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MPS’ largest group of construction youth apprentices so far commit to Facilities program

MPS students on Senior Signing night for construction youth apprenticeships.Milwaukee Public Schools’ newest group of construction youth apprentices is its biggest yet, and the students represent the most high schools since the program began five years ago.  

Twenty-nine Milwaukee Public Schools juniors and seniors from 15 schools have committed to learn their chosen trades at the MPS Department of Facilities and Maintenance Services, 1124 N. 11th St.  

That’s also where the new youth apprentices took part in Signing Night ceremonies on February 21 and 22, in front of cheering family members and MPS staff.  Students will get paid while they work and learn skills in plumbing, electrical, steamfitting, machine shop, and sheet metal work.  

Last year, 13 students from five schools committed to the construction youth apprenticeship program. The juniors from last year are still enrolled in the program, so Facilities and Maintenance teaches and employs about three dozen youth apprentices now. MPS in total has about 100 youth apprentices; Wisconsin has 79 apprenticeship pathways to varied careers. 

The new youth apprentices are from Milwaukee School of Languages, Hamilton, Vincent, Golda Meir, North Division, South Accelerated Academy, Audubon, South Division, Reagan, King, Riverside, Pulaski, MacDowell, Obama, and Bradley Technology and Trade. It’s not only the largest group of schools, it’s the most diverse, noted Erin Cherney, the MPS College and Career Readiness Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator — that is, they go beyond the traditional schools offering classes in the trades. 

Maw Shu Klay, a senior at Riverside University High School, signed up for a youth apprenticeship in sheet metal work, where he’ll learn about heating and cooling systems. “Building and repairing things, when things work out — I really like seeing that kind of stuff,” Maw Shu said. 

Pulaski senior Luis Gallegos will be a youth apprentice in the electrical shop. “This is going to be so much fun for me,” said Luis, who said he’s always been curious about how wiring works. “I really appreciate the opportunity they’ve given me, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the future.”  

Signing Night for MPS youth apprentices is at least as significant as signing day is for the NCAA’s athletes, Cherney said. “They’re set,” she said of the MPS students. That’s because youth apprenticeships give students an advantage as they work toward a secure future for themselves — and for their families.  

MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith P. Posley observed that the number of jobs in the construction trades is growing and that skilled workers can earn more than $100,000 a year.  

“We are creating generational wealth,” Dan Swiatkowski told the students. Swiatkowski is the apprenticeship program administrator for MPS Facilities and Maintenance.  

Swiatkowski told the youth apprentices they would begin by learning safety and first aid in the classroom before advancing to the hands-on portion of the apprenticeship. Each student is paired with a mentor who is a journeyman in their chosen trade. 

“Wherever that journeyman goes, you go. Whatever that journeyman does, you do. That’s how you learn a skill. That’s how you learn a trade,” said Swiatkowski, who also is a maintenance and repair supervisor for MPS. Luis Gallegos, shown with the toolkit Milwaukee Tool gives MPS youth apprentices.

High school seniors in the program could start working as soon as mid-March, going to school half days and working half days until the end of the school year. They then work full time over the summer.  

Juniors will work on any school non-attendance weekday from now until the end of the school year. They will work full time for a week at the end of summer and then start half days of work in the fall.  

After graduating from high school, the youth apprentices can go on to apply to a union or an employer who has a registered apprenticeship available. MPS and the nonprofit WRTP | BIG STEP will work with students to ensure they meet any union qualifications, and MPS also helps students navigate the union and new employer along the way. “We don’t leave them hanging,” Cherney said.  

Work in the skilled construction trades means job security, Wisconsin Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards Director David Polk said on Senior Signing Night. “This is the most secure job you can have. You’re always going to have work. There’s always going to be a need” for workers in the skilled trades, said Polk, an MPS alumnus and a licensed plumber.  

Darryl L. Jackson, who represents District 3 on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, told students he, too, started in the skilled trades after graduating from the former Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School, now Bradley Technology and Trade School. 

“People say the trades don’t exist at MPS. Clearly, they do,” Jackson said.  

“The opportunity that you all have today is life changing, and not just for you — for your brothers, your sisters, anybody else who looks up to you,” he told the new youth apprentices. 

MPS seniors are ready to commit to construction youth apprenticeships.Cherney reassured the youth apprentices that they’ll have support. Mentors, beyond instruction, help students reach registered apprenticeships after high school. Community partners help in various ways; Milwaukee Tool, for example, gives all the youth apprentices a toolkit they can take with them when they start a registered apprenticeship.  

The school district provides the youth apprentices with their first pair of work boots and, when needed, helps with transportation and tutoring. The district’s work-based learning specialists in schools make sure students know how to fill out applications, put together résumés, and conduct themselves in job interviews. 

“We want to make sure that we do everything we can to put actions in place so you can be successful,” Cherney said.  

Giles Patterson, the Youth Apprenticeship Program administrator for Facilities and Maintenance, told the students, “All we ask that you do your part, and we’ll do our part.” 

Madison Kyles is a junior at Rufus King International High School who is six months into her youth apprenticeship in the Facilities electrical shop. She comes from a family of tradespeople and aspires to be a master electrician.  

“Be grateful for this experience, because it is a really great experience,” Madison told the new youth apprentices. “There are a lot of good people here who are willing to help you. Please run with this opportunity.” 

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