Giving Apprenticeships a New Lease on Life

Despite the time and time again proven success of apprenticeships, there is a negative perception among many people that they are somehow a lesser alternative to traditional education. That likely comes from a lack of information and many misconceptions about what an apprenticeship really is. The most common misconception is that apprenticeships, internships, and co-ops are more or less the same thing.

To the contrary, apprenticeships are very different and more intensive than internships. An apprenticeship is typically formal training for a job, where the employer plans to hire the apprentice. And apprenticeships last longer and pay better than internships. In today’s competitive job market, apprenticeships offer unparalleled job training and security. A co-op, on the other hand, like the program at Northwestern University, is where students combine classroom studies with full-time work for six months. Northwestern’s co-ops are with 2,000 partner employers in 69 countries.

The apprenticeship is especially pertinent for future engineers. To be able to learn, hands on, from someone in the field is invaluable. If you are preparing for higher education or re-entering the workforce, this article on the modern apprenticeship and the institutions that offer them is worth the read— because the payoffs for students, employers and colleges are too much to ignore.

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3 replies

  1. One area I believe we should take a serious look at, is with our U.S. cultural perception of and the associated limited prestige afforded our apprenticeship programs and the U.S. journeyman. Unfortunately, the “journeyman” in our country has reached the pinnacle of his craft skill or profession, more than likely to spend the rest of his entire carrier at the firm in which he served his apprenticeship. We need to correct this! I would like to suggest we take a close look at those “Apprenticeships”, “Journeyman-ships” and the “Master Craftsman Certifications” as offered in Europe and Asia, that establishes far more prestige and opportunity to the vocational tradesman. This would stimulate a great deal more interest in the vocational trades as a viable and rewarding carrier opportunity.

    I served a 5 yr. (10,000 hr.) apprenticeship as a Tool and Die Maker and was blessed in being able to serve in 4 different “job shops” during the course of my apprenticeship. This provided me with a wealth of diversified training and experience in my craft. I experienced a steep learning curve in the first 12 months at each of these shops, with each having different services, products, customers, equipment, approaches skills, etc., along with the journeymen to work under. These steep learning curves typically tend to flatten precipitously in about 14 to 18 months. This diversification of training and experience played a significant role in allowing me to be competitive and to win the 1965 Los Angeles tool & die apprenticeship contest and to go on to win in the California State competition. As a result, I have enjoyed a very successful and rewarding carrier being exposed and participating in manufacturing throughout the world.

    In my opinion, based on personal experience, our apprentices should be encouraged, if not mandated, to change employers every 12 to 18 months so as to gain this diversified training and experience. Becoming a journeyman at the conclusion of your apprenticeship should NOT be the end of one’s formal training. The next 4 to 5 years as a journeyman should continue to be a formal structured educational phase in one’s professional carrier as the word “journeyman” implies and is recognized in other parts of the world. After completing his 4 to 5 yr. structured journeymanship; not spending more than 18 months of it in any one company, the journeyman would be eligible to apply for his “Master Craftsman Credentials”. This would involve the submission of a project that he had personally designed and built demonstrating his craft skills (much like a master’s or doctoral thesis) along with taking the required written and oral exams. In successfully passing your exams and having your project accepted, you will be awarded your “Master Craftsman Credentials”. In many countries, you are not allowed to have apprentices working for you unless you have the Master Craftsman Credentials in that trade and in some countries you are not allowed to even have a business in a trade without Master Credentials.

    We need to expand our vocational training in these manners through to Master Craftsman status. In doing so, we would be instilling significant prestige into these craft trades and attracting many more candidates to successfully pursue vocational carriers resolving the many critical skill needs we have in our country today. The Master Craftsman, via business ownership, has the opportunity to become a multimillionaire in his or her own right and a significant contributor to our society and our economic development as a nation. This being far beyond what our current journeyman has the opportunity or expectation to achieve. It should also be pointed out that this can be accomplished without amassing a humongous “student loan debt” as is typical in pursuing other professional carriers.

    I certainly recognize and appreciate that many current employers of apprentices would be very apprehensive and against such an approach. They typically are very jealous of their apprentices, expecting them to spend the rest of their carriers at their business. After all, the employers have supposedly expended all of this time, effort and expense in training them; the apprentices need to show their appreciation and loyalty by staying with the firm that taught and trained them…right? However, as this were to play out, as evidenced in other countries, the rotation of apprentices and journeymen with diversified training and experience through their business will prove to be the far greater contributors and expanders to their firm than would the long term apprentice and journeyman who are only grounded in their own undiversified, myopic and limited experience, having only been exposed to the one business’s own practices and shortcomings.


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