Apprenticeships Can Launch Careers

Employers and people who want rewarding careers are taking a second look at a historic training method that may solve some 21st century problems. Several states believe apprenticeship programs can help them compete globally, and European nations using apprenticeships have lower youth unemployment rates.

With soaring tuition keeping young people out of school and employers finding it hard to hire skilled workers, apprenticeships are gaining traction during this time of rapid technological change and intense global competition. This time-honored method of training gives today’s workforce entrants 21st century skills without incurring debt. They earn while they learn the things they actually use on the jobs, and they see theory put into practice.

Under the eye of mentors, apprentices learn on the job and in class. In many cases, the education in a highly skilled field is free. Apprentices work from two to six years – usually about four – to become journeymen certified as competent in all major aspects of their occupations.

Employers know what they are getting when they hire a certified journeyman. Apprenticeships enable them to build a qualified workforce to their own specifications.

In the end both employer and apprentice have a competitive edge.

With skill shortages beginning to develop as the workforce ages, industries are worried about staying competitive. Apprenticeship is a flexible, industry driven way to replace those workers with ones who have up-to-date skills.

 What do apprentices do?

Apprentices work for the organizations where they are training and combine work with learning to develop proficiency in an array of tasks. Most learning is on the job, but there are at least 144 hours of web-based or classroom structured learning. Classrooms are most commonly at local professional-technical schools such as North Idaho College, Lewis-Clark State College, the College of Western Idaho, the College of Southern Idaho, Eastern Idaho Technical College and Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Apprentices typically start at half or less of journeyman wages, but every few months, wages rise as the apprentice becomes more valuable to the employer.

Benefits vary. Some programs offer full health, dental and retirement benefits immediately. Others offer no benefits at all.

Apprentices start by learning simple, repetitive tasks and then gradually progress to complex duties. By the time they complete a program, apprentices have practiced every major element of the occupation. Electrician apprentices, for example, might begin by learning to cut wire and installing it in walls. Eventually, they will plan projects; set up, wire and test entire construction sites; and diagnose and fix electrical problems.

What about classroom learning?

In the classroom apprentices learn basics like drafting, cost estimating and reading blueprints – things they must know to do the job. They learn the theories underlying their work. 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. Apprentices see their academics pay off in the job they do.

Many attend vocational schools or community colleges in the evenings while others attend full time for a few weeks each year. Some take classes over the Internet or by mail.

What are the advantages for apprentices?

Earning while learning and being prepared for a career rather than an entry level job are big advantages of apprenticeships. They provide a recognized credential attesting to mastery of required tasks – a credential often recognized nationally.

The broad structured exposure to an occupation makes apprentices well rounded with a sense of occupational identity and pride. They can do more things, making it easier to find steady work. Their skills are less likely to become obsolete since employers develop the training that keeps up with industry needs.

Often apprenticeship classes count toward college or certificate programs, and some offer dual enrollment in a college, making it easier to earn a degree.

Apprenticeships provide the chance to earn high wages. The median pay for journeymen in 2012 was $51,522 in the United States, and many become supervisors or move into even higher-paying occupations. An analysis by Iowa Workforce Development found that workers completing apprenticeship programs typically earn higher wages than workers in the same occupation who only have a high school degree or who have gone through shorter training programs.

The Center for American Progress analyzed the effectiveness and return on investment for apprenticeships and found not only did they generate a high level of employer satisfaction but also significant increases in lifetime earnings for workers — as much as $300,000.

How can someone become an apprentice?

The Idaho Department of Labor has a registered apprenticeship web page with information for employers, workers, counselors and parents.

Most apprenticeship applicants must be 18 with a high school diploma or equivalent although some special programs combining high school with apprenticeships accept students at 16.

Applicants must be physically able to do the work of the trade. Sometimes a doctor’s evaluation is required. Many trades require students to have a valid driver’s license, and most require drug screening. Application fees between $20 and $45 are not uncommon.

Many apprenticeship programs are highly competitive, and people often apply more than once. Applicants may be interviewed, asked to take aptitude tests in reading, mathematics, writing or on specifics of the occupation. They will be ranked by screeners, and the highest ranked applicants are selected. Under the law, all applicants must be treated equally and be evaluated only on job-related characteristics.

What are registered apprenticeships?

For 76 years, the registered apprenticeship system has helped meet America’s needs for skilled workers. Formal apprenticeships are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, indicating the program meets government standards for fairness, safety and training. The system is flexible, allowing sponsors to determine the content of both the on-the-job training and the technical instruction so workers can be prepared to compete in the global economy of the 21st Century.

