The practice of apprenticeship dates back to the Middle Ages, when master craftsmen enjoyed the inexpensive labor of young people in exchange for room, board and training in their craft.
Today, the practice has evolved into a worldwide system for preparing the next generation of workers to enter skilled trades in fields like energy, construction and manufacturing.
Apprenticeships are an excellent way for inexperienced workers to get their feet wet in a skilled trade, gaining invaluable hands-on training and tutelage from an expert in the field.
But they’re also beneficial to companies, which enjoy the advantage of being able to recruit, train and retain in-demand talent in an increasingly competitive global market.
Here, we’ll talk more about the benefits of industrial apprenticeships, the industries where they’re most common and how to land one if you’re looking to start your career in the skilled trades.
For our purposes, we’ll be talking about non-union, formal apprenticeships. These are arrangements that take place independent of a labor union but within the confines of a formal structure, like the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship program.
Under these standardized programs, employers prepare and develop members of their future workforce over the course of an agreed-upon timeline. Through the program, workers receive paid experience and walk away with either a job or a transferable, widely recognized credential that will serve them in securing future employment.
According to the Department of Labor, 94% of workers who complete an apprenticeship program retain employment, bringing in an average annual salary of $70,000.
During an apprenticeship, you’ll take part in both on-the-job and classroom learning that’s specifically structured to help you develop the range of skills you’ll need in your new trade.
In some programs, the classroom learning portion comes with college credit. The program takes place under the supervision of one or more mentors, who guide you through your learning and provide insights on the company or program sponsor.
To obtain an apprenticeship, you’ll need to apply just as you would for a normal job. Companies typically list available apprenticeships alongside their full-time positions on their careers pages, or you can search for apprenticeship opportunities in your area online.
Skilled trades like construction and manufacturing are critical to our country’s economy and infrastructure. And yet, talent shortages and skills gaps continue to threaten many of the very industries that form the backbone of our workforce.
While this may seem like a negative outlook, it’s actually a good thing for workers in the industrial trades. If you’re a dependable worker, it puts you in a highly competitive position for essential jobs that will afford a healthy salary and a long, successful career.
Here are a few of the top reasons to consider seeking an apprenticeship.
Unlike the Medieval days, apprentices no longer work for a hot meal and a roof to sleep under. Today’s apprenticeships pay–often competitively.
The average starting wage for apprentices in the U.S. is $15 an hour, with guaranteed wage increases as you broaden your skills. At some companies, apprentices are paid on a sliding scale based on the full-time salaries of a comparable worker.
For example, an apprentice might start out earning 45% of a journeyman’s full-time salary and work their way up to 55% over the course of the program.
An apprenticeship is not only a great way to earn money while learning a trade, it also sets you up for greater earnings over your entire career. Apprentices who complete their program earn approximately $300,000 more during their lifetime than workers who did not complete an apprenticeship.
It’s hard to overstate the value of mentorship for both the trainee and the employer. In addition to providing valuable, expert-level guidance to the young worker, companies benefit from mentorship in the form of real business outcomes.
In a case study of close to 30 firms with apprenticeship programs, over three quarters of them said mentoring had led to improved quality in their product or service and/or gains to their overall productivity.
As a worker, mentorship from a trusted superior gives you coaching in key skills and access to tricks of the trade you won’t pick up from a book.
A mentor can also provide psychological support, which can be more important than you might think as you embark on a new and uncertain career path.
With the support of a trusted mentor, you’re more likely to stick with the program when it gets challenging rather than calling it quits.
It’s no secret that education is a proven path to professional success and financial security, but college isn’t for everyone. If you hate the idea of spending two to four years sitting in classrooms racking up a certain number of credits just to receive a piece of paper, you’re probably a great candidate for an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeship is an alternative to the typical higher education model, swapping lecture halls and textbooks for hands-on learning in a real-world work environment.
As we mentioned earlier, most apprenticeship programs do include some form of classroom instruction, but all of the material is directly relevant to the trade you’re learning.
At a time when the average student loan debt tops $37,000, an apprenticeship is a highly attractive way to obtain a practical education without digging yourself into a deep financial hole.
Completing an apprenticeship program comes with more than just the possibility of a job offer. You’ll also walk away with a nationally recognized credential you can take with you no matter where you work. This credential signifies to employers that you’re trained and qualified for a job in that particular trade.
The specific credentials you’ll earn as an apprentice vary by industry and employer. In the manufacturing field, for example, you may earn certifications from the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council, a formal assessment organization that tests workers to various industry standards.
Some apprentice programs allow you to earn college credit or even a degree. An apprenticeship program sponsored by a community college, for example, may culminate with the receipt of your associate’s degree.
While the skilled trades are an excellent career choice, they can present a challenge for job seekers who are just starting out. Most entry-level positions want candidates to have at least a year or two of experience, but to gain such experience, you need to get an entry-level job.
An apprenticeship helps you get around this conundrum, helping you earn the direct hands-on experience companies are looking for. What’s more, upon completion of the program, you’ll be at an advantage to other candidates who are coming in with little to no experience.
As long as people use fuel to keep the lights on, get from place to place and power their cities, the energy field will play a critical role in our society.
Emerging technologies make the field an exciting and promising one for young workers, particularly in the area of green energy. Renewable energy sources outpaced coal energy in the U.S. for the first time in 2019.
Apprenticeships in the energy field typically range from two to four years and are offered for positions like utility workers, line maintenance, instrument technicians, refinery operators, and substation operators.
A career in manufacturing requires precision skills and a diverse set of competencies, and companies in the industry are facing a growing skills gap as older workers retire and ever-changing technologies drive a need for more educated workers. This creates the perfect environment for apprentices to thrive.
A manufacturing apprenticeship could set you up for a competitive job as a machinist, aerospace engineer, manufacturing engineering technician, tool and die maker, or welder, just to name a few of the many opportunities in the field.
From building things with your hands to executing detailed technical plans to fixing things when they’re broken, there’s a range of diverse and lucrative career doors apprenticeship can open in the construction field.
Apprentice programs are commonly offered for jobs like carpenter, electrician, bricklayer, pipefitter, and plumber.
The jobs you can get after completing a construction apprenticeship often come with healthy salaries. Electricians, for example, earn a median annual salary of $56,000 a year, with the highest 10% of workers earning close to six figures.
Nondestructive testing (NDT) apprenticeships are slightly rarer, but represent a vibrant opportunity for industrial workers to enter a burgeoning industry. In the US, there’s currently only one program approved for NDT apprenticeships through the American Aerospace Technical Academy (AATA), and the British Institute has one as well.
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