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 master.
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
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
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.
Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services
U.S. Custom House
721 19th Street -
Room 465, Denver,
Information from the U.S .Department of Labor
Talking to Students
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," she says.
"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."
Jeff Martin took a four-year heating and air conditioning
apprenticeship in Reston, Virginia. Before that, he had worked in
the construction business for several years.
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
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
Many community colleges and trades schools offer apprenticeship
programs. Choose a school which best suits your chosen field of