Apprenticeship Programs: What They Are And Examples

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 16, 2020

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If the idea of spending four years in a classroom after high school is the last thing you want to do, you might be a perfect candidate for an apprenticeship program. It can get you into a career faster and have you earning a competitive wage while your friends are still turning in homework assignments.

If that sounds interesting to you, keep reading.

What Is Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a way to learn the specific skills you need for a particular job or industry. This is a crucial point to note; many different industries offer apprenticeships, so each one will have different requirements and professional trajectories.

Diving into the job market and making bank right out of high school sounds fantastic. So how do you do it? Apprenticeship programs can be the answer. They’ll help you get trained, work in a skilled field, and earn enough to live on your own long before your college-bound peers.

In an apprenticeship, you typically have some classroom experience and then take that directly into the field for on-the-job training. For many, apprenticeships are paid. This is awesome because you earn while you learn. But that also means there are some attached obligations, like the big one: you’ll be expected to work.

Why Become an Apprentice?

Some people just love the idea of joining the workforce earlier. They hate school and certainly don’t want to earn a bachelor’s degree. But they want to work in a skilled profession and have the opportunity to do more, earn more money, and have a great occupation.

Those are fantastic reasons for taking this career path, but there’s one more that might be even more compelling. An apprentice program might be required for your field. It’s true; becoming an apprentice might have nothing to do with what you want. Your wants are entirely irrelevant when it’s a required part of a profession.

Benefits of Apprentice Training Programs

Hands-on training while you work in a profession that you want to master. This concept is about as old as the concept of professions themselves. It’s the way people used to learn how to perform a trade. Blacksmiths had blacksmith apprentices, and journeymen had journeyman apprentices. When you think about it, the first Neanderthal to use a tool for hunting probably taught others, turning them into his apprentices.

There is a long human history of experts teaching others a skill or a trade. The reason this practice continues today is that there are so many benefits to learning things this way.

  • Kinesthetic learning. This is learning by doing, and for some people, this is the only way to learn (or the best way, at least).

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    People who prefer interactive learning tend to go into the arts and manufacturing or creative fields like dance, acting, jewelry making, carpentry, physical therapy, and carpentry. All of these fields have on-the-job training elements to them, and often, that learning never stops.

  • Customized training. For the apprentice, they get to learn about a profession that interests them, and they don’t have to waste time with a lengthy, well-rounded education. For the employer, they can train people on how they specifically like to have things done.

  • Professional pipeline. The trades that require apprenticeships are constantly feeding their industry supply and demand cycle. Do you have a lot of plumbers retiring soon? Well, it’s time to bring on more apprentices. It’s that easy.

  • Job security. For employees, once you get into your apprenticeship program, you stand a great chance of getting a job and staying employed. That’s incredibly valuable in this era.

  • Continued learning. Many apprentices are not new to the field; they’re just adding to their skill sets. It’s not uncommon to have refresher apprenticeships for established employees or professional certificate training that lets you advance in your career through on-the-job learning.

  • A culture of cooperation. One benefit to employees and employers that often gets overlooked is the atmosphere or assistance that happens when you have an apprenticeship program.

    Everyone in the company knows what it’s like to learn from others and then instruct others. That makes it much easier for people to ask questions, get help, and continually cooperate. It creates a sense of camaraderie that makes work more enjoyable.

What Do You Need to Know Before Becoming an Apprentice?

The one thing you need to know before becoming an apprentice is if it’s required. Some jobs require this mentor/mentee type relationship. There’s simply no getting around it. Other professions don’t have an apprenticeship model; you get the job, and you’re thrown right in without that middle ground training period. Find out what your dream job requires.

One key thing to note: apprenticeships are more than just paid internships. They’re structured to teach you specific skills in a predefined order. There are also many opportunities for the individual to prove their knowledge and mastery of the skills.

True apprenticeships are completed with some type of certification. These nationally accredited certifications are valid in all of the states that participate in the program.

How to Become an Apprentice

Think that you want to be an apprentice and learn your career that way? There are things you can do to start on this journey:

  • Pick a career. The United States Department of Labor has a website dedicated to apprenticeships. If you think this might be the best way for you to learn and earn, check out the careers that use an apprentice model.

  • Find an apprentice program. You know what profession you want. Now it’s time to find a program that works for you. You might have to move to find the program you want. You also might find that some have different requirements, timeframes, etc. that would make them more appealing.

    Apprentice programs are offered through businesses, industry associations, state workforce systems, colleges and tech schools, and community organizations.

  • Meet the eligibility requirements. Age is the first hurdle for most people. Many apprenticeships can start as early as age 16, but others will need you to be 18.

    Beyond that, some require a certain level of education, whether you’re a high school graduate, have taken aptitude tests, or you’ve had some education or training beyond high school. You might even find that your chosen job demands a specific grade point average.

  • Apply for the program. Not everyone who applies gets in. Even if you have all the right qualifications, there could be a waiting list for the particular job or company you want. If you are not accepted, try to connect with someone at the company to ask them what else you can do to make your application more desirable in the future.

    You might have to take an entry-level position to get your foot in the door before you can get into the program.

One thing to note, many people who become apprentices aren’t jumping into this immediately after earning their high school diploma. They might already be working in the field and looking for advancement opportunities.

It could be that they want the certification to start earning more and doing more. In some situations, regulations change, and people who have done a job for years now need to learn additional skills to be effective and competitive.

Professions With Apprentices

You’ve decided that an apprenticeship is the way to go – you get to start earning money faster, and you’ll still end up with professional skills and a career you can be proud of. The problem? You’re still not sure what you want to be. The following are some (not all) careers that traditionally use an apprenticeship program to train and hire:

  • Electrician. Learning to work with electricity requires a lot of skill and practice. A hands-on learning model with an expert is a safe way to learn this skill.

  • Auto mechanic. The ins and outs of repairing and maintaining cars are tricky. Each year new models come out, and every few years, there are drastic changes to vehicles. You may find additional education and training are needed throughout your career.

  • Master brewer. Want to learn how to brew the best beer around? Then step away from your garage brew setup and train to become a master brewer.

  • Pharmacy technician. Your attention to detail and knowledge base needs to be spot-on for this profession. Luckily, you can learn on the job with the guidance of experts in the field.

  • Engineering. There are several different offshoots in this field, and each one has different apprentice programs. If you love learning and doing, this could be the right field for you.

  • Optician. An optician has a lot of technical expertise. They’re the ones who design, fit, and dispense your corrective vision devices. Yes, they’re the highly skilled ones who actually make the lenses for your glasses.

  • Plumber. This is one of the most well-known professions that features an apprentice program. In fact, there are different types of plumbing certifications and apprentice programs. It’s a high paying career, so it’s a field worth getting into.

  • Machinist. Turn a regular block of metal into an intricate and intrinsic part of a machine. This is almost more of an artistic pursuit than a pure industrial one. If you are detail-oriented and love operating complex machinery, becoming a machinist could be your perfect job.

  • Cosmetologist. Hands-on training is necessary for this position. There’s just no way to learn all there is to know about salon styling and work without using other people as guinea pigs. Once you’ve completed your classwork and apprenticeships, then you’ll be ready to take your state licensing exams.

  • HVAC Technician. Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems contain many complex components. Being an HVAC Technician means learning how to diagnose a problem and correct it. It requires a vast amount of knowledge that’s traditionally gained through an apprentice training program.

These are just a few of the jobs you can have if you decide to become an apprentice. There are even more opportunities out there, so start looking.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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