Apprenticeships, a Thing of the Past? Think Again

Senior electrician training a new one on the job

When you think about apprenticeships do you think they involve hard work with long hours and low pay? While that may have been what they were like decades ago, today’s apprenticeships incorporate technology, less hours, clean environments, and higher wages. Yes, that’s right, higher wages. In fact, registered programs guarantee a wage increase after each skill level is accomplished. So while many people think they are a thing of the past, perhaps we need to think again.

Not only have apprenticeships changed, but there is a growing resurgence of apprenticeship programs across the country. A large part of my role as liaison to the Ohio State Apprenticeship Council, Ohio’s Apprenticeship Coordination Work Group/Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformations, and the secondary schools for internships and pre-apprenticeship program, is working hard to bridge the employability gap between businesses and workers.  

Across many sectors, we have heard that employers are having a hard time filling open job opportunities. In response, our governor has called for an initiative to create a unified workforce system to support businesses in finding skilled workers. In the Office of Workforce Transformation, we have set to accomplish his goal through three strategic priorities. The first is to identify and summarize business workforce needs. The second is to align these needs with education and training. And third, we are working to reform our current workforce system.

Pragmatically this means we are:

  • Identifying best practices and establishing models throughout the state;
  • Providing technical assistance to the secondary schools for establishing pre-apprenticeship programs;
  • Connecting business and industry partnerships with the schools to provide more work-based learning and employment opportunities; and
  • Helping to establish a state-level industry advisory council to review and establish policy that will enhance programs and provide direction.

On the opposite end of the equation, we are trying to get more students into apprenticeships by working with the secondary schools to enhance or establish a pre-apprenticeship program for youth age 16 and over or internship programs that are a structured, formal way to gain skills on the job. These programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, as well as a paid position within a company.

Once we have the structured programs in place, we have created a path to build awareness for students and then get them involved. Starting in middle school we give students the opportunity to explore the possibilities that exist for them. Then when they reach their junior year in high school, they can experience what jobs are really like by shadowing an actual worker during their workday. During the summer before they begin their senior year, instructors help students connect into an internship with a mentor. Then in their senior year, students can enter into a pre-apprenticeship program usually through early placement or advanced placement.

As a result of our program we have seen industry and education coming together with innovative results. A great example is in the Appalachian Basin, where there is a chronic shortage of trained welders. Up and down the Ohio River, union halls have become empty due to the increased workload from shale development. But now, thanks to an innovative welding program between Pioneer Pipe and local career centers, the company is training local high school seniors to fill those needs.

Through a consortium of three career centers (Washington County Career Center in Marietta, Mid-East Career Center in Zanesville, and Swiss Hills in Woodsfield) 45 students have completed a welding program at their schools and were directly entered into the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, making on average $16 an hour. Pioneer Pipe, based in Marietta, is well known in the oil and gas industry for its fabrication and assembly pipe, and it spent $300,000 building a lab and buying equipment for the students to learn their trade

Throughout their training, students receive a total of seven welding certifications, four API certifications, and three ASME certifications. In addition, once they graduate the students will become second year apprentices receiving a 60 percent journeyman’s package in Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 168. From there the students will apprentice for an additional three years at Pioneer Pipe. Currently, the total package, which includes health and retirement, for a member of Local 168 at Pioneer Pipe equates to $65.00 an hour. Not too shabby for a 22-year old, and certainly good news for young people in the region looking for a career.


About the Author

Linda O’Connor has worked with the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, and Ohio Department of Development in various workforce development capacities for over 20 years and is now the Assistant Director for Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeships within Career and Technical Education.

She has provided direction and support for the trade and industrial career paths, information technology, law and public safety, health science, including SkillsUSA, and NCCER for the construction industry. She is also a member of the National Consortium for Health Science Education.

Linda received her Bachelor’s Degree at Ohio Dominican University in Business and her Master’s from The Ohio State University/Education. She is a member of the ACTE (American Career-Technical Education) and has served as president for the National Association of Industry-Specific Training Directors.