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Apprenticeships: Everything You Need to Know

Apprenticeships are an amazing opportunity to gain experience in a field of work while earning a salary and building a relationship with a potential future employer. Among the benefits of an apprenticeship are a paid salary, real-world experience, certificate credentials, and more. So, what exactly do apprenticeships consist of, who can land them, and how can you find one? We’ll get into all of that and more in this article. Let’s get into it.

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is a program which combines classroom training and on-the-job experience to prepare participants for work in a specific trade or craft. Trainees are typically paid for their time, so rather than paying to gain a credential, you will receive a stipend. This makes apprenticeships much more accessible than many other educational options.

What jobs can an apprenticeship prepare me for?

Typically, apprenticeships are for well-paying blue-collar fields of work. These are jobs that typically don’t require a college degree, but pay a wage that is sufficient for comfortable living. Oftentimes, these fields of work are unionized, and many people go on to form their own business in the field. Here are a few sample fields that commonly have apprenticeships according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Carpenters
  • Construction laborers
  • Electrical power-line installers and repairers
  • Electricians
  • Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
  • Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
  • Sheet metal workers

New types of apprenticeships

Although apprenticeships have traditionally been geared towards blue-collar positions, the definition is rapidly changing. Now, tech apprenticeships have begun to take off. One prime example is the Google Apprenticeship program. They are offering apprenticeships for a wide variety of positions. Like traditional apprenticeships, many of these positions do not require college degrees.

These follow a similar model to that of coding bootcamps. However, one main difference is that tech apprenticeships pay their participants, whereas coding bootcamps charge tuition. But these are both opportunities to earn certificates for white-collar jobs that pay a good wage and do not require college degrees.

Why you should become an apprentice

There are a wide range of reasons to become an apprentice if you can find one that puts you on the path to a career you’re interested in. Here are a few of the best reasons to become an apprentice:

  • Get paid for your job training
  • Obtain the joint benefits of on-the-job training and classroom education
  • In most cases, save the money you would have spent on a four-year college degree
  • Come away with a certificate that will help you land a job
  • Form a relationship with a potential future employer

Apprenticeships vs. college

So, what are the main differences between apprenticeships and college? And what should you consider when choosing between the two? These are important questions to consider before enrolling either in a four-year college or in an apprenticeship. Let’s get into a few of the key differences between the two.


Apprenticeships can vary greatly in length based on specific programs and on the trade you are studying. However, they typically are somewhere between two and five years. Plumbing apprenticeships are usually around five years, placing them on the longer end of the spectrum. Welding apprenticeships are usually between three and four years. Google Apprenticeships, on the other hand, tend to be shorter, with some being as short as about 12 months.

In contrast, four-year degrees take just about as long as the name implies – four years. Some students are able to graduate early, but this is not especially common. If you aim to earn your bachelor’s, you should allocate about four years to accomplish it.


Cost is one of the fields where apprenticeships vary most from four-year colleges. Four-year colleges have become exorbitantly expensive in recent years, often costing upwards of $30,000 per year at public in-state colleges, and upwards of $60,000 for private colleges. This puts the total cost of an education upwards of $100,000 for public schools and upwards of $200,000 for private schools. 

On the other hand, apprenticeships are not only cheaper, but they pay their participants. While your stipend will probably not be particularly high, it will be a huge difference from a four-year degree. You won’t have to save up in the same capacity, and probably won’t have to save up at all for your apprenticeship. 


Another big difference between these two types of degrees is in versatility. Anyone who completes an apprenticeship will have a very useful certificate for performing work in the specialized field they trained in. However, four-year degrees have much more versatility. Typically, someone who holds a bachelor’s degree can apply their credential towards a wide range of different jobs.

Furthermore, most apprenticeship certificates do not serve as eligibility for any further form of higher education. However, bachelor’s degree holders can attend grad school to raise their earning potential and obtain more prestigious jobs. So, while bachelor’s degree holders often have similar earning potential to apprenticeship participants, they often have more room to grow their earning potential.

Application process

While the application process for four-year colleges tends to be very extensive, and require a lot of testing and an extensive history of your grades, an apprenticeship tends to focus more on your practical abilities. For example, in this example from a plumber’s union apprenticeship, you need only show your identification and proof of your high school diploma or GED.

Once you qualify in these barebones requirements, you’ll come in and they will put your skills to the test on the spot. They’ll want to see if you’re a good candidate for the position, showing physical agility, a good attitude, and certain strength and language skills. So, your candidacy will be judged more based on what you can do than the academic credentials you’ve obtained.

How to find apprenticeships

One of the best resources for finding a good apprenticeship match is through the government’s free Apprenticeship Finder tool. You can filter opportunities by location and interest. And best of all, each of these opportunities will have been vetted by the federal government, so you can assign each of them a certain level of trust.

If you know people in the trade you are trying to enter, you can also ask them if they know of any opportunities. Your tenure as an apprentice will be greatly shaped by who your mentor is. So, if someone in the industry knows someone who accepts apprenticeships and is a good teacher, you might want to go with word-of-mouth.

If your line of work has a local union branch near you, you can also try reaching out directly to a union representative. They might have their own apprenticeship program, or can steer you in the direction of one.

Are apprenticeships expensive?

Apprenticeships are not expensive – in fact, they pay you! Though the stipends are low compared to the salaries you might earn after completing your program, they make programs much more accessible by removing your need to get a job on top of your education. As of 2022, the average apprenticeship salary was $15.34 per hour. But keep in mind, this can vary widely based on your location, your field of interest, and your supervisor.

Summing it up

  • Apprenticeships are a great way to get paid while learning a skill that puts you on the course for a profitable career
  • Through the course of an apprenticeship, you receive a combination of on-the-job and classroom training
  • The government has a great centralized database of apprenticeships through their Apprenticeship Finder tool
  • New tech apprenticeships and other white-collar versions of the program are emerging
  • Overall, apprenticeships provide much more affordable versions of a four-year college degree, but prepare you for a more specialized career field

Apprenticeships are a great alternative to a four-year degree, but they are not the only other option. Certificate programs are another increasingly popular alternative, as are coding bootcamps. You can also check out our full list of four-year college alternatives to help take in all of your options. Good luck!