Apprenticeship

Brent Watson
Brent Watson

Table of Contents

You’ve heard of apprenticeships, and maybe you’re wondering if they can help your organization. In this article, we will discuss what an apprenticeship is, the pros and cons of offering one, and how to build an apprenticeship program.

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What Is an Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a work program that allows an employee to gain specific skills that are essential to performing their role or a future role effectively. Apprenticeships allow the employer to oversee a greater portion of skill development and can be an alternative to a university degree. Historically, apprenticeships have been utilized in blue-collar roles, but they are just effective in the office space. In 2020, the US Department of Labor had over 25,000 different apprenticeships registered. To review more statistics, like the number of new apprentices every year, programs in each state, and other demographics from the Department of Labor, click here.

Apprenticeships vs Internships

Apprenticeships differ from internships in that they are more structured, for longer, and involve increased responsibility. 

  • Structure. Apprentices are partnered with a mentor, attend mandatory classes, and are paid as their skills increase. Interns are not required to have all of the items listed above but sometimes do.
  • Length. Apprenticeships last anyway from one to four years, whereas an internship can last three months to a year.
  • Responsibility. Apprentices increase their responsibility over time as they become more skilled at their trade. As apprentices approach the end of their program, they have accrued the skills and knowledge to be a successful professional. Internships focus on entry-level responsibilities and give the intern exposure to a certain area of the industry.

Should You Offer Apprenticeships?

Utilizing an apprenticeship program for talent acquisition and development is not for every organization. It needs to complement your strategic goals and be an asset. Let’s review some of the benefits and drawbacks so you can decide if this approach is right for your company.

Benefits of Apprenticeships

  • Skillset development. By offering an apprenticeship, your company ensures that the employee has the skills that will fit seamlessly into your organization.
  • Cost effectiveness. Since your apprentice is learning their trade, they are paid a percentage of a full-time salary. This varies per role and industry but generally is around half salary, as stated on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Make sure to research compensation because some apprenticeships will be higher and others lower.
  • Loyalty. There is a greater retention level in apprentices because your company has trained them from the beginning. However, it requires constant work and attention to ensure your apprentice doesn’t leave for a different opportunity.
  • Company brand. Being able to offer a successful apprenticeship demonstrates strength to your internal stakeholders and clients in two ways: you are adding to your overall employee count, which demonstrates profitability and stability and that your company is growing; and you have the expertise to train another industry professional for their career. This exercise can build your employee brand in the industry and advance your company’s journey toward becoming an industry leader.

Drawbacks of Apprenticeships

  • Time-consuming. Your apprentice will need an experienced mentor, which decreases the productivity of that individual. It will take time for the apprentice to master the skills, and this requires consistent feedback.
  • Commitment. Generally, apprentices last at least one year. However, some apprenticeships can last up to four years. Be sure your company can afford the time, personnel, and effort to see the commitment through.
  • Compliance. Some apprentices work for you through a government program, such as Roofers JATC or the Department of Health. To see what programs are already set up in your area, use the United States Apprenticeship Partner Finder. Participation in such programs requires some extra administration time and compliance with program rules for the duration of the apprenticeship.

Examples of Apprenticeships

Let’s review a few types of apprenticeships to give you a better idea of how they might function at your organization.

Electrician

Electricity Solo is operated by John Smith, and he wants to be able to take on more clients. However, he wants to ensure that his customers receive the same exact expertise and service as if he was there in person. Since John is a solo entrepreneur, he isn’t able to build his own apprenticeship program, but after searching in his state, he finds a statewide electric apprenticeship program. He likes that he can work alongside his apprentice for two to three years and that the program covers the costs of the mandatory classes. John realizes that he will have to cut back on business while he trains his apprentice, but as the apprentice gains skills, he can slowly increase business until he achieves his goal of doubling it.

Fast forward three and a half years. John has doubled business in his geographical area and has full confidence in his new employee, his previous apprentice. The increase in business has covered the slight slow-down in business and the apprentices’ wages while learning the craft. John is now an advocate and shares his success story for other potential electricians thinking about partnering with the state electric apprenticeship program.

Computer Programmer

Company Tech is having a hard time finding qualified applicants who are knowledgeable in several different programming languages. To increase their potential talent pool and provide growth opportunities for current employees, they create an apprenticeship program.

