Originally written by LaKeshia N. Myers and published by the Milwaukee Courier.

We are all reeling from the effects of COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down; nowhere is this more apparent than in K-12 schools. As an educator, I will admit that I enjoy teaching online, because I had experience with it at the college level. I will also admit that many of my elementary education colleagues are struggling, because elementary age children learn best in the traditional classroom. But for my high school students, virtual learning has been fairly seamless.

Many of my students have stated that they enjoy virtual learning because they have been able to take advantage of other opportunities that they may have missed out on or weren’t aware existed before. For example, many of my students work and they are able to use their work hours for workplace experience credit for school. Some of the students were unaware that this program existed prior to COVID. They like the program, because they are essential to their family’s economy and they earn course credit. This has also been the case with student involvement in apprenticeships.

For many years Milwaukee Public Schools has operated an apprenticeship program with local businesses, but the program was not widely used or sometimes unavailable to all schools. I have noticed that many students from a variety of public high schools are taking part in the district’s apprenticeship program or actively seeking apprenticeships with local trade unions, WE Energies or WRTP Big Step. Students who successfully complete their internships learn valuable skills and can continue with their respective union to become certified and licensed in the respective trades. This is attractive to many students as they weigh the options of attending four-year colleges and understand the risks associated with student loan debt.

As I explained to my students, there are many pathways to success. Some require a baccalaureate degree, some require a technical certificate, others an associate degree. But one thing is certain, they must acquire a skill. Shirley Chisholm once said, “America has no place for unskilled people,” and this is very true today. Unskilled laborers are often the first to feel the economic brunt of national upheaval; this has been most evident during the pandemic. In order for our state to prosper, we must encourage our residents to increase their skillsets in order to meet the demand for work in our future.

This is a two-part methodology: citizens must be committed to acquiring new skills for the jobs of the future and government has to be committed to truly investing in education. K-12 education, which include career and technical education, apprenticeships, JROTC and vocational training opportunities at the middle and high school levels. Companies in both the public and private sector should also incentivize education through employee pay and benefits. We get what we pay for. If we truly want to attract and retain business and industry we must invest in a highly educated workforce.

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