Apprenticeship Programs

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Apprenticeship Basics

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.


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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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

Apprenticeable occupations

Any occupation can be registered as an apprentice 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.

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.