FAIRPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — It’s a time when many are graduating, and preparing to enter the workforce. But for some, finding that dream job takes time.

That was the case for 24-year-old Emily Burns, who says post-high school graduation is a confusing period.

“I was kind of just floating, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do yet,” she said.

She worked as a manager in a coffee shop for a bit, and even considered nursing. But neither felt like a true calling. It wasn’t until an unexpected opportunity arose.

“I got a job working in an auto part store, a used auto parts store,” she said.

She began to figure out what gave her a thrill — welding, painting cars, and repairing them.

It was all new, and familiar at the same time.

“I had a little bit of background knowledge because of my grandfather,” she said. “I kind of grew up around the shop business, he has a shop in the southern tier, I figured maybe I could learn a little something here and there.”

That’s when she decided to go back to school with EMCC (Easter Monroe Career Center, Monroe One’s Career and Tech Ed center) and pursue a degree in collision repair.

Burns signed up in the summer of 2021 and started class the following fall.

Not only that; she was the first student to chase a platinum certification in the industry, which meant an additional 61 credits — more than required for a Master’s level program.

It’s also estimated the certification saves a body shop approximately $10,000 in training costs. 

The certification is something her instructor Joe Alati says makes her stand out.

“It’s good for employers and it’s great because we have the latest and greatest information,” he said.

Burns says she’s often felt a societal pressure to go to college and get a four-year degree. She feared coming back to school, and being around high schoolers might magnify that.

But she quickly found out, those were just negative thoughts — and she built great relationships.

“You would think it would be polarized, but year after year when we have an adult student it seems to work out very well,” said Alati.

Burns says it’s a story about overcoming mental hurdles and going after what you want. Even if the answer isn’t clear, at first.

“You can always start over,” she said. “This place for sure changed my life, in a good way.”

Alati says he wants her story to inspire others, no matter the age:

“A lot of what we teach, and I take pride in, is to be lifelong learners,” he said.

Burns plans on pursuing a career in wrapping cars, with Ewing Graphics in Farmington. She credits the help of other instructors, like Alati for helping her with connections.

Alati says the auto industry has endless opportunities right now.

“There are jobs in everything we teach here, from construction to auto tech, to collision repair. Every employer, the phone never stops ringing, they’re always looking for people,” said Alati. “The sky is the limit for people that come into the trades right now, we have collision repair techs making as much as $175,000 a year, here in Rochester.”