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Four Reasons Why Students Should Seek Out More Apprenticeships

In this article, a former high school educator shares four reasons why apprenticeships should be presented to students of all ages, and how they can prepare a student for the workforce better than a traditional college setting.

Sometimes in life, the next logical step in an order of operations is a simple one.

For example, when you get into a vehicle and close the door, the next logical step is to put on a safety belt. Or when you’re in a hardware store and find something you’d like to purchase, you would head to the cashier to pay for it.

But other times, things aren’t as cut-and-dry as they may appear. A prime example – what’s the next logical step when students graduate high school?

While many instinctively suggest the answer is a two- or four-year college, there are countless other options that students can take advantage of. One of the most popular options overseas, but one that has experienced a stagnant phase in America, is an apprenticeship.

In the United States, apprenticeships began in the 1930s, traditionally in the construction sector. Young people would receive first-hand experience – both on the job and in a classroom setting, in areas like carpentry, electrical and plumbing – with hopes to immediately join the workforce after four years’ worth of training.

Fast forward almost 90 years, many new high school graduates view apprenticeships as something from the 1930’s — or worse, have no idea that they are even offered as an educational alternative. With a majority of graduates who seek post-secondary opportunities electing for a more traditional college route, it leaves employers with a smaller pool of candidates for apprenticeships.

Despite the possibility of pay while training, and the guarantee of classroom credit upon completion, apprenticeships aren’t the most popular option among today’s high school graduates. However their reasons why don’t match up with reality. Here are four reasons why today’s students should seek out more apprenticeships:

1 – Like four-year universities, apprentices leave with nationally-certified credentials

Many view the elusive four-year college diploma as the end-all, be-all when talking about advancing education. It proves that, after four long, grueling years, learners get a certificate that proves their expertise in their chosen field of study. With that diploma in hand, graduates are hopeful to find an ideal job that highlights those skills.

Yet while the bright lights of a four-year university are alluring, it doesn’t fit the needs of every student. Instead, some will choose to pursue a work/study opportunity at a two-year community college degree, or hop right into an apprenticeship.

By completing an apprenticeship in one of the 22,000 registered programs, students will earn an industry-recognized certificate that informs employers nationwide of a worker’s particular skillset. With that credential, graduates will more than likely have the opportunity to join the company at which they trained. If they choose a different path, the apprentices will still leave with four years of on-the-job experience under their belt.

So after four years, what are the differences between the two? The former apprentice has a job opportunity lined up, and may have already been receiving payment for their work. On the other hand, the recent college graduate may be forced to begin a months-long search for employment, all while paying off crippling amounts of student debt.

2 – Unlike a four-year university, you are immediately rewarded for your work put in

Though we teased it in the last section, let’s start this one with the scariest statistic in this entire article: Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, spread out over 44 million borrowers. But before you swear off continued higher education forever, consider an alternative – apprenticeships are free.

In fact, registered apprenticeships will pay you to participate.

Think about it: after four years of training on a skillset, one option leaves you roughly $40,000 in debt, as it did with the average Class of 2017 four-year college graduate. The other option won’t cost a dime in the classroom, allows students an opportunity to earn a good wage while training, and familiarizes you with a company that can hire you shortly after completion.

The choice seems obvious.

In an apprenticeship, you will be rewarded immediately for all of the time you put in. If you’re lucky enough to earn a registered apprenticeship, employers will not only pay you while learning, but will dole out real-world experiences in the field of work you’re studying. Even less formal, company-specific apprentice programs that don’t directly pay, give learners a glimpse into their future field, offering invaluable hands-on experience.

No matter which apprenticeship you earn, take comfort knowing that a company is not only willing to reward your hard work, but also invest in your future.

3 – Earlier Apprenticeship Engagement Develops a Clearer Career Path

In Europe, the average age of an apprentice is roughly 17 years old. In the United States, the average age jumps up to 28. So why the age gaps between the two continents?

To answer that, let’s take a look into Switzerland, the eighth-largest country in the European Union, where 70-percent of students choose an apprenticeship as their initial career path.

In a recent Op-Ed for the National Governor’s Association, Amatrol President and CEO Paul Perkins highlights that the Swiss’ approach starts students early. Beginning in high school (age 15-16), apprenticeships are offered for a variety of different industries and occupations. The apprenticeships are industry-driven, and interleave paid employment with classroom learning over a period of 1-1/2 years to 4 years. A common format, according to Perkins, shows students attending school two or three days per week, while working the remaining days.

From there, the apprenticeship pathway could potentially extend into a traditional university framework, where students graduating from the program can easily enter a variety of university programs. Others can elect to immediately join the workforce, thanks to the skills training they received during their time as an apprentice.

“The benefits to students are significant. By participating in an apprenticeship, students would earn money to support themselves, experience work at a realistic level, develop critical work ethic skills, and become skilled at a level sufficient to obtain a high-paying job,” Perkins states in his article. “As in Switzerland, success depends on engaging students while they are still in high school. By giving them the option to enter the program in their last two years and continuing their program for 1-2 years after high school, students gain tremendous experience and direction. This system connects secondary and post-secondary systems in a cohesive way that produces highly trained individuals by the age of 20 years old.”

4 – With over 22,000 registered programs, there is a field of study for everyone

When apprenticeships got their start during the 1930s, the Great Depression was in full swing. While the Roaring Twenties brought good times and booming business, the stock market crash in 1929 would plague the next decade. Unemployment and bankruptcy was everywhere, with 11,000 of the 25,000 banks in the United States failing.

With jobs scarce, workers looked for anything that showed promise. For many, that meant looking into apprenticeships through Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” legislation, a series of programs and projects to restore prosperity were instituted, with some of those being apprenticeships in the construction industry.

In 2018, even with a strong economy and stock market, the association between apprenticeships, the Great Depression, and construction are still prevalent in the minds of some. However, apprenticeships now are no longer strictly in traditional manufacturing fields – there are over 22,000 registered programs ranging in industries from advanced manufacturing, to finance and business, to healthcare. Just last year, nearly 2,400 new program opportunities were added to the federal workload.

In addition to a variety of choices being offered, employers are also utilizing apprenticeships more often. With 533,000+ apprentices nationwide, the United States has seen a 42-percent growth in total apprentice workers since 2013. According to the United States Department of Labor, roughly 500 former apprentices are hired nationally every day, with the current number of active apprentices being 125-percent higher than the 20-year annual average (425,416).

So while there is still a skills gap in various sectors, apprenticeships are showing promise that they can play an important role in the solution of finding qualified workers.

On July 18, 2018, the Department of Labor announced the availability of $150 million in funding to support sector-based approaches to expand apprenticeships nationwide in key industries, particularly for small- to medium-sized businesses.

So despite nearly six million jobs being available due to the skills gap, opportunities for those interested in expanding their knowledge without the commitment of a four-year university are beginning to become more plentiful.

About Wes Scott

Wes Scott is a former public high school teacher and journalist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Wes on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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