Apprenticeship programs are occupational training programs that combine on-the-job work experience with technical or classroom study. Such programs are designed to develop useful job skills in individuals entering the work force. These programs, which are designed to address the need for better trained entry-level workers and help young people make the transition from school to the work world, can also serve as a good source of labor for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Many U.S. industries maintains thriving apprenticeship programs. These programs can be found in the skilled trades and crafts, notably in occupations related to the construction industry. Indeed, in many states, apprenticeship programs are required to obtain occupational licensing or certification. The United States does not currently maintain a national apprenticeship program. In the mid-1990s, however, 27 states regulated apprenticeship programs within their borders. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, maintains a registry of apprenticeship programs and the occupations that are covered throughout the country.
Apprenticeship programs may be sponsored by employers, a group of employers, or a union. Trade and other nonprofit organizations also sponsor apprenticeship programs within certain industries. Unions and employers often form joint apprenticeship committees to administer the programs. Such committees are concerned with determining an industry's particular needs and developing standards for the apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs are usually registered with the federal or state government to ensure that the programs meet standards relating to job duties, instruction, wages, and safety and health conditions.
Individuals who are interested in entering an apprenticeship program must meet certain qualifications. Because of child labor laws in the United States, most apprenticeship programs in the United States require applicants to be at least 16 or 18 years of age. While some states have apprenticeship programs for high school juniors and seniors, most apprenticeship programs require a high school diploma. Other requirements relate to aptitude and physical condition.
Once an individual has been accepted into an apprenticeship program, he or she usually signs an agreement with the program's sponsor. The agreement covers such matters as the sponsor's compliance with the program's standards and the apprentice's performance of the required work and completion of the necessary studies. While enrolled in the program the apprentice works under the supervision of a fully qualified journeyperson as a paid, full-time employee (apprentices are usually paid about half of what a journeyperson makes). They also receive relevant instruction outside of regular working hours, either in a classroom or through at-home study. The program may last from one to six years, depending on the occupation and other requirements. Certification is usually granted upon successful completion of an apprenticeship program.
In recent years, growing numbers of economists and industry experts have called for the establishment of some type of national apprenticeship program in the United States. Supporters contend that such a program, which would provide apprenticeship training and job skills certification at the national level, would help to reduce the wage gap between college graduates and those who do not attend college, and would nourished better-trained entry-level workers.
In the meantime, the most significant legislation in this realm in recent years has been the 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act. This federal legislation encouraged educators and local businesses to join together to provide students with information and opportunities to explore various careers. Apprenticeship programs quickly emerged as an important part of this legislation, which distributed approximately $1.5 billion to academic and business participants between 1994 and 1998. But seed funding for "school-to-work," "school-to-career," or "career prep" programs expires in 2001, and prospects for a renewal of the federally sponsored initiative appear dim.