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Apprenticeship 101: Earn While You Learn

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The following information is prepared by John Ladd, administrator of the Office of Apprenticeship within the Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration.

How would you like to receive a paycheck while being trained in a high-skill occupation that has a starting salary around $50,000? If that sounds appealing, you might want to consider participating in a Registered Apprenticeship program.

What is an apprenticeship? 

Most Americans are familiar with the concept of an apprenticeship: the apprentice, or trainee, works for a period of time under the guidance of a mentor or expert in a field, gradually accumulating knowledge, skills and hands-on competency. Another way to think of it would be the opportunity to “earn while you learn” in a structured environment.

The Registered Apprenticeship system − overseen by my office − works with state agencies to set standards for apprenticeship programs, ensure high-quality training and develop new programs.

Editor’s note: Want to know what a modern apprenticeship program looks like? This New York Times article has a good story about a program in South Carolina.

How is an apprenticeship different from other job training and education programs?

To start, apprentices receive a paycheck from day one that is guaranteed to increase as their training, knowledge, skills and abilities progress – no small benefit in an age of ballooning college costs and student loan debt. Apprenticeships (which can last from one to six years) also connect education and work simultaneously: apprentices gain industry-recognized credentials, and in many cases, college credits that can lead to an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Those credentials in turn often lead to a long-term, well-paying career. Over a career, someone who has gone through a Registered Apprenticeship program earns an estimated $300,000 more in salary and benefits than someone who did not. You can search for apprenticeship opportunities and program sponsors here. (Hint: look for the Register Apprenticeship symbol.)

What is an employer’s role?

An individual business or an employer association usually sponsors a Registered Apprenticeship, sometimes in partnership with a labor organization. These “industry sponsors” of apprenticeships may include larger employers, labor-management organizations or the military. Industry sponsors make significant investments – an estimated $1 billion per year – to design and execute Registered Apprenticeship programs, provide jobs to apprentices, oversee training development, and provide hands-on learning and technical instruction for apprentices.

The benefits of sponsoring apprenticeships are that employers get a highly skilled workforce with higher productivity, high morale and lower turnover.

What’s ahead for apprenticeships?

Modern apprenticeships are on the cutting edge of innovation in preparing a skilled workforce for today’s industries. We’re continually expanding the Registered Apprenticeship system to meet 21st-century needs in expanding industries like health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing, as well as in industries like construction where apprenticeships have a long history.

To meet these needs, the Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship recently developed strategies in a “21st Century Vision for Apprenticeship.” We encourage you to learn more about both the history and the very important future of apprenticeships on our website:www.doleta.gov/oa.

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