What Is an Apprenticeship? (And How To Get One!)

By Mike Simpson

While many people have heard about apprenticeship programs, there’s also a lot of confusion and misinformation swirling around. Give or take, there are about 585,000 active apprentices in the United States spread across 23,000 registered programs. But if you don’t know anyone who has taken part, you probably have some questions.

What is an apprenticeship? What does it involve? Are they apprentice jobs, or is it more like school? Those are all normal things to ask when you’re exploring options for launching a career.

Well, if you’re wondering about the apprentice meaning and what an apprenticeship can do for your career, you’re in luck. Come with us as we take a deep dive into all things apprenticeships.

What Is an Apprenticeship?

Alright, let’s start with the barebones basics. What is an apprenticeship? Well, according to the apprenticeship definition from Merriam-Webster, it’s “an arrangement in which someone learns an art, trade, or job under another.”

All in all, that’s a pretty solid definition. During an apprenticeship, you learn relevant job skills from someone working in that specific field.

Typically, apprenticeships are more common for trade jobs. Due to the nature of the beasts, these positions are incredibly hands-on. Practical experience is often the best way to learn the ins and outs of the jobs.

Curious about what some of those apprenticeship jobs are? Don’t worry; we’ll be getting to that.

But, before we dig into apprenticeship jobs, did you know that when you’re an apprentice, you’ll earn a paycheck while learning the job? Yep, that’s the norm.

Most of an apprenticeship involves learning by doing, ensuring you don’t just understand the concepts but can apply them. Since you’re actually doing a job, you’ll typically get a paycheck for your troubles.

However, there can also be some classroom components. Will you get paid during those times, too? Well, there’s no federal requirement that says you have to be compensated for instructional hours. But, in some cases, being paid for your classroom time is part of the arrangement.

When it comes to a program’s overall format, that can vary. While they all have structure, every program can also have unique features, so you’ll want to examine each option carefully.

The program lengths may also differ. Apprenticeships can take anywhere from one to six years to complete. However, four years is the norm.

When it comes to non-union vs. union apprenticeships, the two are mainly alike. The job duties are very similar, as well as the general structure.

With unions, there’s usually a tried-and-true approach that everyone in that particular shop (or entire union) employs, creating a consistent experience for every apprentice that enters the program. But most non-union apprenticeships also have solid structures; they just may not be an exact match to the union’s approach.

When it comes to differences, the main one is that unionized workers typically come out ahead financially. Collective bargaining can be powerful, resulting in improved wages, better benefits packages, and enhanced working conditions. There may also be more job security, which is a nice bonus, along with strict safety standards, some of which may go beyond state or federal standards.

Does that mean non-union jobs always pay less or have worse benefits packages? Nope. Does it mean union jobs are always safer or more secure? Again, nope. While, on average, they tend to outdo non-union positions, that doesn’t mean that’s universally the case.

So, should you go with a union apprenticeship or a non-union one? Well, that’s really up to you. Both can give you a great start to your career, so explore both options if they are available in your area. Then, pick the one that’s right for you.

How to Get an Apprenticeship

While it may seem like finding an apprenticeship would be hard, that isn’t necessarily the case. Generally, as long as you have a high school diploma and the dedication to complete the program, you could qualify for a great opportunity. If you do, you might even be able to secure one in less time than you’d think.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get an apprenticeship.

1. Brush Up Your Resume

Apprenticeships are essentially a type of job, so that means you’ll need to apply. Before you launch your apprenticeship search, spend a little time brushing up your resume. That way, if you need to submit one, you’ll be able to target it quickly and send it in.

MIKE'S TIP: Even if you’ve never worked a job in your life, don’t panic. You can still create a solid apprenticeship resume. Create a nice summary outlining some of your amazing traits and your passion for the opportunity. Highlight any relevant skills you do have in a skills section, including anything you learned at home or in high school. Follow that up with an education section, highlighting any courses you took that make you a great candidate. If you have volunteer experience, list it in your work history section. If not, that’s okay; just move on to the next section. Wrap up your resume with a hobbies and interests section to showcase extracurriculars or personal projects that highlight your relevant skills. And there you go, a no-past-jobs resume!

2. Launch an Apprenticeship Search

An apprenticeship search isn’t unlike a traditional job search. So, head online and start looking for opportunities.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, the apprenticeship job finder through the Department of Labor (DOL) apprenticeship site and CareerOneStop, which is sponsored by DOL, are great places to start. You may also want to try your state’s department of labor and industries (which may be called something a little different, depending on where you live), as some of those websites may also list openings.

However, you can also try traditional job boards like Indeed. Craigslist could also be worth checking and, if you’re looking for union apprenticeships, a local union shop’s social media profiles could be great options, too.

After you find a listing, review the requirements. Focus on opportunities where you have at least most (if not all) of what the hiring organization wants to find. That way, your odds of being seen as a great match go up.

