July 28, 2015

5 Myths About Apprenticeships (And How To Tell What’s Right For You)

By Erica R. Hendry

Aaron McIlwee, an apprentice mechanic for Omega Protein, looks on near a net full of Menhaden fish off the coast of Smith Island in Virginia.

Aaron McIlwee, an apprentice mechanic for Omega Protein, looks on near a net full of Menhaden fish off the coast of Smith Island in Virginia.

So you want to hire apprentices for your business.

Finding and retaining skilled workers through apprenticeship programs can be cheaper than internships or temporary positions, not to mention an often better investment. While apprenticeship programs aren’t right for every company, many businesses, and possible apprentices, that would benefit from them are scared off by what they perceive as insurmountable challenges.

But not everything you hear about apprenticeships is true, says Brad Neese, who, through his work with Apprenticeship Carolina, has met with hundreds of companies and apprentices trying to find a good fit. For our show on the new push for these programs, he shared the most frequent challenges and complaints he encounters, and how businesses can work through them.

Myth: Registering an apprenticeship program is too bureaucratic and difficult.

Reality: Well this is true, but only in part.  If you or your company has never encountered the registration documentation for apprenticeships, it would be daunting and confusing and seemingly not worth the climb. But there are organizations all over the country (Apprenticeship Carolina being one of them) that can help navigate companies through the registration process free of charge. The USDOL has made it easy for you to locate those resources in your state through this guide.

Myth: Apprenticeship programs are just for the construction and skilled craft occupations

Reality: It’s true that the apprenticeship system in the United States has a long and rich relationship with the construction trades. However, apprenticeship has truly evolved.  Today, apprenticeship programs can be found in information technology, healthcare, advanced manufacturing and even hospitality and tourism.  In fact, the USDOL has a list of over 1000 “apprenticeable” occupations.  You can see that you can be anything from a glass eyeball maker to a pharmacy technician.  (By the way: The next time you are eating a fancy meal in Charleston South Carolina, you may be served by an apprentice).

Myth: I am a small business. Apprenticeships are just for the big guys.

Reality: One of the most fun companies I ever worked with was a small pest control company in rural South Carolina.  It was a one-man shop and he was getting a bit too old to be crawling under houses in the South Carolina summer heat.  He wanted to develop a person that could not only to share in the work, but could also continue the legacy of his business.  So while his apprentice was learning the ins and outs of pest control, he was also learning the basics of accounting and managing a small business.  The size of the apprenticeship program is wholly dependent upon the needs of the company and there is no magic formula or regulation to dictate that.  In this case, it was one apprentice. In others, a few dozen could be a great fit.

Myth: If I train apprentices they are just going to leave.

Reality: Bad news: If that’s the mindset, your employees are probably already looking for another job.  People want to grow and want to see a pathway towards a more prosperous future.  Time and time again, apprenticeship programs have proven to help reduce turnover and increase employee productivity. So what is worse: You have trained them and they leave, or you haven’t trained them and they stay?  If you are having turnover, productivity or morale issues, apprenticeship could help—but the bottom line is you won’t know if you don’t try.  Hearing from other companies who are using apprenticeship successfully may help you.  Take a look at the USDOL Apprenticeship Leaders page to see what other employers are saying.

Myth: If I become an apprentice, I will have to make a choice between work and college.

Reality: First of all, apprenticeships are earn-while-you-learn opportunities.  It is a great way to get in-depth, on-the-job training with a knowledgeable mentor while also getting relevant classroom experience.  Many apprentices earn two-year associates degrees during their apprenticeships and go on to earn four-year degrees (often free of debt).  USDOL says 90 percent of workers were still employed one year after the completion of their apprenticeship program and earn an average of $55,000 per year. Over the course of their career, these people can also earn $300,000 more than non-apprentice participants.  It’s true, money can’t buy you happiness … but it can buy you a boat.  And based on these statistics, if you complete an apprenticeship program, you will buy a much nicer boat!

For more on apprenticeship, listen to Tuesday’s full show.

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