An apprenticeship is a proven approach for preparing workers for jobs while meeting the needs of business for a high skillset workforce. It is an employer-driven, “learn-while-you-earn” model that combines on-the-job training, provided by the employer that hires the apprentice, with job-related instruction in curricula tied to the attainment of national skills standards (aka registered apprenticeship program). The model also involves progressive increases in an apprentice’s skills and wages.
While it is used in traditional industries such as construction and manufacturing, an apprenticeship is also instrumental for training and development in growing industries, such as health care, information technology, transportation, agriculture, and energy.
Is an apprenticeship a job?
Yes, apprentices start working from day one with incremental wage increases as they become more proficient.
Do you earn college credit while participating in apprenticeship programs?
Most apprenticeship opportunities include on-the-job training and classroom instruction provided by apprenticeship training centers, technical schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities, sometimes through distance learning. Often apprenticeship sponsors work directly with community colleges that do provide college credit for apprenticeship experience.
What do I receive upon completion of an apprenticeship program?
After completion of an apprenticeship program, the apprentice earns a nationally recognized credential from the U.S. Department of Labor. Additionally, an apprentice earns a paycheck throughout the apprenticeship and the potential for increased pay and upward career opportunities.
How do I qualify for an apprenticeship program?
Apprenticeship program sponsors identify the minimum qualifications to apply for a program. The eligible starting age for a registered apprenticeship program can be no less than 16 years of age; however, individuals must usually be 18 years old to be an apprentice in hazardous occupations. Program sponsors also identify additional minimum qualifications to apply (e.g., education, ability to physically perform the essential functions of the occupation, proof of age). All applicants are required to meet the minimum qualifications.
What is the difference between an apprenticeship and an internship?
An internship is a work opportunity offered by an organization for a limited period of time. Internships are undertaken by students focused solely on the development of a particular skill, while apprenticeships help an individual put academic skills to practical use in a variety of careers. An internship typically does not include classroom instruction. Apprenticeships are formal, paid, long-term training programs that provide valuable classroom instruction coupled with on-the-job training for skilled, high-paying jobs. Internships are usually short-term (rarely lasting more than a year), whereas apprenticeship programs can last for as many as four or five years. As well, most often, the apprentice comes out with a job at the end of the apprenticeship duration.
Apprenticeships - Career Education and a Paycheck
Article from Career Outlook, US Department of Labor, by Olivia Crosby
I learn new things every day,” says Elizabeth Cummings, who is training as an electrician apprentice. “I get to use my hands and my mind. I’m practically guaranteed a great career in a few years—a job that I know I’ll like and that pays very well.”
In fact, Cummings earns full-time pay while she learns. “It’s better than any scholarship,” she says. Cummings is describing a few of the benefits of apprenticeship. She was looking for a free education in a highly skilled field. Like thousands of others, she found what she wanted in apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are available for more than 850 occupations. Construction and manufacturing apprenticeships are most common, but apprenticeships are available for all sorts of occupations. Possibilities range from telecommunications, environmental protection, and pastry making to healthcare, childcare, and the arts.
What do all of these programs have in common? They combine structured on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Current programs vary in length from 1 to 6 years. Throughout that time, apprentices work—and learn—as employees. And when they complete a registered program, apprentices receive a nationally recognized certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor—proof of their qualifications.
Apprenticeship also can be combined with other kinds of training. Classroom instruction often counts toward licenses, certifications, and college degrees.
But for all its advantages, apprenticeship takes time and effort. So before deciding if apprenticeship is right for you, keep reading to learn more about what apprenticeship is and how to find, choose, and qualify for a program.
Apprenticeship: The basics
Apprenticeship is career preparation. It mixes learning on the job with learning in class. A child development apprentice, for example, might spend the day as an assistant teacher, helping to supervise children, lead activities, and make arts and crafts materials. That evening, in class, the apprentice might learn safety procedures and theories of child development.
Most formal apprenticeships are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. This registration means the program meets Government standards of fairness, safety, and training. Graduates of registered programs are called journey workers. They receive certificates of completion from the U.S. Department of Labor or an approved State agency. These certificates are accepted by employers nationwide.
