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Why Apprenticeships Can Be a Great Option for Students (Plus, Where to Find Them)

Photo by Guilherme Cunha on Unsplash

American teens seem to be taught that there are two choices after high school: higher education or a job. What if there were a third choice that combined both of those things? The good news is that this learn-and-earn model, called an apprenticeship, has been around for a long time. The better news is that apprenticeships are a priority for the Department of Labor, which explains that these programs help “businesses thrive by building a highly-skilled, highly-productive workforce.”

Sounds great, right? But…

What Is an Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship isn’t an internship or a co-op. Registered apprentices are hired by a company as an employee and are paid from day one, learning what they need for their industry via on-the-job training and additional coursework along the way. This model builds in wage increases as an apprentice’s skills increase and typically, an apprentice is hired as a full-time employee at the completion of the training program.

This model benefits employees, who earn industry credentials free of charge while also earning a wage and building skills, but — equally important — it benefits the employer, who then retains a highly skilled worker.

Apprenticeship training involves a combination of mentors (experienced industry professionals on the job site) and what’s called related instruction, which could be coursework completed at a community college, technical school, the business itself, or online. All training and coursework for apprenticeships meet national industry standards, which means the apprentice could take that knowledge anywhere in the country. This is a fully portable, stackable credential — many apprentices complete their training with an associates degree and the credentials can be easily applied toward a bachelor’s degree if desired.

Aren’t Apprenticeships Just for Carpenters?

Trades like plumbing, welding, and carpentry all offer registered apprenticeship programs, but so do many other industries! In fact, according to the Department of Labor, more than 150,000 employers across 1,000 occupations offer registered apprenticeship programs in the United States — there are over 500,000 apprentices learning and earning right now.

Advanced manufacturing apprenticeship job titles include Precision Machinist or Tool and Die Maker — companies like Siemens and Rolls-Royce depend on these apprentices to carry on their company culture of high performance. Meanwhile, the construction industry struggles to attract young people to the building trades. Apprenticeship programs help build a pipeline of young workers who are free from student loan burdens and trained to safely and precisely complete their projects.

The apprenticeship model benefits employees, who earn industry credentials free of charge while also earning a wage and building skills, but — equally important — it benefits the employer, who then retains a highly skilled worker.

Apprentices are also helping to solve a crisis in the healthcare industry: a massive shortage of skilled home health aides, certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists, and medical technicians at a time when the need for these workers is increasing. The curriculum offers a foundation for apprentices to continue their education in the healthcare industry to branch into any area of care.

If you’re reading along and thinking apprenticeships aren’t for you because you love computers and finance, think again. The financial services industry in particular is facing the retirement of a large percentage of its workers along with a skill gap among interested young people looking to step into these jobs. Financial services apprentices earn an associates degree in Business Administration and step into jobs like banking underwriters, credit coordinators, insurance claims adjuster, and account reconciliation.

What is the Financial Outlook for an Apprentice?

According to the Department of Labor, the average apprentice begins with a starting wage of $16.50 per hour, with wage increases as the apprentice hits benchmarks in their training. Across all industries, the average salary for an apprentice is $60,000, and the DoL says apprentices can expect to earn $300,000 more during their career than non-apprenticeship workers in the same field. Most programs have a 91% retention rate, which means nearly all apprentices complete their programs and stay on as full-time employees with their company.

What’s the Big Picture?

Many Americans see college as the only path to status and financial stability, but with the increasing costs of tuition and stagnant wages in many industries, a college degree doesn’t stretch as far as it once did. Internationally, apprenticeship programs have been lauded as the key to success of various industries. The United States is taking notice, and bolstering apprenticeship programs with state and federal funding. Historic bipartisan support from Congress led to $95 million to fund apprenticeship programs that will enable Americans to enter family-sustaining careers.

The better news about apprenticeships is that they offer a pathway for our economy to increase equity. DoL programs offer partnerships with companies looking to hire women, people of color, people with disabilities, and other underserved populations.

How to Find an Apprenticeship

The Department of Labor has a page on their website that offers various tools to search for available apprenticeships in your area. Some local community colleges and trade schools also offer apprenticeship programs, so check their sites as well.

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Author: Katy Rank Lev

Katy Rank Lev is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh’s East End. She writes about education, women’s health, and parenthood. You can find her online at