Apprenticeship registration requires a written plan moving participants from entry level to full occupational proficiency. The Idaho Department of Labor can assist sponsors in developing approved plans, which include supervised, on-the-job training, job-related education and a scalable progression of wage increases. On completion, an apprentice earns a nationally recognized credential validating proficiency in an occupation.

New apprenticeship programs are relatively easy to add. Idaho added nine in the last fiscal year.

What is Idaho’s School-To-Registered Apprenticeship Program?

Idaho uses the national School-to-Registered Apprenticeship model for high school juniors or seniors. Students are employed part time as registered apprentices, and their structured on-the-job training is combined with applicable high school classroom studies, allowing them to begin acquiring career and technical skills. Employers work with school counselors, instructors and the program coordinator on job placement, and employers must file monthly progress reports. When they graduate from high school, apprentices go from part-time work to full-time.

 Who can sponsor an apprenticeship program?

Any group that need workers or is involved with workforce training can sponsor apprenticeship programs.

  • Individual employers
  • Group of employers
  • Combinations of employers and unions
  • The military

In Idaho, program sponsors represent a variety of businesses and industries. Most are individual employers with fewer than 50 workers, are locally owned and train one to four apprentices at a time. Most have no training personnel. They use journeymen to train and mentor their apprentices.

Some employers are involved with several apprenticeship programs. For example, Idaho Power Co. offers eight different recognized training programs – lineman, station technician, meter technician, line operations technician, relay technician, communication technician, generation specialist and generation technician.

Some programs are union-based. Idaho Workers Opportunity Network of the AFL-CIO works with employers on more than 30 programs for construction trades across the state –boilermaker, bricklayer, cement mason, construction laborer, electrician, elevator constructor, heavy equipment operator, iron worker, mechanic, plumber, pipefitter, plasterer, hazardous waste removal laborer, operating engineer, powerline clearance specialist, roofer, sheet metal worker, surveyor assistant and truck driver.

These apprenticeships are run by Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees of managers and union members, who structure the program and dispatch apprentices when they are needed. Apprentices may spend time with several different employers to ensure they receive all the required experience needed to complete the program. Apprentices are members of the union and accorded the same protections. In Idaho, most union programs do not require tuition, book fees or tool fees.

If some apprentices are not working out, sponsors are not obligated to keep them. A registered apprenticeship program does not conflict with an employer’s rights in an employment-at-will state like Idaho.

Which occupations work with apprentices?

Apprenticeships are common for automotive technician, baker, bricklayer, carpenter, electrician, machinist, maintenance mechanic, operating engineer, painter, plumber, pipefitter, roofer, shipbuilder, sheet metal worker, structural steel worker, tool and die maker and welder.

Registered apprenticeships remain highly active in construction and traditional forms of manufacturing, but they are becoming instrumental in emerging occupations in health care, energy and homeland security. Idaho manufacturers including high-tech companies have significantly increased their use of registered apprenticeship programs, and state government is using registered apprenticeship more than it has in the past.

Registered apprenticeships easily meet training needs of new industries and occupations like internet technician, youth development practitioner and plastic molds designer. Industries outside construction and manufacturing with developed apprenticeships include child care, the arts, environmental protection, telecommunications and pastry making. Some of the faster-growing apprenticeships include computer programmer, computer service mechanic, dairy technologist, dental assistant, electronics technician, environment analyst, firefighter, horticulturist, insurance claims adjuster, laboratory technician, optical technician, wastewater treatment plant operator and chef.

Nationwide, registered apprenticeship programs cover more than 900 occupations. In 2012, 62 new occupations were added.

Any occupation can be registered if it:

  • Is clearly defined.
  • Is customarily learned on the job.
  • Requires manual, mechanical or technical skill.
  • Requires at least 2,000 hours of work experience and usually at least 144 hours of related instruction.

Currently 220 programs are training 1,270 apprentices for more than 400 employers in Idaho. In the 12 months through last September, 399 people started apprenticeships in Idaho.

Idaho’s Office of Apprenticeship in Boise has worked with the Idaho Department of Labor to integrate apprenticeships into Idaho’s overall workforce training system. Four years ago, an apprenticeship steering committee began focusing on expanding apprenticeship training in the state. Among the target industries are advanced manufacturing, aerospace, geospatial technology, information technology, health care and energy.

The Idaho Department of Labor is ready to help students find apprenticeships and to help employers recruit apprentices. It also can help employers and other sponsors set up registered apprenticeship programs or develop less formal ways of training workers for tomorrow’s jobs.

Learn more about careers and apprenticeship programs at the Idaho Career Information System website.

More information for employers is available from a business specialist.

Kathryn.Tacke@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 799-5000, ext. 3984