Employee associations, employers, or employer groups manage apprenticeship programs. As program sponsors, they choose apprentices, develop training standards, and pay wages and other expenses.
When apprentices are accepted into registered programs, the sponsors and the apprentices sign an agreement. The agreement explains the specifics of the apprenticeship program: the skills apprentices will learn on the job, the related instruction they will receive, the wages they will earn, and the time the program will take. In signing an agreement, the sponsors promise to train the apprentices and make every effort to keep them employed. The apprentices promise to perform their jobs and complete classes.
On-the-job training. Registered apprenticeship training is more formal than most other types of on-the-job training. Apprentices follow a structured plan. They practice every major element of an occupation.
This variety is an advantage in the job market. “I’ll end up more well rounded,” says Richard Marshall, a machinist apprentice in Wytheville, Virginia. “I’ll have more steady work because I can do more things.” And because employers develop the training plans, training keeps up with the needs of the industry.
Apprentices start by learning simple, repetitive tasks and then gradually progress to complex duties. Electrician apprentices, for example, might begin by learning to cut wire and install it in walls. Eventually, they will plan projects; set up, wire, and test entire construction sites; and diagnose and fix electrical problems.
Expert guidance speeds the learning process. In the beginning, apprentices are closely supervised by a journey worker. “You learn all the tricks of the trade,” says Chris Wilcox, a carpenter apprentice in Newark, Connecticut. “They work with you and show you how to do it.” But soon, apprentices gain independence. A journey worker stays nearby to answer questions and demonstrate new skills.
Related instruction. In addition to learning by doing, apprentices take classes to learn the basics. A first class might teach the names and uses of the equipment a student will see on a jobsite. Later, students learn techniques, such as drafting, cost estimating, or reading blueprints— any procedure the worker must know to perform the occupation.
Students also learn the theories underlying the work they do. For metal workers, this means learning trigonometry, measurement, and applied physics. For cooks, it includes learning about nutrition and the economics of restaurant management. For science technicians, chemistry or physics is essential.
Apprentices see their academics pay off in the job they do. “At work, I notice the children behaving just the way we studied in class,” says Norma Grey, a child development apprentice in Huntington, West Virginia. Understanding these behaviors helps her work with the children more effectively.
Related instruction comes in a variety of formats. Many apprentices attend a vocational school or community college one or two evenings a week after work. Others go to school full time for a few weeks each year. Still others take classes over the Internet or through the mail. Wherever and whenever they study, most apprentices need at least 144 hours of instruction per year.
Earnings. As employees, apprentices earn wages for the work they do. Unless they are part of a prison rehabilitation program, apprentices must make at least minimum wage to start, but they usually earn more. Beginning apprentices often earn about half of what fully trained workers do. They receive raises periodically—usually, every few months. “Workers are more valuable as they learn more skills, so we pay them more,” explains Tom Gibbs, a former heating and air conditioning apprentice who now hires apprentices for his heating and air conditioning business in Ames, Iowa.
Time commitment. Learning a skilled occupation takes time. How much time depends on the occupation. All apprenticeship programs require at least 2,000 hours of work experience. Some take up to 12,000. These hours translate into about 2 to 6 years. Most programs require about 4 years—or 8,000 hours—on the job.
People can reduce the years required by working more hours per week. Or, they can get credit for education and experience they already have. Marshall is benefiting from this flexibility. His experience in a prior job and the classes he’s taken at a community college will shave hundreds of hours from his apprenticeship.
Some employers’ programs focus on skills more than on time at work. In these programs, apprentices still need work experience, but they have to pass skills tests to progress. Skills-based programs take roughly the same amount of time to finish as other programs do.
Many people keep training long after their apprenticeship ends. Reaching journey worker status opens the door to advanced instruction. Cummings, for example, hopes to take master classes in solar energy systems after receiving her certificate of completion.
Apprenticeable occupations: 858 and counting
Any occupation can be registered as apprenticeable if it meets four criteria:
◆ It is clearly defined;
◆ It is customarily learned on the job;
◆ It requires manual, mechanical, or technical skill; and
◆ It requires at least 2,000 hours of work experience and, usually, at least 144 hours of related instruction.
