Taking a Practical Position: Apprenticeships on the Rise - Assistant Week


By Mark Falanga

Photo courtesy of Stephanus Riosetiawan.

As the school year starts again, students are filled with hope that once they complete their educational studies, a job will be waiting for them upon graduation. But as many have found out, companies aren’t hiring students as employees; they are hiring them as either paid or unpaid interns.

It seems that being an intern is the new entry-level job. What was seen not too long ago as a sure bet for a job, college is becoming an expensive endeavor for many young people, as the cost has risen over 538 percent since 1985.

Even the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has advice for the average student who might consider going to college…don’t go. In an interview with Fox News, Bloomberg said, “Compare a plumber to going to Harvard College — being a plumber, actually for the average person, probably would be a better deal,” he reportedly said. “You don’t spend … four years spending $40,000, $50,000 in tuition without earning income.”

The reasoning behind those comments is sound, because, as he states in the interview, those kinds of jobs are hard to “farm out” or outsource.

So where can a student learn the tools of an in-demand, non-outsourced job without expensive college costs? The answer is in apprenticeships. According to the Department of Labor, apprenticeships combine the skills of on the job training while also learning classroom instruction about a particular field. It’s the best of both worlds.

A person who agrees with that is Chris Cordero, who works as an electrician’s apprentice in the Local 3 in Westchester County, New York and was happy to speak to BTR about his experience.

“I think it would be tough for someone who wasn’t an apprentice to learn as much as I have in such a short amount of time,” says Cordero, “Not only that but, as an apprentice, I have a mentor who I can call in case I need some guidance on a particular job I’m doing, not to mention that they’re paying me to get my bachelor’s.”

So what exactly does an electrician’s apprentice do? Cordero said that his job varies depending upon what companies call him up.

“Sometimes they call up a lot of guys, and us apprentices are doing everything from helping out the electricians, running wire, or just carrying boxes, whatever gets the job done,” says Cordero, “for smaller jobs it’s just you and another apprentice out on your own.”

When asked if he felt nervous just being on his own without his mentor there, Cordero said, “You always want to go out and do your best job, but sometimes, mistakes do happen. But when you’re an apprentice, it’s like you’re under an umbrella, and generally the companies go easy on you because they know that you’re just learning.”

While some workers are worried about losing their job, the demand for electricians is on the rise. In fact, according to USA Today, more than 500,000 electrician jobs are currently held in today’s market, with an average wage of $52,910 annually, and the percentage of growth for the industry is expected to rise 23 percent in the next seven years, which is 9 percent higher than total growth across all professions is supposed to reach.

Also, according to the study, it’s not just electricians that are in demand. Similar data for expected growth could be found for welders, plumbers, machinists, and carpenters.

The rising demand for apprenticeships is not just here in the United States, but overseas as well. Applications for apprenticeships were up by a third compared to the same time last year. In an interview with Engineering and Technology Magazine, Matthew Hancock MP, Skills Minister, said, “With more vacancies than ever before, Apprenticeships are fast becoming the norm for young people who want to achieve their career goals through an alternative route to University. We want more employers to take advantage of the advice and support available from the National Apprenticeship Service and consider how hiring an apprentice could benefit their business.”

So if you want the fast track to a well paying job that’s in high demand, consider taking up an apprenticeship. If you’re in high school, talk with your guidance counselor or search for a website where you can apply online, like this one for the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers. After that, you’ll be on your way to being an apprentice for an electrician, plumber, welder, and if you’re really lucky…a sorcerer.