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Apprenticeships – The Ticket to our Future?

Amantha Hons

Apprenticeships have been common in the American labor force since its early history. Even some of our founding fathers – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere – were apprentices in their trades.

Apprenticeships are still common – and widely recognized – in trade fields today. In 2020, over 68% of all registered apprentices were in the construction field with roles like electrician, carpenter or plumber. But what if apprenticeships were made a standard practice across the workforce?

In 2016, I graduated from college and began looking for my first “big girl” job in marketing. I had worked internships and part-time jobs in my field during college, some of them unpaid even, but the more jobs I applied for, the more I realized I didn’t have the real experience employers were looking for. Luckily for me, I found an apprenticeship program that both helped me secure a good digital marketing job and trained me on the skills I needed to be successful. If I hadn’t found the program, who knows if I would have made it as far in my career as I have today?

In 2020, only 9% of apprentices were female. While women – of course – belong in all spaces of the workforce, trade fields are still predominantly occupied by men. By expanding apprenticeship programs in more fields – tech, business, healthcare, administration – we can begin inviting more people, especially women, to the table and give them more opportunities for high-earning, successful and fulfilling careers.

For many non-trade fields, a common prerequisite is a college degree. The average cost of a college degree is $35,720. Even with scholarships and grants available, the opportunity cost of attending college can be a huge barrier to entry for many people.

For those who do pursue college, one of the most common job training opportunities are internships. While internships can be valuable, they are often unpaid or poorly compensated (college credit doesn’t pay your rent.) In my experience, employers also don’t always consider internships “actual” experience toward your career field, likely due to the stereotype that interns are “coffee fetchers” – meaning interns aren’t actually actively participating in or learning their trades.

Apprenticeships, on the other hand, are “earn and learn” opportunities. Apprentices get paid, relevant workplace experience while acquiring the skills and credentials that employers value.

And apprentices continue to earn well after their program is complete. The Department of Labor estimates that apprentices earn an average annual salary of $70,000. Compare that to $45,000 to $50,000 average annual salaries for entry level marketing, management and IT technicians – and when you subtract the almost $400 per month cost for student loan debt – apprentices are likely to out earn their peers by over 40%. For workers who don’t pursue college degrees, the average salary drops to $38,000 – meaning apprentices out earn them by 46%.

Expanding apprenticeships to all industries would bring more highly skilled workers to the table, expand opportunities for women, increase the earning potential of workers and decrease the opportunity cost for job training. And that’s something that would benefit us all, don’t you agree?

Amantha is a digital marketing professional based in San Antonio, a member of the Texas Youth Advisory Board, and former alumni of the Young Invincibles Texas Youth Apprenticeship Council.

For more information about expanding equity in apprenticeships, check out Young Invincibles latest report, Women and Parents in the Texas Workforce: Building a Path to Apprenticeship.