A Parent’s Guide to Apprenticeships

College is not the only route to a satisfying, well-paying job. Apprenticeship training, which allows you to earn a salary while learning job-related skills, may be a good option for your teen.

After four or five years, their training is complete, and the apprentice can write an exam to become a journeyperson. Journeyperson is the level between apprentice and master.

“Unfortunately, somewhere in the past 30 years, the message that the only way to obtain employment that can sustain a comfortable life is to go to college has become the prevailing belief,” says Wisconsin school counselor Steve Schneider. “So many students go to college not necessarily motivated by the educational process, but thinking that is the only way they will get a good paying job.

“I think it’s important to confront the assumption that an apprenticeship is not continued education,” adds Schneider. “An apprenticeship is continued education that takes place primarily on the job versus in the classroom. The end result for both is a better educated individual.”

And apprenticeships can lead to very lucrative careers in high-demand fields. The Department of Labor helps oversee apprenticeships programs that cover more than 1,000 different occupations – everything from carpenters and chefs to pipefitters and truck drivers.

“We’ve been reading report after report for years about how the workforce in the skilled trades is walking out the door through retirement in astounding numbers,” says Schneider.

“The majority of industries in the trades are dealing with significant shortages in workers right now, and the human resources data would indicate that the problem will continue to challenge the trades for several years into the future.”

Apprentices must be full-time employees who are paid at least minimum wage. In addition to the 40-hour workweek, apprentices attend classes two evenings a week. Tuition is paid by the sponsor company or, in some cases, a union.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training (BAT) registers apprenticeship programs and apprentices in 23 states. The other 27 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, have chosen to set up state apprenticeship councils. They perform the same function as the BAT and receive the BAT’s help and supervision.

Many apprenticeship jobs can pay $40,000-$50,000 a year to start. Plus, apprentices immediately earn money without going into debt.

“Earning $40,000 a year for four years versus going into debt $10,000 a year for four years potentially gives the apprentice a $200,000 head start in earnings compared to a student who pursues a four-year degree,” says Schneider.

“An apprenticeship guarantees a job without risking investment. College does not guarantee a job, making it a higher risk investment.”

Just be aware of all the options when it comes to postsecondary training. “Some students find great fulfillment in learning more in certain areas, and that drives them toward certain careers. However, many students are driven by the idea of finding a job that will provide them with the means to live a comfortable life,” says Schneider.

“If their primary concern is ‘making a living,’ going to a university is one of several viable options.”

Ultimately, it comes down to your student’s individual interests. “Not everyone who is uncertain about going to a university is the right fit for an apprenticeship either,” says Schneider. “It requires a certain amount of interest and willingness to work in the trades.”

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