3. Submit Your Application

Once you find an apprenticeship that catches your eye, you’ll need to apply. Generally, you’ll need to submit either a standard application or a resume (in some cases, you might need both).

Prepare your materials by targeting the application to the role. Review the job description and include the skills you have that you see listed in your resume. Then, simply follow the instructions you find in the apprenticeship job post to submit your application.

4. Prepare for an Interview

Many apprenticeship programs interview candidates before deciding who to bring on board. That means, once you submit an application, it’s best to hone your interviewing skills.

Learn about the STAR Method and Tailoring Method, ensuring you can create compelling answers that really show you in the best light. Then, go over an interview questions list and start practicing your responses.

5. Send a Thank You Email

Whenever you interview for an apprenticeship, you want to send a thank you email once it’s over. It’s a simple gesture, but it can make a world of difference when you want to make a great impression.

6. Keep Applying and Interviewing Until You Land an Apprenticeship

In some cases, you might land the first apprenticeship you interview for. However, it’s more likely that you’re going to have to apply to at least a few before you get one.

Keep up with your apprenticeship search and apply to any opportunities that you qualify for that interest you. That way, you can maintain momentum and increase your odds of getting one of the amazing apprentice jobs quickly.

Common Types of Apprenticeships

Alright, now it’s time for one of the most exciting parts, a quick dive into the most common types of apprenticeships around. That way, you’ll have a solid idea of what’s involved, as well as how much you can earn in the various roles.

Here is an overview of the common types of apprenticeship jobs, including typical duties based on the field, pay rates, and more.

1. Masons (Brick, Cement, Stone)

Masons spend their time using a range of natural and manmade stone-style products to build structures. Often, masons specialize in certain materials, like brick, cement, or stone. However, some are more general, doing a bit in every niche.

In the beginning, you’ll typically make about $30,250 per year. Once you finish an apprenticeship, you can easily be on your way to earning $46,500 a year, if not more.

2. Carpenters

As a carpenter, it’s all about building with wood. This can include structures, as well as certain kinds of items, like shelving, cabinetry, and more.

As an apprentice, making around $30,170 per year is pretty typical. After you complete the program and hone your skills, $48,330 is closer to the norm.

3. Electricians

Electricians focus on systems that provide electrical power to buildings and areas. Usually, this involves installing, maintaining, and repairing wiring and circuit panels, as well as certain fixtures, like lighting.

When you’re starting your career as an electrician, you should make about $33,410 annually. Once you’ve gotten your footing in the field, $56,180 is pretty typical.

4. Elevator Mechanics

Like you’d expect, elevator mechanics focus on installing and repairing elevators and similar equipment, like escalators and moving sidewalks. Along with needing mechanical skills, you also have to be comfortable in tight spaces, as you don’t always have a lot of room to move around.

When it comes to starting pay, elevator technicians are usually closer to the $44,260 a year mark. And after you finish your apprenticeship, your earnings potential goes up dramatically, generally reaching around $84,990.

5. Glaziers

Glaziers are the glass wizards of the construction world, spending most of their days installing windows, skylights, and similar fixtures. Plus, they may also need to cut glass to create custom fits.

As an apprentice, making about $27,860 a year is pretty typical. Beyond that point in your career, $44,630 is the norm.

6. HVAC Technician

HVAC mechanics and installers handle heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. Along with installations, maintenance, and repairs, they commonly conduct inspections and testing.

When you’re an apprentice, expect to earn around $30,610 a year. After you finish training, pay rates near $48,730 are more common.

7. Metalworkers

Metalworkers install, maintain, and repair metal structures or products made from the material. In either case, the work is physically demanding but can be incredibly rewarding, too.

How much you earn can depend on the type of metalworker you become. Sheet metal workers usually start out near $29,260 a year, then work their way up to $50,400 and beyond. With ironworkers, it’s generally closer to $32,930 at first, moving up to $53,650 or higher.

9. Millwrights

Millwrights are mechanics that focus on industrial machinery, including things like conveyor belts, forklifts, and similar equipment. They may install new machinery, repair existing equipment, or handle maintenance to keep machines running properly.

As a millwright, you’d likely start out near $33,760 per year. Once you hone your skills, you can often work your way up to $52,860 pretty quickly.

10. Plumbers

Plumbers spend their days repairing, maintaining, and installing pipes and related fixtures, like sinks and toilets. Whether it’s dealing with a burst water pipe, fixing a sewage line clog, or updating a bathroom, a plumber is probably the one behind the work.

As an apprentice, you’ll probably earn about $32,690 per year. Once you finish up your training, salaries usually get closer to $55,160.

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, apprenticeships can be great ways to launch careers. Not only will you acquire skills, but you’ll get paid while you do. In the end, it’s an excellent opportunity, allowing you to earn a living while you enhance your capabilities, ensuring you have a bright future ahead.

Good luck!

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.