Currently, 858 occupations meet these standards. The most common are listed in the box below. But the U.S. Department of Labor adds more occupations as employers propose and register them. Internetworking technician, youth development practitioner, and plastic molds designer are some recent additions. Several computer occupations are under consideration.
The number of apprenticeable occupations may seem overwhelming, but not every occupation is available at a given time. Programs open and close depending on the number of new workers needed in an occupation. Now, 518 occupations have apprentices working in them.
The number of occupations available for apprenticeship varies from one State to another. But in most States, there are hundreds of occupations to choose among. Apprenticeable occupations can be categorized as follows:
Arts. Theater arts, including stage technicians and actors, fall into this relatively small group, as do designers and arts and crafts workers.
Business and administrative support. Office managers, paralegals, and medical secretaries are some of the occupations in this category.
Construction. These are the most commonly available apprenticeships. Most employers of construction workers consider apprenticeships the best training for these jobs. Workers in this group include plumbers, electricians, and terrazzo workers. Many, such as residential carpenters and acoustical carpenters—who install panels and materials that absorb or affect sound—use considerable math skills. Some, such as reinforcing metal workers, need strength and endurance.
Installation, maintenance, and repair, including telecommunications technicians and power plant operators. Working as service technicians, engine mechanics, or body repairers, some apprentices learn to fix cars and planes. Apprentices also learn to maintain electronics, musical instruments, and power plant machinery. Also in this group are apprentices who install equipment. Millwrights, who install industrial machinery, are an example. Workers who install and maintain communication and sound equipment—such as communications and telecommunications technicians and line installers—also are included.
Production. Production occupations employ the second most commonly available group of apprenticeships. Again, many production employers consider apprenticeship the best way to learn these jobs. Metal workers in this category include tool and die makers and machinists, who create specialized parts out of metal and other materials. Apprentices in precision assembly occupations include those who construct circuit boards and electrical appliances. Others build prototypes, operate printing machines, and conduct safety inspections.
Science, drafting, and computing. Science apprenticeships include chemical, engineering, mapping, or environmental technicians. Drafters, tool and die designers and nondestructive testers are other examples. Computer programmers and internetworking technicians are a few of the computer occupations that are apprenticeable.
Service. Many of the most skilled service occupations are apprenticeable. Cooking, for example, is most often learned in an apprenticeship program. Protective service workers, including police patrol officers, correctional officers, and firefighters, commonly receive apprenticeship training. Landscaping and customer service apprenticeships are a few of the other programs available in some States.
The 25 most popular apprenticeships, 2001
According to the U.S. Department of Labor apprenticeship database, the occupations listed below had the highest numbers of apprentices in 2001. These findings are approximate because the database includes only about 70 percent of registered apprenticeship programs—and none of the unregistered ones.
◆ Bricklayer (construction)
◆ Construction craft laborer
◆ Cook (any industry)
◆ Cook (hotel and restaurant)
◆ Correction officer
◆ Electrician (aircraft)
◆ Electrician (maintenance)
◆ Electronics mechanic
◆ Maintenance mechanic (any industry)
◆ Operating engineer
◆ Painter (construction)
◆ Pipefitter (construction)
◆ Power plant operator
◆ Sheet metal worker
◆ Structural-steel worker
◆ Telecommunications technician
◆ Tool and die maker
Which occupation is right for you?
When exploring careers, prospective apprentices should think about the kind of work they enjoy and what they do best. Some apprenticeable occupations, such as electrical and metal working occupations, require workers to have strong math and problemsolving skills. Others, including nursing and law enforcement, focus on working with the public. Occupations such as jewelry making and tool design demand concentration and attention to detail. Career counselors can help jobseekers choose and test occupations to see which fit their interests.
Another thing to consider is working conditions. Does the work require stamina, as millwrighting does? Does it require moving from job to job, as construction does? Is it clean, as healthcare occupations are? Or dirty, as automotive repair is?
Earnings are important, too. Several apprenticeable occupations—electrician, carpenter, and elevator repairer, for example— pay some of the highest wages in the economy. Others, such as childcare development specialist, pay less. Table 1 shows the earnings of the top-paying occupations for which many people train as apprentices. It shows median earnings—half of all workers in the occupation make less than this amount and half make more.
