It can often feel like a four-year degree is the ticket your child needs to access a good job and a fulfilling future. In reality, for those that do complete college (and only 59 percent of those enrolled in a four-year college actually earn a degree within six years of enrollment), that “ticket” can open the door to a mountain of debt. Also, while a college degree is necessary for many potential career opportunities, there are many other paths that can be a great—if not better—fit for your student and their future career.
The good news is there are options out there. Apprenticeship, in particular, is one that parents and students should talk about together when exploring options after high school.
Apprenticeship is a long-standing model that combines paid on-the-job learning and formal classroom instruction to help a worker master the knowledge and skills of the industry they’re working in. Programs vary in length, with apprentices receiving a mix of structured work experience with an employer and relevant academic and technical instruction, often through partnerships with local two- and four-year colleges, organized labor, or other training partners. No longer is apprenticeship only what might immediately come to mind—a focus on the construction trades. Now, apprenticeship programs are being introduced across new industries like insurance, health care, and information technology.
Here are five reasons why you and your young adult should consider apprenticeship.
In apprenticeship programs, not only is most of the academic training paid for by employers, but apprentices also earn while they learn. They receive wages from day one and can receive pay increases as they meet benchmarks for mastering skills. Apprentices do not have to forgo an income to pursue education and training. While some apprentices go on to pursue further education, such as a bachelor’s degree (sometimes even partially supported financially by the employer), apprenticeship can be a direct path to high-paying and in-demand jobs in growing industries. For many young people and families who face the crippling worry about the financial burden of college, apprenticeship is a worthwhile option.
Relevant and valuable training
Unlike other traditional education systems, apprenticeship programs need businesses and educational institutions to work together. For example, employers tell educators and students exactly what they need their future workforce to know and be able to do, and in turn, training is developed based on national industry standards and customized to meet the employer’s needs. Through on-the-job and hands-on training from an experienced mentor, apprentices have access to the most up-to-date tools, technology, and knowledge. Therefore, apprentices are confident that what they learn and the skills they develop are of value to their future employers.
Early exposure to careers and the world of work
Through traditional college programs, career exploration often comes into play too late in the game. Apprenticeship, on the other hand, offers early access to professional environments and career-specific information. Apprentices meaningfully explore careers firsthand and observe and practice professional norms. Apprenticeship is also a job, which means that apprentices are treated like employees and held to the same professional expectations as their full-time and permanent colleagues. Learning about the world of work doesn't usually happen authentically in a college classroom.
Opportunity to build meaningful relationships
Young people can begin to build their social capital through work-based learning experiences. When social and professional networks can open doors, this is an invaluable benefit of apprenticeship. For many young people, the opportunity to build relationships with professionals in their field further engages them in the work and motivates them towards success. If eventually they do transition out of their apprenticeship program, they do so with a deep understanding of the world of work and strong interpersonal ties to a network.
Apprentices in state and federal registered apprenticeship programs receive a credential that signals to other employers that the apprentice is fully qualified for the job. The credential incorporates related instruction on the technical and academic competencies that apply to the job. Related instruction can be earned through a community college, a technical school, an apprenticeship training school, or the sponsoring employer. It can be delivered at a school, on the job site, or online. Many apprentices complete an apprenticeship program with job opportunities or prospects from employers, but in the case that they don’t, they will have earned a credential that’s valuable across the industry.
Keeping these reasons in mind, it's also worth highlighting the new wave of bipartisan support for apprenticeship. Over the past three years, the federal government has invested over $360 million in apprenticeship. This growth has led to innovation in the field and contributed to a changing picture of what apprenticeship looks like.
This significant federal investment has also initiated an expansion of the apprenticeship system into youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. Many state and local education systems are exploring or piloting youth apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship programs for high school students. In line with the apprenticeship model, employers are investing in these programs in partnership with education and workforce systems.
From financial stability to credentials of value, there are clear benefits of apprenticeship for students after graduating high school (and maybe even before). While apprenticeship is one of many education options for young people, it’s worth exploring if it’s the right option for your student.