Everything You Need to Know about Apprenticeship Programs (and Why You Might Want to Start Applying Now)


If you want to break into an industry that really needs workers, look no further than manufacturing.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th Century, manufacturing has been a mainstay in the U.S. economy. Producing 18.2% of the world’s goods, U.S. manufacturing is the second-largest in the world (only recently losing its No. 1 spot to China) and manufactured goods comprise half of all U.S. exports. To say manufacturing is important to the U.S. economy is an understatement!

Understandably, it takes a lot of people and brainpower to maintain (and grow) this incredible industry, which employs approximately 12.75 million people. However, over the past several years, manufacturing has seen a steady decline in the number of skilled workers entering the labor force. To show you how detrimental this lack of workers is to the industry, a report from the National Association of Manufacturers outlines that in Q1 2019, 25% of manufacturers had to turn down new business due to lack of workers.

If you’re a student searching for in-demand career opportunities or you’re a professional interested in switching careers, this article will help you understand how to break into this lucrative industry through manufacturing apprenticeship programs. Because there are so many open jobs and hiring needs in the manufacturing industry, apprenticeships are flourishing, giving future employees a means to earn a livable wage while gaining valuable skills.

READ MORE: Debunking the Top Misconceptions about Manufacturing

In this Article

What is an apprenticeship?

The U.S. Department of Labor defines an apprenticeship as an “earn and learn” training model that combines work-based learning with classroom instruction. In other words, workers gain on-the-job experience — and earn a paycheck — in a flexible training structure. As they gain more skills and progress through an apprenticeship program, the apprentice can earn more money. There are five components to a typical apprenticeship program:

  • Business involvement: This one is pretty straightforward — an employer must be involved in creating and maintaining their apprenticeship program.
  • Structured on-the-job training: To qualify as an apprenticeship, there must be a significant amount of time spent learning on the job with a mentor. The training must meet national industry standards while being customized for that specific workplace.
  • Related instruction: In addition to on-the-job training, apprentices also receive more traditional classroom training to ensure full competency and meet national-level skill standards. The related instruction can be provided by community colleges, technical schools, or apprenticeship training schools.
  • Rewards for skill gains: As apprentices gain more skills, they get compensated with higher wages to motivate them throughout their training.
  • Nationally-recognized credential: Every apprenticeship program ends in an industry-recognized credential that signifies the graduate’s qualifications for the job.

What really sets apprenticeships apart from other work-based training programs is that apprentices earn a wage from day one. Then, as their skills and knowledge grow, so does their compensation. With a network of more than 150,000 employers in 1,000+ occupations, there’s likely an apprenticeship program for you!

READ MORE: How Manufacturing Managers Can Attract More Young Talent

How to find an apprenticeship

If you’re looking for apprenticeship programs but you’re not sure what role is right for you, start at the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration website. Here, you’ll find a list of thousands of apprenticeship programs in everything from CNC machining to accordion making, electric sign assembling, energy-saving, and so much more. This can help you get a better feel for all the opportunities available to you based on your background, current skillset, and interests.

If you’d like to refine your search based on occupation, company, and/or location, visit Apprenticeship.gov and go to their Apprenticeship Finder tool. This is a great tool if you’re looking in a specific industry or location and you don’t need to start at the broadest level.

You can also check out the websites of local manufacturing plants, CNC shops, and more in your area to see if they have apprenticeships available. Many employers are using government WIOA grants to pay for training, apprenticeships, and more at their company, so there are probably dozens of available opportunities near you.

How do I register as an apprentice?

There are two types of apprenticeships: registered and unregistered. Registered apprenticeships are managed by the U.S. Department of Labor, which creates national approved training models and verifies the credentials of individual learners. On the other hand, companies are able to set their own standards through unregistered apprenticeships. This gives them more autonomy over the types of training their apprentices receive.

Employers are responsible for either registering their apprenticeship programs or keeping them unregistered. If you’d like to find a list of registered apprenticeships, check out the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training web page. Or, if there are large manufacturing plants in your area, visit their websites to see if they offer apprenticeships.

