For some reason every time I hear the term “apprenticeship” I think of feudal workshops of blacksmiths and shoe cobblers. In my role as coordinator of a sector-based career advancement project, I’ve been hearing the term quite a bit more lately but I still haven’t known a lot about them. So here are some things about apprenticeships that I didn’t know, should have, and think you ought to know too:
Largely unnoticed, the U.S. apprenticeship system currently trains over 500,000 workers. Apprentices learn while they earn, working as a regular employee, contributing to companies’ output and mastering skills under the wing of trainers, who themselves learned mainly by doing. Apprentices take formal courses too, sometimes at community colleges or their work site with community college instructors. After two to four years of work, job-based training and classes, apprentices get a well-recognized occupational credential that documents their new expertise.
Research suggests that apprenticing raises a worker’s earnings far more than just taking community college courses does. In Washington State, apprentices’ annual earnings rose by nearly $12,000, more than double the gains for former community college students.
Given their benefits, apprenticeships seem a promising way to give workers access to marketable skills, especially for economically disadvantaged populations. Because apprenticeships are all learning by working, employers bear most of the cost of educating workers while benefiting from their apprentices even while they learn. Training programs are usually far more effective when students participate in them full-time, since it’s easy to get frustrated and distracted by only attending school part-time in order to hold a job. Apprenticeships give students something no other educational experience really can: full-time work and full-time school at the same time.
By the way, apprenticeship programs need not be about high-skilled crafts and trades jobs such as plumbing, electrical work, and carpentry. The U.S. Labor Department has sponsored a nursing apprenticeship program since 2003 with levels at CNA, LPN, and RN.