ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — On Friday, 13 new EMTs joined Rochester AMR.

The students’ graduation comes after seven months of paid, rigorous training, for the “Earn While You Learn Program”.

Organizers say it’s a new way of helping a struggling industry with some incentives. Rochester residents can apply to take the course and earn a paycheck at the same time. Once completed, participators receive an EMT certification, and ideally stay with AMR. The program doesn’t require any experience.

“So right now I’m currently on the road and I actually do have to work today,” said Alycia Rodriguez, one of the graduates. “It’s vey surreal.”

Rodriguez is one of several students joining the Rochester AMR team as a full-time employee.

Operations Manager Mark Philippy says the idea for this came as the pandemic’s challenges were getting out of control.

“So our staffing six months ago, and even beyond, has steadily been declining,” said Philippy. “Because of burnout, working hard, constantly under pressure of the pandemic,” he said. Philippy says the types of calls, and the amount have become more challenging with COVID-19.

He says staff retention has also been a big issue. It’s part of why this program is paid. Philippy says the goal is to get students interested, have them move up and commit to a journey.

“We’re working very hard to get people to recognize this is a career path,” he said.

One that isn’t easy, but feels rewarding.

“It’s the most rewarding thing you can do be there for someone in their time of need, it is very intense [the course], you are working with your field training officer,” said another graduate, Brittney Watts.

“There is no preparing for what you do, see it’s something different every day,” said training officer Captain Lynk. He says day-to-day work in the city can be intense.

And Philippy says it takes time. Right now they’re about 30% below where they need to be for staffing.

But he hopes ‘Earn While You Learn’ can mark the beginning, of a better industry.

The program has already been in cities like Buffalo but is completely new to Rochester.

Organizers say program offers a great opportunity for those who can’t afford classes at community college, while earning money. The pay for ‘Earn While You Learn’ starts at $13.50, just over mimimum wage and can climb to $16.50.

“AMR is offering some of the highest wages in the region, to be competitive with other agencies, we’re trying to improve every aspect of retention we want people to stay,” said Philippy.