.
With no particular career in mind, she took a job as an assistant project manager at Murphy Brothers Construction, a partner with Soul Synergy. Murphy Brothers was looking for an entry-level worker who was “ready to learn,” she says. And she was. “I loved it. I had never thought how construction plays into everyday life.”
But the COVID-19 pandemic forced the company to downsize, and she was laid off in 2021. She found some part-time work for a few months, until another Soulful Synergy partner, the Guidance Center of Westchester, hired her as an outreach coordinator in February 2022. In her current position, she goes into local businesses and residential housing units to promote its programs. “I am an alum, so I know the opportunities that are out there. You just have to be willing to want it,” she says.
She hopes to take classes at FIT some day and become a designer, but “helping my community is my main focus now.” For others struggling to decide what to do with their lives, “my advice is to go with your gut. You should wake up and love whatever you are doing. It comes from within.”