How are apprenticeships funded?

Employers are responsible for financing the apprenticeships at their companies, but there are tons of government-funded programs to help employers pay for the programs. Businesses might qualify for state tax credits. They can also appeal to community partners to contribute funding or resources for training. The U.S. Federal Government also has grant money available for employers to encourage the growth of apprenticeship programs.

Does an apprenticeship guarantee a job?

Technically, no, an apprenticeship does not guarantee you a job. However, in nearly all cases, apprenticeships do end in a job at that organization. Especially in the manufacturing industry, employers create apprenticeships because they need to attract more employees, not weed them out. In fact, more than 90 percent of apprentices remain employed after completing their program.

Chances are, if you invest your time and energy into a manufacturing apprenticeship program, you’ll likely have a job — and a nice paycheck — waiting for you on the other side. Plus, you’ll gain valuable skills and credentials throughout the program that can translate into jobs at other companies as well.

What are advanced manufacturing apprenticeships?

The U.S. Federal Government has been investing more money into “advanced manufacturing” apprenticeship programs in an effort to help the industry close the widening skills gap. Advanced manufacturing refers to the use of cutting-edge technology to improve products or processes. Essentially, it’s the use of innovative technology to advance the manufacturing industry and ensure U.S. manufacturing remains competitive throughout the world.

Advanced manufacturing apprenticeship programs offer specific training in the following occupations:

  • CNC machine operator
  • Machinist
  • Maintenance and repair worker
  • Mechatronics technician
  • Tool and die maker
  • Welder

Advanced manufacturing is a great industry to break into and there are plenty of employers actively seeking workers to fill interesting technical roles.

READ MORE: Innovations in Manufacturing You Don’t Want to Miss

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an apprentice?

While an apprenticeship sounds like a great plan — and it is — it’s important to know all the facts before you make a huge, life-changing decision. First, let’s start out with the benefits of becoming an apprentice:

  • You’ll avoid accumulating college debt: One of the biggest benefits of apprenticeships is that you get great training, education, and experience while making money, not losing it. The average college graduate in 2018 left school owing approximately $29,800, and some have double or even triple that much debt to pay off.
  • There are literally thousands of options to choose from: Even if you’re not interested in manufacturing apprenticeship programs, there are still thousands of opportunities to pursue in very diverse fields.
  • You’ll gain tangible, real-world skills: Through your apprenticeship, you’ll gain industry-ready skills and credentials that can translate into jobs at other organizations. In short, you’re set up for a career, not just a string of dead-end jobs.

On the flip side, there are some downsides to getting involved in an apprenticeship program:

  • Missing traditional “college life”: Most apprentices get started right after high school, which means that you’ll miss out on the college experience.
  • You might pigeon-hole yourself: While there are thousands of different apprenticeship opportunities, once you choose your field, you’ll gain that specific skillset and might limit your other options post-apprenticeship.
  • It could be a lot of pressure: It might feel like a shock to be thrown into a competitive workplace and have to learn a whole new set of complicated, technical skills, especially if you haven’t been in a full-time work environment before.

How long are apprenticeship programs?

Depending on the industry and complexity of the role, apprenticeships can last anywhere from one to six years. Whether your program is longer or shorter, you’re still earning a livable wage throughout the apprenticeship period. Plus, in many cases, apprentices end up receiving college credits that could lead to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

How much do apprentices typically make?

According to Indeed.com, the average salary for an apprentice is $15.47/hour. At the lowest end of the spectrum, apprentices earn about $7.25/hour and at the higher end of the earning spectrum, they make about $32.60/hour. These data represent the average earning potential for first-year apprentices.

CareerOneStop shows that the average starting wage is more than $60,000 for apprentices, and over their careers, they can earn $300,000 more than workers who did not complete an apprenticeship.

Kelly Mantick
About the Author

SolidProfessor academic content writer and amateur hula hooper