COVID-19 pandemic interrupts hands-on learning for trade students looking to graduate

For the class of 2020, preparing for the future isn't going as planned.

For some, it could mean a big interruption to a career path they've already started.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some students from Maine Township high schools - like Maine West senior Edwin Palacios - were well on their way to becoming manufacturing machinists.

A video shared by the school district shows hands-on training with the Technology and Manufacturing Association, which gives students a competitive edge in the job market.

"Their earning power starts earlier, so over the course of their lifetime, their income would be higher," said Laura Cook, career coordinator at Maine Township High School District 207.

But then COVID-19 grinded the economy to a halt, with some machine shops falling silent.

"How are these kids going to be working? Is there going to be employment for them?" Cook asked.

Cook also knew that losing out on hands-on experiences in a variety of district programs could make it harder for teens to focus long-term goals. But the Technology and Manufacturing Association adapted.

"We knew this wasn't just a class for them," said Leigh Coglianese, manager of training and education at the association. "We knew this was their career."

Coglianese said the program temporarily shifted online, so certification delays will be minimal once the shop reopens.

"It makes me a little less stressful since they're going to be helping," said Maine West student Antonio Vega.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the manufacturing sector lost 1.3 million jobs last month alone. Still, Coglianese points out manufacturing has been essential during the pandemic, even if demand within the industry has shifted.

Palacios is also optimistic, knowing that the association can help him stand out to employers who are still hiring.

"That just means that I'm going to get more opportunities once this slows down," Palacios said.

The association hopes to have these students return to the shop in mid-July, and certified in August.
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