Job prospects also vary by occupation. Choosing an occupation with many openings leads to better job prospects and greater ability to move from one location to another. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of nationwide job openings in occupations. Table 2 shows which commonly apprenticed occupations are projected to have the most job openings between 2000 and 2010.
Finding an open program
After selecting possible occupations, the next step is to look for openings in apprenticeship programs. Finding open programs can be a challenge, especially in small occupations. To find every opportunity, apprenticeship seekers need to check several sources.
A good place to start is with your State Bureau of Apprenticeship or State office of the U.S. Department of Labor. These agencies list current programs, and some will help people contact businesses that might want to start new programs. The addresses and phone numbers for the Federal offices are listed at the end of this article.
Next, try career counseling offices. Many apprenticeship sponsors publicize openings at career centers and local high schools, and career counselors usually know about the programs in their community.
Trade unions and professional associations have information, too. These organizations often recruit apprentices once or twice a year, distributing applications at their headquarters. For contact information for these organizations, check the Encyclopedia of Associations or the Occupational Outlook Handbook, available at many libraries and most career centers.
Some apprenticeships are advertised in newspapers, on job boards, and with State job services, just like other kinds of jobs.
Joining the military is another way to participate in apprenticeships. People who enlist in certain occupations, including cook and engine mechanic, can complete registered apprenticeships during military training. Each branch of the military has its own rules about apprenticeship availability. Local recruiters can provide additional information.
If you can’t find an apprenticeship program, consider studying at a vocational school or community college. You might be able to transfer credits to an apprenticeship program later. Or you might find a school that offers many of apprenticeship’s benefits. The box below discusses some qualities to look for in a school.
Choosing a program
People might uncover many different apprenticeship programs in the same occupation. To choose which program is best, would-be apprentices need to look closely at each program’s characteristics.
Registration and accreditation. Consider whether a program is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. Many employers have greater trust in the training offered by registered programs than in the training offered by unregistered ones. Also because only registered programs give graduates journey worker status, graduates of these programs have more job choices. Gary McManus, the field services director for a California fire department sees the advantages of registration. “Our firefighters are more mobile now,” he says. “They can move anywhere, show their journey worker card, and be accepted in a new department.”
In some occupations, the U.S. Department of Labor, with help from industry groups and experts, has established national training guidelines. If a registered program meets these guidelines, employers will know precisely what skills the program’s graduates have. This gives graduates an added advantage in the job market.
If you can’t find an apprenticeship, try this
Sometimes, apprenticeship openings are unavailable, but there is another way to reap some of apprenticeship’s benefits: vocational schools and community colleges. These schools prepare students for many skilled occupations, and this training often is faster than apprenticeship. To find training most similar to apprenticeship, students can choose a school with the following:
Recognized credential. Schools cannot offer journey worker certificates, but they do offer vocational certificates or college degrees. To ensure the value of the certificates a school offers, ask which agencies accredit the school. Then, check that the accrediting agencies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education. And finally, call the accreditor to verify the school’s current status.
The U.S. Department of Education’s College Opportunities Online system simplifies the process of checking accreditation. The system is available online at www.nces.ed.gov/ipeds/. Visitors type in the name of a school and receive information about that school, including the organizations that accredit it. Visitors still need to call the accrediting organizations to verify that the schools have been approved. Contact information for these organizations is available online at https://www.ed.gov/.
Professional or trade associations also evaluate training programs associated with their occupations. These associations publish lists of approved programs.
Marketable skills. To learn up-to-date, marketable skills, look for a school that meets with industry groups or follows written industry standards when designing a curriculum.
Investigate the backgrounds of teachers. What certifications or degrees do they have? Do they have work experience?
Also, most schools keep track of the success of their graduates. Ask to see these records. Choose schools whose graduates find work in their field. You could also check the percentage of students who complete the school’s program and the number who default on student loans.
On-the-job training. To gain work experience while you learn, look for programs that include formal internships or co-ops. Recent studies by educators suggest that combining a degree with a co-op or long-term internship increases graduates’ earnings, likelihood of being promoted, and likelihood of finding and keeping a job. This is especially true if schools have a formal relationship with an employer.
