The pomp and circumstance of high school graduation is a journey that’s mapped out for most students when they enter elementary school. The path incorporates all the classes needed to meet graduation requirements. But what happens at the end of that road? For many students, the next step is to continue their education by attending college, often a track that is encouraged and expected, but for others, that road while paved with good intentions, does not enable them to reach their final destination.
Having an education is critical, but how we define an education is as well. For many professions, such as a doctor, lawyer, or a teacher, going on to college and graduate school are required. But we are now living in a world where college is financially out of reach for some. So, what is a high school graduate to do? Thankfully there are other options which continue to provide education with a hands-on approach: an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships have been around for decades. An apprenticeship is a time-honored approach to training skilled workers through a combination of on-the-job and classroom training. Currently, in New York State, there are more than 160 different programs across dozens of industries including; manufacturing, automotive, health care, food and beverage, computer-based, social services, and the most common and sought after, construction for both commercial and residential.
As a New York State registered apprentice, you “earn-while-you-learn” – you are a full-time employee, your wages usually start at a percentage of the experienced, skilled worker (journeyman worker) wage rate with set increases until training is completed. Apprenticeship programs may also offer fringe benefits, like paid vacations and holidays, and health insurance and retirement plans. The programs can last anywhere from one to five years, depending on the trade and based on the total number of hours required to be completed while working.
As an apprentice of a registered apprenticeship program, you also must complete related classroom instruction. Classes cover the theory, principles, and technical knowledge you need to do the job at hand. The classes are usually taken outside working hours and include a minimum of 144 hours per year. Related instruction may be offered through adult education courses such as the ones offered by BOCES, through community college, a training school or union facilities. There are now some classes even offered online. On Long Island alone there are numerous options to choose from based on your needs, and in most cases, the employer sponsoring the program covers the cost of classes for the apprentice. For some programs, taking these classes may also earn you an associate degree. Certificates of completion in these courses are very similar to a college transcript. They are nationally recognized and don’t expire. For example, if you have completed two years of classes in New York and decide to move to Florida, you will likely receive credit for those two years, making yourself more marketable to potential employers.
Qualifying to become an apprentice varies by program; however, all New York State registered apprenticeship programs have a minimum age, require a high school diploma or equivalent certificate (GED or TASC), and/or demand the completion of some mathematics courses. Some construction and manufacturing trades require considerable physical stamina or some related work experience.
So how does this all play out in the real world? Let’s take ‘Steve’ as an example. Steve graduated from CUNY Queens College in 2014 with a BA in English. Steve took a job as a waiter at a restaurant chain while he looked for full-time work. Unsuccessful after three years of trying, he was offered an opportunity to be a summer helper for a residential electrical contractor. Steve enjoyed that experience so much that when September came, he signed up at the Eastern Suffolk BOCES for night adult electrical classes. Once Steve is placed, he will begin earning his regular base wage and will also have the potential to work on Prevailing Wage projects. Prevailing Wage is an hourly wage set by New York State. The State requires employers to compensate any worker on a job site at a higher hourly wage including benefits. Prevailing Wage for a registered electrical apprentice starts at $17.50/hour plus an additional $5 in benefits per hour, but after the five-year program is completed that newly appointed journeyman would be making an hourly salary of $43.70 along with $23.60 in benefits.
When finding traditional paths after graduation are not what is best suited for a student, an apprenticeship program provides individuals with options to continue learning a trade and earn a good living. An apprenticeship program provides more than just an “alternative” to college; it provides young, determined people with a way to fulfill their dreams and build solid foundations.