TEMPLE HILLS — As part of National Apprenticeship Week, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) started its Career and Technical Education (CTE) Youth Apprenticeship Program on Nov. 13.
“We need this right now because we need to invest in our children,” said Rita McClary who attended the event looking for opportunities for her two sons, Nasir and Samir, to learn a trade. “It’s a positive experience, and they need to know that the community supports them. They deserve the same opportunities as other counties.”
The program launch was one of 18 events taking place throughout the county for National Apprenticeship Week as a chance to demonstrate support for apprenticeships as well as recognize the benefits of apprenticeships and find ways to meet the needs of employers.
The program was first presented to the Board of Education (BOE) back in June where PGCPS leaders explained their plans to launch a youth apprenticeship program to provide paid and structured workplace learning in plumbing, electrical, carpentry and masonry.
Earlier in the day on Nov. 13, they presented their plans to the Maryland National Apprenticeship Council and were approved to begin signing up students for the program.
The program launch took place at Crossland High School before a group of parents, students and community leaders such as Senator-elect Obie Patterson and District 8 Board of Education Member Edward Burroughs.
“Public schools and community colleges, we train individuals for everything that they’re going to be doing for everybody else. We send them out the door and say go get a job, and then we find ourselves with facilities that need to be maintained, infrastructure that needs to be fixed, and we’ve sent all of our greatest assets elsewhere,” said Assistant Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Jim Rzepkowski who opened the program.
“So this is a sincerely a recognition that the greatest assets of Prince George’s County rest and reside here in our public school system and capturing those assets for community members that live here to continue to maintain the school system for future generations.”
According to Rzepkowski, there are about 10,000 registered apprenticeship programs in the state of Maryland, and Prince George’s County was the first school system to have an apprenticeship program approved.
As part of the program, employers will provide paid work experience and structured work site learning, schools will integrate academy and industry learning, the high school and postsecondary programs will last at least two years, and those who complete the program will receive industry-recognized credentials.
Starting in the 11th grade, students enrolled in their schools CTE program can begin their apprenticeship work in plumbing, electrical, carpentry and masonry areas. They can earn at least $15 per hour for on-site work and can go on to continue their work at Prince George’s Community College.
“Apprenticeships serve a dual role in providing students with an education that prepares them for the work world with a clear path to employment,” said Yvette Snowden, associate vice president for workforce development and continuing education at Prince George’s Community College. “It’s a way to give them real-world experiential learning that really not only prepares them for academic success but also prepares them for the world of work.”
Historically, PGCPS has faced challenges with finding sufficient maintenance staff as well as finding employment for CTE students after graduation, but with the CTE Youth Apprenticeship Program, those barriers can be broken.
“It’s important that our students learn these valuable skills and that they can also earn industry certifications,” said Lateefah Durant, PGCPS officer for career and technical education. “But not only that, we don’t want our students to become disheartened after they graduate. What we’ve found is they graduated but weren’t matriculating to employment.
“So now we have the opportunity to not only provide our students with the skills that they need but also the employment they need to be productive members of society, and so our PGCPS CTE Youth Apprenticeship Program is the solution.”
As part of the presentation, several students who were previously involved in the CTE program at Crossland spoke briefly about their experience. Current Crossland student Tatianna Bigesby said she wants to study architecture at Morgan State University, so she started taking masonry classes while in high school, and it has benefitted her immensely by teaching her skills she will need going into college.
Timothy Atchison, who graduated from Crossland in 2008 said he went on to trade school after high school and is now a master electrician with his own contracting company.
“All trades are definitely a tool that you can not only make a career out of but make your own business or whatever out of, and you’re not confined to the box that some other career choices put you in,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity and it changed my life in a great way.”
Additionally, President and CEO of Employ Prince George’s Walter Simmons spoke at the event about how there are at any given time 10,000 jobs available in Prince George’s County and how Employ Prince George’s assists students with finding these jobs out of high school.
“It’s all about how do we ensure that our young adults and our future workforce have the skill sets, the training, and the knowledge of how to be productive on a job site to take advantage of those opportunities and that’s what an apprenticeship does, an apprenticeship develops the skill sets, provides industry-recognized credentials and give our young adults the knowledge and the background of how to be successful on a job,” Simmons said. “This is the first step to many more youth apprenticeships in Prince George’s County.”
Eager to be involved in the Youth Apprenticeship Program, Employ Prince George’s will help with ensuring that these students have the skills and training they need, Simmons said, with part of the mission of Employ Prince George’s being to assist job seekers with finding work in various trade areas assisted by their Youth Career Center specifically targeting youth ages 18 to 24.
After the presentation, parent and students were encouraged to begin signing up for the programs and were able to take a tour of the CTE programs that Crossland already offers.
“This is something that we desperately need in this county,” said Burroughs. “Students think the only way they can succeed is to go to college. That doesn’t mean they can’t be productive. This program brings opportunities for students to go on a different path that may not be for them.”