Why Apprenticeships May Be Financially Wiser Than Attending College

by Jessica Sommerfield · 1 comment

Apprenticeships have been around for as long as skilled trades. Traditionally, apprenticeships have been geared toward fields like mechanics, construction, electrical, and engineering, all of which require hands-on training. In the face of skyrocketing unemployment and student loan debt, this fact may be changing for good.

The United States is surprisingly behind the trend toward apprenticeship-based training in expanded fields as European countries like Germany and the U.K. are already way ahead in the game.

So why has it taken so long for the U.S. to jump on the apprenticeship bandwagon? The biggest reason, in my opinion, is the cultural value placed on 4-year degrees from a traditional college or university.

The Higher Education Problem

It’s still true that college graduates make more money in the long run than those who don’t finish their degree. But considering the inability of many college graduates to get a job, period, that might not remain true for much longer.

It’s not just unemployment rates forcing Americans to re-think the way they approach higher education, but the expansion of technical fields like IT, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, nursing, and food service. Too many college graduates find themselves vying for highly competitive jobs for which they’re educated but have very little hands-on experience.

Internships have always been an option, but most are unpaid — a financial struggle for students already burdened with massive student loan debt. Within all these dynamics, it’s no wonder that apprenticeships are gaining popularity, and getting more attention with the Department of Labor’s American Apprenticeship Initiative.

Advantages of Apprenticeships

So what exactly are some of the advantages of apprenticeships?

  1. Earn money while you’re learning. Many apprenticeships start out making more than twice minimum wage, receive periodic raises as their skills increase, and are entitled to regular employee benefits such as vacations and holiday pay. This definitely beats trying to fund your living and education expenses by working at a fast-food chain.
  2. Gain hands-on skills and experience that will look better on your resume to many employers than a title behind your name. More than ever, employers are looking for actual experience. The nature of many modern businesses demands that you be able to be productive immediately. Apprenticeships give you this experience.
  3. Receive formal education and earn potential work-study credit toward a degree while getting paid for it. Most internships require at least 4 hours a week of classroom instruction at an affiliated college or training school. Granted, the classes are strictly focused on the trade you’re working in; but you’ll end up with significantly less (if any) student debt.
  4. New career opportunities. If it doesn’t already, your desired career field may soon have apprenticeship opportunities. The U.S. is actively seeking to expand the number of apprenticeships to 750,000 by 2020 by motivating employers with tax credits, among other strategies.
  5. Give you real-life experience in work atmospheres that are highly transferable to future employment. More than just learning a trade, you’re learning how to be an employee and interact in a working environment on a professional level.

Is an Apprenticeship Right for You?

Depending on your career goals and financial situation, these are just a few reasons apprenticeships might be a more financially sound alternative for you or your graduating student to consider. We’ll undoubtedly be hearing more about this growing trend in days to come.

Have you ever become an apprentice? What was your experience?

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  • freebird says:

    College graduates out-earn those without a degree, but the unanswerable question is whether those individuals who graduated college would have seen significantly lower lifetime earnings had they not attended. In other words I question the economic value add of the content of higher education, instead I suspect its primary contribution is in screening individuals who have the ability and desire to handle cognitive skill jobs. I doubt that their college experience changed them.

    Where I work we require a bachelors degree minimum for any engineering position. Our work is highly technical and is specific to the product that we manufacture, so all of our new hires need to be trained extensively to become productive. We see people from widely different institutions with a variety of majors and all seem to need similar runway on our learning curve. This has me wondering whether we might be able to successfully integrate, say, an 18 year old who received a letter of admission to a top-10 school?

    If effective such a scheme can solve two pressing issues– the employee would save the considerable opportunity cost plus out-of-pocket expense of a four-year degree, and the employer would have a fully trained and productive 21 year old who would likely be easier to retain over his or her career.

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