How To Recognize A Good Apprenticeship Program

Is it really training or just cheap labor?


In choosing an apprenticeship program, you have some basic decisions to make. Do you wish to pursue union employment or nonunion? Are you more intrigued by construction or service work?

Most union-run apprenticeship programs are renowned for stressing top-notch craftsmanship. However, some may be hard to get into and many construction trade unions these days are plagued by high levels of unemployment. Also, as noted in my last blog, formal apprenticeship programs operated by both unions and nonunion organizations emphasize new construction skills. If you prefer to work in the service sector of a trade, you probably would be best served by training with an individual company in that field.

If the program is offered by an individual company, then naturally the main question to be asked is, how good is that company and do you want to work for them long-term?

One of the key issues to determine is whether the training you receive is geared toward making you a full-fledged craft worker. Many companies use the term “apprentice” to describe any novice who comes to work for them in the field. However, sometimes the job may entail nothing more than being a low-paid helper assigned to nothing but grunt work.

A novice in any field will inevitably be assigned menial tasks that may range from hauling materials to sweeping floors to getting coffee for the boss. This is a rite of passage that every trade worker has experienced. The key is whether this is exclusively what you will be doing. Before signing on you need to ask a prospective employer some pertinent questions, such as:

1. How much classroom instruction will I receive? Will the instruction be structured or just haphazard pitches by sales reps about their products?

2. Will I have opportunities to do hands-on trade work in the field?

3. If I’m under the supervision of an experienced trade worker, can I request a change if that person is not treating me fairly or giving me an opportunity to learn the trade?

4. How will my performance be measured?

5. How soon can I expect to finish training and become a full-fledged journeyman or service technician?

6. Is this company committed to high-quality work and professionalism?

And, of course, you want to work for a company that offers top pay and benefits, such as health insurance, vacation time with pay, sick time, 401k, etc. Some top-notch companies may also offer perks such as school tuition reimbursement.

Keep in mind that the employer will have criteria for acceptance into a training program as well. You may be required to have at least a high school education or GED equivalent. Before taking you on the employer may put you through a battery of tests to measure mechanical aptitude, mathematical ability and interpersonal skills. Often you will have to undergo background checks and drug screening before getting hired.

Don’t resent these criteria. You are better off working for a company that is selective about who they hire than one so desperate they will take anyone.

In upcoming blogs I will detail some of the technical work involved in various trades to help you decide which trade may best suit you.