Free classroom training. Schools, unlike most apprenticeships, charge tuition. But you may qualify for financial aid and scholarships to lower the bill. The U.S. Department of Education administers a financial aid program for all types of secondary education, including vocational education. To apply for financial aid, such as grants, loans, and work study, call toll-free, 1 (800) 433- 3243. The application also is online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Frequently, State governments also offer aid. Uncover these funds by calling your State Department of Education, the financial aid department of a local college, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Other types of industry accreditation are important for certain occupations. Cooking occupations are one example. The American Culinary Federation accredits training programs for cooks and pastry chefs. Graduates from accredited programs have better job prospects.
Finally, in most construction and manufacturing occupations and some others, apprentices can choose between union and nonunion programs. Apprentices in union programs become union members, paying dues, receiving union benefits, and following union rules.
Pay and benefits. Apprentices’ wages vary from one program to another. Earnings depend on geographic location and an employer’s circumstances. In areas with a labor shortage, wages for apprenticeships have increased considerably. “Now, we pay higher wages to start, especially to people who have taken a shop class,” says Gibbs, about the apprentices he hires for his business. “It’s the law of supply and demand.”
Employee benefits also vary. Some programs offer new apprentices full health, dental, and retirement benefits immediately; others do not offer benefits at all. A few programs—including all programs in Wisconsin—pay apprentices for the time they spend in class. Some employers also pay testing fees for workers trying to earn additional occupational certificates.
Type of related instruction. Apprentices spend many hours studying. How they study depends on the program they choose. Before selecting a program, consider: Do you want to learn in a classroom with a teacher, or would you prefer correspondence or online classes? Do you want to attend a community college or a trade school? How far from your worksite are you willing to travel?
Timing is another factor. Many programs ask apprentices to attend class after work once or twice a week, which gets tiring. But earnings are steady. Others offer a few weeks of full-time classes periodically throughout the year. In protective service occupations, instruction at service academies can last several months.
Finally, many programs offer classes that count toward college or certificate programs. Some offer dual enrollment in a college, making it easier to earn a degree.
Facilities. Before deciding to join a program, see what life will be like on the job. Tour the worksite for clues about the quality of training and the work environment. Is the equipment modern? Are procedures up to date? Is the worksite comfortable and safe? Do workers seem willing to demonstrate and teach skills? What would the work schedule and commute from home be like?
A tour is an excellent opportunity to ask employees about their jobs. By asking questions, would-be apprentices can learn about the occupation and the program sponsor. As always, it is important to dress neatly and behave professionally when visiting potential employers. Each contact is a kind of interview.
Costs. Some apprentices are required to buy tools, manuals, and textbooks. This is especially common for people in construction and manufacturing occupations. Some programs offer discounts to apprentices.
Cummings saved for a few months to buy the tools she would need as an apprentice, but she considers them worth the cost. “In a few weeks, my salary had paid for the tools,” she says. “And I can use them for years.”
For all registered apprenticeships, there is a standard application procedure. First, applicants fill out forms. Either they pick up the application at a sponsor’s headquarters or jobsite or they ask to have an application sent to them. Next, applicants take any required tests. Finally, those who meet enough requirements are asked to complete an interview. All qualified applicants are placed on a waiting list, with the most qualified applicant listed first.
The requirements of an apprenticeship program are set by the organization or employer sponsoring the program. Applicants are ranked according to their skills, education, and experience.
Apprenticeships in some occupations are highly competitive, with more applicants than openings. In addition to meeting basic requirements, apprenticeship seekers need to show they are more qualified than other applicants are. Applicants for competitive programs may have to wait weeks or months before an opening becomes available. Pre apprenticeship programs, described below, can help people improve their chances of getting an apprenticeship.
Having a relative or friend in an occupation used to be an advantage when competing for an apprenticeship. But now the law dictates that all applicants be treated equally and be rated only according to job-related characteristics.
Requirements. All apprenticeship programs require applicants to be at least 16 years old. And most programs require applicants to be at least 18—unless they are in a special program that combines high school with apprenticeship.
Most apprenticeship programs require applicants to have a high school diploma or a passing score on the high school equivalency exam. Some also ask applicants to complete specific classes related to the occupation. Data communications installer apprentices, for example, usually need at least a C in algebra.
