The scene staged in the career and technical classroom at Crossland High School was a vivid reminder of the talent cultivated by Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

Shiny construction hard hats donned hours earlier by masonry program students were on display at the rear of the room. Refreshments prepared by culinary arts students were available for guests.

“Welcome to our home,” Crossland Principal Michael Gilchrist said.

For PGCPS, National Apprenticeship Week was the perfect time to announce the launch of its own Youth Apprenticeship Program — the first state-approved model. A combination of classroom instruction and real-world experience, the Youth Apprenticeship Program is designed to clear the pathway to higher education or immediate employment.

“You are a pioneer,” said James E. Rzepkowski, Acting Secretary of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, as the room erupted in applause at the launch event.

The program is offered through the Department of Career and Technical Education. Starting their junior year, students in plumbing, electrical, carpentry and masonry can earn industry-recognized credentials. They will have work with the PGCPS maintenance department during the summer and senior year, earning the standard $15 per hour.

Upon graduation, students can continue with advance coursework at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) and earn a journeyman’s license. School system officials are working with county government agencies on preferential hiring opportunities for program participants.

“This wasn’t really offered back when I was growing up,” said Graylin McClary, who attended the launch with his two sons. “Something as simple as a summer job and then you follow through to a career — this is something big.”

In Maryland and across the nation, middle-skill jobs comprise the largest part of the labor market.

“For most middle-skill jobs, students are going to need some education beyond a high school diploma,” said Yvette Snowden, Associate Vice President for Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Prince George’s Community College. “This program also gives them the opportunity to gain real-world experience under the guidance of a mentor in an apprenticeship program.”

The Youth Apprenticeship Program helps to fill the middle skills employment gap and fuels the local economy.

“When you look at many of our programs, they are getting kids ready for college, but when you look at the career track they are not as expansive,” said Edward Burroughs, Board of Education Vice Chair. “A program like this actually puts our money where our mouth is.”

Crossland High School junior Tatianna Bigesby followed her gut in deciding to enroll in the program.

“I want to be an architect,” she said. “This program has boosted my math skills. You can’t be an architect if you are not good at math.”

The program will help Bigesby and other students gain the skills needed to land high-wage jobs. Take it from master electrician Timothy Atchison.

“I actually have my own contracting company now,” Atchison said. “I came out of high school making $16 or $17 per hour as a first-year apprentice and today I’m well over that.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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