If you want to earn while you learn, check out the opportunities
provided by apprenticeships. An apprentice is a paid employee who trains
on the job for a skilled career. There is some classroom learning involved
as well, but most of the training is hands-on. Apprentices train under
a skilled worker in the trade they have chosen.
After four or five
years, their training is complete, and the apprentice can write an exam to
become a journeyperson. Journeyperson is the level between apprentice and
Apprentices must be full-time employees who are paid at
least minimum wage. In addition to the 40-hour workweek, apprentices attend classes
two evenings a week. Tuition is paid by the sponsor company or, in some
cases, a union.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Apprenticeship
and Training (BAT) registers apprenticeship programs and apprentices in 23
states. The other 27 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and
the Virgin Islands, have chosen to set up state apprenticeship councils. They
perform the same function as the BAT and receive the BAT's help and supervision.
You might be surprised to learn the range of careers that fall
into the apprenticeship category. We're not just talking about mechanics
and pipefitters. Hairdressers and cooks also learn their skills
this way. Apprenticeships can also lead to careers in the information technology,
hospitality and aerospace industries.
Brent Frazier works for
a building contracting company and is actively involved in recruiting apprentices.
He says his recruits must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma
or equivalency, and be able to perform the hard physical labor required to
be an electrician.
"This is a job that sometimes involves long hours
or odd hours if a power outage or electrical problem arises. The weather can
be a problem if it's cold or rainy. And it's physically demanding -- crawling,
lifting, climbing," he says.
"A person out of high school can get
paid for learning a trade. And in our company, the person can move up to management
by starting as an apprentice."
Some apprenticeships are available
for students who are still in high school. The Department of Defense offers
summer apprenticeships for high school students to encourage interest in science
and engineering. About 600 students are selected each summer to work for a
modest stipend in 24 army and navy laboratories doing hands-on tasks with
scientists and engineers.
Competition for these apprenticeships is
fierce because students actually perform research, analyze data and make both
oral and written presentations of their findings -- an impressive credential
on any resume or college application.
There are plenty of good reasons
to consider an apprenticeship. Benefits packages for tradespeople are usually
excellent, you get lots of opportunities to work outdoors or with your
hands and you'll make a good salary.
of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services
from the U.S .Department of Labor
Apprenticeship program for high school juniors and
seniors in Wisconsin
What to Expect
No two days are alike in
an apprenticeship program.
For apprentice electrician Michele Riggs, one
of the best parts of the program is the variety. "I get to go to different
places all the time, do different things and meet so many different people,"
"If I am on a job that I don't really like, I just have
to keep working for 20 minutes, or two hours or two days, and I will get to
do something else someplace different."
Riggs took a few years to
make her career choice. A job as an electrical distributor in a warehouse
piqued her interest in the trades and motivated her to apply for an electrician's
course at a local community college.
She graduated at the top of her
class and started her apprenticeship right away. "I think apprenticeship is
an excellent opportunity for an individual to learn a trade," Riggs says.
"It couples schooling with hands-on experience. To be a good tradesperson, you
have to be able to do the work and understand how and why it works."
Martin took a four-year heating and air conditioning apprenticeship in Reston,
Virginia. Before that, he had worked in the construction business for several
In addition to working 40 hours per week in a condominium complex
under the supervision of the heat plant manager, Martin attended a three-hour
class two evenings a week.
Martin says that although he enjoyed
his apprenticeship, he has one regret -- that he didn't study harder in high
school. "Life is just easier when you study," he says.
How to Prepare
Riggs recommends that high school students take as many math
courses as they can. "Every time I add fractions at work, I think of my
math teachers and say 'thank you,'" she says.
Many community colleges
and trades schools offer apprenticeship programs. Choose a school which best
suits your chosen field of study.