For the first year, the programmers get a basic overview of the computer languages the company uses. During the remaining two years, the apprentices do a six-month deep dive for each language, so at the end of the three-year program they can replace their mentors and take on a full-time programming role.

Executive Secretary

The executives at your company have specific requirements for their secretaries that have made recruiting and retention difficult. To counter this trend, you decide to offer a year-long apprenticeship to ensure a seamless transition between a seasoned and new executive secretary. Since implementing the program four years ago, the executive’s satisfaction with their secretaries has increased by 20% and retention has gone up by 45%. The return on investments of the apprenticeship program is found in lower turnover rates and because the executives can focus more on their jobs.

Starting an Apprenticeship Program

There are a lot of things to consider when offering an apprenticeship program. Be clear about your goals and estimated costs.

Structure

The adage “What you put in is what you get out” rings true when beginning an apprenticeship program. If you want to have engaged, hard-working employees from this program, you need to develop the structure to guide them along that path. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Self-run vs partnership?  Companies with large resources at their disposal may elect to cover the training, education, and hiring costs by themselves. This requires you to have full-time employees running the program and to ensure it stays up-to-date. Smaller organizations will partner with an already created program to provide the skill-building and assist with classroom training and hiring costs. You can find pre-registered programs in your state at the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship website.
  • Program outcome. Frequently, after an apprentice has completed a program they receive a full-time job with the company. This occurs because they have obtained knowledge of the company over the duration of their internship and as a company you know they have the skills that you are looking for. However, this is not guaranteed; you are still in control of whether you hire your apprentices or not.
  • Registered vs unregistered program. Registering your apprenticeship program with the Department of Labor can increase your talent pool of apprenticeship applicants, and they will also receive a certificate of completion from the Department of Labor. However, businesses may elect to have an unregistered program, which can still attract applicants. Unregistered programs may be in a piloting stage, or company leadership may want to focus on more local applicants.
  • Legal responsibility. Regardless of if your apprenticeship program is registered, you are responsible to comply with standard labor laws for your apprentices. Before considering offering an apprenticeship program, confer with your company’s legal counsel. It is important to review the National Apprenticeship Act (which is also known as the Fitzgerald Act).
  • Education. Apart from the onsite job training, apprentices need classroom learning. These classes focus on teaching them their trade and assist with their job training. Your company can hire an educator to come and teach these classes, or you can partner with a local community college or other apprenticeship program.

Mentorship

During this experience, your apprentice is going to need someone that they can turn to for feedback, questions, and opportunities. Having a mentor will increase overall retention and provide a more positive experience.

You will want to have mentors who have industry experience, possess the skills you want your apprentices to gain, are good teachers, and are invested in your company’s overall mission. The mentors are increasing their work responsibility, which could merit a pay increase. Not all increases in responsibility merit a raise, but make sure you are aligned with your company’s leaders to provide a consistent message.

Evaluation

It’s important to create concrete milestones to evaluate performance and progress. Discuss what they view as their successes and their challenges. Set goals with them just as you would with any other employee.

It is also important to review the apprenticeship program overall. This is to ensure that it is providing both the apprentices and the company a good experience and that the return on the investment merits the time and energy being put into it. Remember, what you don’t measure cannot be improved upon.

Partnership

If there isn’t room in your budget to fully fund an apprenticeship program, look in your local area to see if there are programs you can partner with. This allows you to benefit from an apprenticeship without taking on the full costs. You provide the hands-on experience of the program.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Apprenticeships

The length of an apprenticeship varies slightly, but on average they are between 12 and 24 months. Certain roles, such as electricians, require a minimum number of hours (for electricians, 12,000), so take longer.
Yes, apprenticeships are paid. Normally they receive a fraction of what they would if working full-time in their specific role.
They are considered workers and are subject to compliance to certain federal and potential state laws.
Brent Watson
Brent Watson

Brent Watson enjoys problem solving, analyzing data, team building, and becoming an HR Guru. His work experience comes from the employee experience, recruiting, and training arenas. After attending a local HR conference, Brent knew that he had found his people and the problems he wanted to solve for in the business world.

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