Even if specific grades and classes are not required for a program, selecting officials look for applicants with solid high school records. Classes in English, math, and science are important for all applicants. For applicants interested in mechanical, manufacturing, or construction occupations, courses in drafting and industrial arts are an advantage. Attending a vocational school after high school is another way to gain a competitive edge.
In addition to requiring education, sponsors often administer aptitude tests. The most common tests measure reading, math, and problem solving skills, but tests vary by occupation. The scene artist program in New York City, for example, asks applicants to pass a drawing test.
Work experience also improves an applicant’s chances. Sponsors look for applicants who have had paid jobs or volunteer work. Some companies offer apprenticeships only to people already working for the company in another job.
A doctor’s examination is needed for some apprenticeships that require physical skills—such as above average strength. But all physical requirements must be related to the occupation.
Interview. Applicants who meet basic qualifications advance to the interview stage. They meet with the employer or a few people from the organization sponsoring the program. Applicants answer questions about their work and school experience and their reasons for wanting to apprentice.
The interviewers ask about qualifications, but they also try to discover personality traits. Interviewers want to hire people who have determination and commitment to the occupation. Curiosity is also important. “I need people who want to learn,” says Gibbs. “Every year, there’s new technology to master.” Interviewers might ask questions such as:
◆ Why do you want this apprenticeship?
◆ Why do you think you would be good at this job?
◆ Have you ever worked as part of a team?
◆ Do you know what the work is like?
◆ What would you like to be doing in 5 or 10 years?
◆ How will you come to work if your car breaks down?
Interviewers for registered apprenticeship programs keep records summarizing applicants’ answers. These notes help them choose applicants and explain acceptance decisions.
Program sponsors say applicants should treat an apprenticeship interview like any job interview: research the occupation, be on time, dress neatly, shake hands, make eye contact, and be ready to give examples of your qualifications and work habits. Increase the chances of success by having a question or two of your own to ask and writing a thank-you note after the interview.
Ranking. When the interviews are complete, sponsors rank applicants from most to least qualified. They assign points to each applicant based on test results; past education, grades, and experience; and interview performance. The person with the most points gets the first opening. If there are more qualified people than openings, people who don’t get into a program are put on a waiting list.
Pre apprenticeship programs. Nonprofit organizations, schools, and government agencies try to help people qualify for apprenticeships. They target specific groups, including high schoolers, disadvantaged youths, veterans, and women. Some pre apprenticeship programs begin by exposing people to different occupations. Chicago Women in Trades, for example, offers jobsite visits, job shadowing opportunities, and assessment tests. Mentors explain what the application process is like and conduct mock interviews.
Many groups, including Chicago Women in Trades, offer tutoring in reading, math, and mechanical skills. The tutoring, which is designed to help applicants pass qualifying exams, usually lasts between 1 and 8 weeks. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Step-up programs offer similar help to people with low incomes who are interested in apprenticing in construction, maintenance, and, soon, environmental protection occupations. Step-up programs sometimes offer support during the apprenticeship as well, including childcare and transportation assistance.
In another type of program, some military veterans qualify for counseling about apprenticeships and stipends while they train, along with the credit they receive for their military training.
One of the fastest growing pre apprenticeship initiatives is the school-to-apprenticeship program. School-to-apprenticeship allows high school students to begin their apprenticeships as juniors and seniors. These students take occupational classes in addition to their regular high school curriculum. They concentrate on math and science or other classes important to the occupation they are considering.
Students work part time—often, earning credit for on-the-job training. After graduation, they become full-time apprentices, with the advantage of having already completed many of the requirements. To learn where school-to-apprenticeship is offered, ask high school guidance counselors or call school district administrators.
For more information
Learn more about apprenticeship and pre apprenticeship programs by visiting a school or career guidance counselor. Counselors can help you decide on an occupation and find open programs.
Trade associations, unions, and other professional organizations have information about apprenticeships specific to their occupation. To find organizations, visit a local public library.
State governments are another good source of information. With the help of the U.S. Department of Labor’s State offices, State Apprenticeship Councils oversee registered apprenticeship programs in their area. They help employers and employer groups to start programs, and they tell would-be apprentices about opportunities.