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Alternate Paths: What Is an Apprenticeship?


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More and more students are exploring alternatives to the traditional four-year college path, and not just because of the pandemic.

Though pursuing a bachelor's degree will always be a popular choice, and for a good reason, it may not be the right move for your student.

It’s also possible that your high school or college student isn't aware that there are other options available!

Many college students struggle to prepare for life after graduation. Despite the availability of career fairs and career advising on campus, knowing what you want to do for a living is a daunting question to answer with minimal working experience. Never mind the fact that some “entry level" jobs actually require years of experience, which most college grads haven't had a chance to build.

Apprenticeships could be the perfect cure-all for this issue. A combination of classroom instruction and hands-on training means apprentices get to apply what they're learning in the real world, and upon completion of the apprenticeship program, they're certified to work in their industry.

What Is an Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship programs combine hands-on work with classroom learning (in person or virtual), and apprentices are considered full-time employees. Employers use apprenticeship programs to develop their future workforce and help them recruit and prepare qualified individuals.

Apprentices are paid for their work as they train and it's common to receive incremental wage increases as they advance in the apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeships are available in a growing number of industries including:

  • Healthcare (dental or pharmacy assistant, EMT, etc.)
  • Information technology (cybersecurity analyst, web developer, etc.)
  • The energy sector
  • Financial services (bank teller, insurance underwriter, etc.)
  • Construction (carpenter, electrician, etc.)
  • Manufacturing
  • Cooking and baking

And more!

Are There Different Kinds of Apprenticeships?

There are two different formal apprenticeship programs in the U.S. The Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) model has been validated by the U.S. Department of Labor or a State Apprenticeship Agency.

Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP) are recognized by a Standards Recognition Entity in line with the Department of Labor’s standards, and are a relatively new addition to the official apprenticeship scene.

The difference is mainly about the companies and job sectors sponsoring the individual apprenticeships as well as access to federal funding and grants. Your student probably doesn't need to worry about the distinction. 

How Does My Student Pick the Right Program?

There are lots of places your student can look to learn what opportunities are out there.

  • Search by location and/or career path on
  • Google "apprenticeship job listings" for your area (or anyplace they'd like to live) 
  • Identify specific companies they'd like to train with and work for and visit their websites — or give them a call!
  • Check apprenticeship listings on job search sites like LinkedIn and glassdoor (LinkedIn runs its own software engineering apprenticeship program called REACH)
  • Check with local community colleges and trade schools (many though not all offer apprenticeship programs)
  • Your State Department of Labor is another good resource.

If they still need a spark of inspiration, they can always start with a general search for the best apprenticeships for career opportunities, progression, job security, etc. They don’t have to start with an industry of interest if they’re not there yet! 

A Few Final Tips

  • Most apprenticeships require that applicants have a high school diploma or GED.
  • When applying to a program, your student should consider the level and duration of the training, as well as whether or not the training will help them advance toward a career goal.
  • They can contact the employer or training provider if they have questions during the application process.

Apprenticeships offer many benefits and are definitely worth considering if your student is unsure about their future. The job security and structure that apprenticeships provide is almost unparalleled, not to mention the idea of being paid to work while learning!

Of course, it’s possible that an apprenticeship isn't what your student is looking for and another alternative to traditional college would suit them better. Take some time to sit down together and fully consider all the options so you can help your student make a fully informed decision about their future and how best to set off in the direction of success and personal satisfaction.

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