COVID-19 impacts trade school seniors as they look to enter workforce

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — The stay-at-home order is not just impacting the way students learn, it has also cost many of them across the state to lose valuable jobs.

At the beginning of April, after a decline in workplace orders, Desmond Johnson, a senior at Academy at Smith High School, was furloughed from Starr Electric in Greensboro.

Johnson was working at the company through an apprenticeship through Guilford County Schools. The job was a crucial part of his “hands-on” learning as he looked to become an electrician.

“My plan was to go straight into the workforce by the end of May,” the senior said. “Go out to job sites, work on houses, businesses. That’s going to be pushed back a little bit into June, if this keeps going.”

Dr. Eboni Chillis is the executive director of the Career and Technical program with Guilford County Schools. She explained that the district will do what it can to make sure he, and others in the apprenticeship programs, can continue once COVID-19 runs its course.

“How do we support these seniors to make sure they have some sort of authentic experience the same as prior to COVID-19. We expect the companies to make sure our students matriculate through,” Chillis.

On top of support through apprenticeship learning, GCS has enhanced the online learning techniques for those in trade skills classes.

“You will find in that job field, their training is both hands-on and online. Where you have to participate in simulations,” Chillis explained.

The school district has moved to using the learning tool Canvas. Through this online approach, students are being put through real-life scenarios through a virtual simulation.

“Two weeks, three weeks, two months, it’s really a short interruption, because most of these fields have a simulated experience,” she described.

Other students, who are more advanced in their studies, are turning to using their skills in the real world.

For example, Johnson is using notes from his class to study electricity in his own home.

“You see this big box with all of these switches, and you don’t think much of it. When you start doing the electrical work you start to realize, that’s the breaker, that’s the switch. Keeping your mind sharp,” he said.

While there is no set timetable for when Johnson will return to his apprenticeship, he and Chillis agreed that this could all change the trade job career outlook.

Chillis going as far as to say that this could lead to the creation of new types of trade jobs on the market.

“Careers are ever-changing based on the industries in which we know, today, tomorrow and into the future,” Chillis.

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