What is an apprenticeship and how does it work?

Apprenticeships are one way people gain the experience and skills they need to prepare for successful careers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) says that 93% of people who complete an apprenticeship stay employed and have an average salary of $77,000.

Find out more about how apprenticeships work, how you can find one and what kinds of careers apprenticeships can lead to. 

Key takeaways

  • Apprenticeships are paid training programs that help people develop skills and gain credentials they need to advance in their chosen careers. 
  • Apprenticeships are available for a wide range of occupations, but not all employers offer them.
  • You can find apprenticeships by using the DOL’s apprenticeship job finder, job centers or reaching out to people in your network.

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What’s the definition of apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are paid training programs that let people develop skills on the job. Apprenticeships often combine hands-on experience—guided by one or more mentors—with classroom instruction. But the format can vary. 

There also isn’t one set time frame for an apprenticeship. It might last anywhere from one year to six years. 

Apprentices might earn credentials they need to move forward in their careers. And they might even be hired on as employees after the apprenticeship ends.

Common apprenticeship programs

According to the DOL, there are almost 27,000 active registered apprenticeship programs in the U.S. And apprenticeships have been on the rise in recent years. Since 2012, the number of annual new apprentices is up 64%. 

Apprenticeships are available for a wide variety of jobs, including:

  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Mechanics
  • Construction workers 
  • Pharmacy technicians  
  • Tattoo artists 
  • Housekeeping professionals 
  • Child care workers
  • Interior designers
  • Photographers
  • Paralegals
  • Computer programmers  
  • Cosmetologists

If you’re interested in an apprenticeship, there are a few ways to find opportunities. You can start by using the DOL’s apprenticeship job finder or finding a local job center.

How apprenticeships work

Apprenticeships give people the opportunity to earn money while training. 

Each apprenticeship might look a little different. And day-to-day activities can vary depending on the type of apprenticeship program and the type of training that’s required. Some apprenticeships might combine classroom instruction with hands-on training, for example. 

There are also inclusive apprenticeship programs that are intended to be accessible to everyone, including people from underrepresented populations and people with disabilities. You can learn more about inclusive apprenticeship programs on the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship website. 

How to get an apprenticeship

The process of finding and getting an apprenticeship can vary depending on the industry. But there are a few general steps you can follow to get started:  

  1. Find an apprenticeship. First, you need to find out if there are any apprenticeships in your chosen field. Finding a local job center or using the DOL’s apprenticeship job finder are good ways to start. And you might also consider reaching out to employers or people in your professional network directly. 
  2. Review the requirements. Once you find an apprenticeship you’re interested in, you’ll want to review the program’s requirements and minimum qualifications. Those might be anything from taking an exam to fulfilling education requirements to completing an interview and more. There also might be age requirements. 
  3. Submit an application. Once you’ve narrowed down your options and know that you meet the apprenticeship’s requirements, it’s time to apply.

Do apprentices get paid?

According to the DOL, the average starting wage for apprentices is $15.00 per hour. And apprentices might also get raises as they learn new skills and take on more responsibility. For people who complete an apprenticeship, the average annual salary is $77,000, according to the DOL. 

Pros and cons of apprenticeships

There can be many advantages of an apprenticeship program. But it might not be for everyone. So it’s important to consider the possible pros and cons before making any decisions about your career path. 

Apprenticeship advantages

Some potential advantages of apprenticeship programs include: 

  • Getting paid, hands-on job training
  • Earning industry-recognized credentials 
  • Avoiding some or all student loan debt
  • Earning credits toward a college degree
  • Connecting with skilled mentors in the industry

Apprenticeship disadvantages

Some possible drawbacks of apprenticeship programs might include: 

  • Apprenticeships can be competitive and might not have a placement guarantee.
  • They’re not offered by all fields.
  • Apprenticeship programs vary in length and start time, which might make planning difficult.  

Apprenticeships in a nutshell

Applying for an apprenticeship is a big decision. But with benefits like paid employment, hands-on training and industry experience, it’s one that might pay off. 

Even so, before applying to an apprenticeship, it’s a good idea to consider the potential pros and cons and what an apprenticeship could mean for your career goals.

And if you’re in the process of applying for apprenticeships, you might also want to take some time to update your resume and research some questions to ask in an interview.

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