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Apprenticeships: A Viable Alternative to College you Should Consider

Written by Nico Warner

What if I told you that attending college is not the only way to get started in a stable, lifelong career with upward trajectory and great benefits. And that you can get started in such a career without taking on any student debt at all. This is all possible by going through an apprenticeship program. To learn more about apprenticeships I talked with Akeem Perry, Senior Manager of Talent Initiatives here at the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP).

What is an Apprenticeship?

Akeem defines apprenticeships as “earn and learn training programs” or “skills-based workforce development initiatives”. On the job training (OJT) and related technical instruction (RTI) are the two unique components of an apprenticeship. Many employers pair with educational entities, such as community colleges, to make their apprenticeship programs more effective. In such a collaboration, schools provide the RTI while employers provide the OJT for the apprentice. Successful apprenticeships adequately prepare apprentices for a certain occupation that starts them on a lifelong career.

There are two types of apprenticeships: registered and unregistered. Registered apprenticeships are certified by either a state apprenticeship agency or the U.S. Department of Labor. Unregistered apprenticeships are monitored solely by an employer and are not certified by the government. While Akeem and GCP recognize that all apprenticeships have great value for both employers and apprentices alike, registered apprenticeships offer additional advantages because they provide:

  • Approved Standards
    • Government certification ensures that an apprenticeship’s OJT and RTI adequately prepares an apprentice for a certain occupation.
  • Portable and Transferable Credentials
    • Apprentices can take their credential, earned through a registered apprenticeship, to find employment anywhere throughout the country. They are not limited to working for their apprenticeship employer, something that cannot always be said of unregistered apprenticeships. Additionally, the credentials earned through registered apprenticeship programs can often lead to post-secondary credits.
  • Federal and State Apprenticeship Funding and Resources
    • Employers who sponsor registered apprenticeship programs are eligible for tax credits and funding for RTI components of their skills-based training program.

Unregistered apprenticeships do have flexibility and are a valued educational opportunity. However, Akeem notes the benefits of registered apprenticeships are undeniably advantageous in creating a new career path for the apprentice coupled with the resources available to support the efforts of the sponsoring employer.

Apprenticeships vs. internships.

Akeem was careful to distinguish apprenticeships from internships. Some of their major differences are listed in the table below:

  Apprenticeships Internships
Purpose Training Programs Work Experience
Length 1 year – 4 years long 2 months – 1 year long
Wages Wages are guaranteed and increase as more skills are
Can be paid or unpaid.

In what industries are apprenticeships common?

Apprenticeships are most common in the manufacturing and construction
industries. However, GCP promotes apprenticeship programs in other industries such as healthcare and information technology (IT). GCP might expand into financial services and hospitality services in the future. Apprenticeships have the potential to satisfy these industries in high demand for talent. There are no limits to who can adopt apprenticeships. In fact, one of Akeem’s goals is for every industry to have several (or several hundred) registered apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships vs. college.

Akeem sees apprenticeships as a healthy educational alternative to a 4-year degree. Apprenticeships will not replace college, but it would be beneficial if they competed. This is because college is not for everyone. Apprenticeships are a great opportunity for those who are unable to go to college or those who simply do not want to go to college. Besides college, most high schoolers do not have a viable career path to obtain a livable wage. Apprenticeships can be an integral option for high schoolers that allows them to:

  • Earn a livable wage.
  • Obtain a credential.
  • Master a skill without any debt.

For some, the only way to obtain these advantages is by going through an apprenticeship program. Akeem hopes that one day apprenticeships will be talked about in the same conversation as pursuing a four-year degree.

How do I find apprenticeship programs?

  • Google is great way to start your apprenticeship search.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor has an Apprenticeship Finder that is fantastic for finding opportunities near you.
  • Local community or technical colleges often collaborate with employers on apprenticeship programs and can direct you to what you are looking for.
  • Local labor unions may organize apprenticeships so reaching out to them is a great way to discover more opportunities.
  • Unify Jobs is an integrated technology solution designed with diversity, equity, and inclusion at its core to match employers and job seekers.

Unsure of what you want to do after high school? Thinking of making a career change? Consider apprenticeships. Too few people recognize that apprenticeships are a viable alternative to college. But now that you are aware of this you can educate others on the benefits of apprenticeships.  Stay tuned throughout the summer for more blogs on apprenticeships, internships, professional development, and more.


  • Selena Gillespie July 13, 2021 Reply

    Great article Nico. Do you have any advice on young professionals who want to pursue both a college education and an apprenticeship? Secondly, are there any benefits or reason’s anyone would take on an unregistered apprenticeship over one that is registered?

  • Akeem Perry July 16, 2021 Reply

    Hello Selena! Great questions.. To answer your first, if a young professional is considering to complete both a college degree and an apprenticeship, it would be ideal to find an apprenticeship which has a credentials that yields towards post-secondary credits upon completion of the program. This would be the best approach to maximize on the time commitment of completing both.

    As for your second question, yes, there are benefits to completing an unregistered apprenticeship program. The meaningful work experience and training attained from a sponsoring employer with a notable reputation is an invaluable opportunity which often times lead to direct hire employment upon completion of the program. Additionally, the training of an unregistered apprenticeship may be more specific to the sponsoring employer’s organizational needs while still remaining to be relevant skills for future opportunities. These advantageous pair well if the sponsoring employer is viewed as a dream job or company for the aspiring young professional.

    Therefore, it is important to uphold the benefits of both, registered and unregistered apprenticeships!

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