By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer

The District of Columbia Department of Employment Services celebrated the transition of six high school students and several adult candidates into apprenticeship programs last week at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), 900 7th Street N.W., in honor of National College Signing Day.

Started in 2017, the Apprenticeship D.C. initiative was designed to offer viable alternative career pathways to traditional four-year colleges. An apprenticeship can run from one to five years depending on the occupation. After completion of the apprenticeship program, graduates receive a nationally recognized completion certificate.

Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes, of DOES (Center) with high school apprenticeship participants and staff. (Courtesy Photo)

The high school students are enrolled in the agency’s Career Bridge Pre-Apprenticeship program and, upon completion of the pre-apprenticeship program, will transition into registered apprenticeships.

“We really got this idea from our former first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative,” said Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes Director, D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES). “We said ‘why not arm the young people who made a conscious choice to do something positive in their life even if it means not going to a traditional college.’”

“So it feels amazing to have young people who are highlighted in a positive way that are making a conscious choice about themselves and have a plan for their life.”

Dr. Morris-Hughes said the short term goal is to “get as many people (as possible) who are interested in an apprenticeship.”

“Some people think that apprenticeship is just construction. But it isn’t. It’s financial services, information technology. So we want young people to be informed that they have a choice about their future.”

Dr. Morris-Hughes said the long term goals is to bring the program up to scale by adding more apprenticeships in different fields.

Stephen Courtien, D.C. Director of Baltimore-DC Building Trades said, since working with this program, they have placed about 42 people over the last year or so into apprenticeship programs. The organization operates 18 training centers throughout the Distrivt.

“Construction is key to everything,” Courtien said. “Being able to build stuff you see what’s happening with our infrastructure there’s going to be bigger spends on all of this in the near future and there’s a lack of skilled construction workers.”

Courtien said the partnership with D.C. is helping to introduce younger people to the trades, which offers a wide range of career options, and doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have an option of going to school as well.

“When you graduate your apprenticeship you can get your associate’s degree and most of the unions will help pay for you to get it. So it doesn’t limit you it actually opens up a lot of things.”

Knowing early on she didn’t want to attend a traditional college, but still wanting to become an engineer, Zyana Watts, an 18-year-old  senior at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School, confided in her guidance counselor, who referred her to the apprenticeship program.

She now feels excited about the choice, and said, “I’m a girl, at the end of the day, in a male field, so I feel like I accomplished something.”

Lawrence Thompson, 22, said “It’s an honor. I take it as a blessing that they gave me this choice and I choose to run with it. Now I can advance to a career instead of just looking for a job. I see myself being a master bricklayer.”

Thomspon said he was thinking about college but added, “College wasn’t for me, mainly because of the cost, I didn’t have the money for it.”

According to the DOES there are over 800 nationally recognized trades. Just some of the ongoing apprenticeship programs in D.C. include, Auto Mechanic, Bricklayer, Cement Mason, Electrician, Iron Worker, Operating Engineer, Steam Fitter (HVAC), as well as Information Technology and Construction.

For more information about the program please go to