Mayor Tom Barrett spoke to students at South Division High School Thursday about the importance of getting into the workforce at an early age.
"I absolutely love the Earn and Learn program because I love having young people in our city to have an opportunity to learn what it's like to work," Mayor Barrett said. "We're doing this because everyone remembers their first job and they remember how important their first job was in their development."
The Earn and Learn program employs about a thousand people between 14 and 24 each year. Barrett says getting started at a young age is extremely important to their future.
"The best way to create responsible adults is to create responsible teenagers and having a job is a big part of that," Barrett said. "Many are in neighborhoods where there aren't a lot of jobs. This is an opportunity to learn what it's like to work."
Mayra Alaniz, a South Division alumnus, is a shining example of how well the Earn and Learn program can work. She was introduced to the program as a senior and it was her first job. Now, a few years later, she's found a career in the same field thanks to the program.
"It was my first job," Alaniz said. "It was my first exposure to what a job could look like for me. It definitely pushed me to study political science in college and bring it full circle to Milwaukee."
The knowledge she got on the job is something most people take for granted as adults.
"I learned office etiquette," Alaniz said. "How to take a phone call. But I also learned about all the different issues around the city and how to provide services to people."
For Junior Katiria Sanchez, this won't be her first step into the real world. She has a 1-year-old at home to take care of which forced her to grow up quicker than most of her peers. The Earn and Learn program gives her a chance to get her foot in the door and get professional work experience so she can provide for both her and her daughter for years to come.
"I became an adult at a young age," Sanchez said. "I'm a mother now. I have to grow up and Earn and Learn helped me with that. It's not just about earning money. They take you different places to reach the goals you want to reach. Kids that don't have a job and don't have a resource to go to, they be out in the streets, not caring about their future. They're just thinking about now. Earn and Learn helps you see what you want to do in life and how you want to move forward."
Applications will be accepted until April 28. For more information on the program, you can visit their website.