Apprenticeship is a system of job training in which trainees become highly skilled workers through a combination of worksite learning and classroom learning. It is sometimes called “the other four-year degree” because it often takes four years and it results in a nationally recognized credential that can open the door to income and job security that may be as good as or better than what college graduates enjoy. In my book 200 Best Jobs Through Apprenticeships, I identify many promising careers that can be entered this way.
This route to career entry is not as well-known as it deserves, and it has lost ground to college as an entry route even as college degrees have become increasingly expensive. Nevertheless, there are indications that apprenticeship as an entry route is starting to regain lost popularity.
As evidence of the recent decline of apprenticeship, I offer the following graph. Like all the graphs I prepared for this blog, it is based on data from the Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor. All apprenticeships and apprentices referred to in these graphs are registered with the federal Office of Apprenticeship or with a state apprenticeship agency.
The first graph shows the number of active apprentices. You can see that the number peaked almost 10 years ago, declined temporarily, rallied just before the recent recession, and then went into a steady decline.
Apparently this downward trend is not caused by a lack of apprenticeship applicants, but rather by a lack of available programs. The following graph shows the number of active apprenticeship programs, and the trend closely parallels that of the first graph.
You’ll notice a similar trend in the number of new apprenticeship programs.
The good news is that it seems likely that these trends will soon reverse, now that overall hiring is picking up again. The industry with the largest concentration of apprenticeships is construction, and this is also one of the industries that has climbed most rapidly from its lowest ebb in the recession. It needs to recover much more before it takes on large numbers of apprentices, but it is moving in the right direction. The longer-term outlook is good. The Department of Labor projects strong growth for many of the apprenticeable occupations in this field, such as Helpers—Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters (60.1% growth projected for the 2010–2020 period), Helpers—Carpenters (55.7 %), Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers (48.6%), Helpers—Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters (45.4%), and Glaziers (42.4%).
You can already see an upward trend in the number of apprentices who are entering a program. The curve has started to recover from its recession low.
Another good sign is the upward trend the number of apprentices who are completing their program.
In case you’re wondering about where apprenticeship programs are most likely to be found, I looked at the number of registered apprentices as a percentage of the total paid workforce in 2011. I found that the state with the highest density of apprentices was Hawaii, with 1.2%, followed by the District of Columbia (0.8%); Alaska, Maryland, and West Virginia (each with 0.6%); and Indiana, Virginia, and Washington (each with 0.4%).
The states with the lowest density of apprentices, tied at 0.1%, were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming.
Because many apprenticeship programs are created by unions, or by a partnership of unions and management, it is probably no coincidence that every one of these low-apprenticeship-density states has a right-to-work law. (Among the states with the highest density of apprentices, only Virginia, with 0.4%, had a right-to-work law in 2011.) Another factor that may explain many of the low-density states is the hangover from the home-mortgage crash; construction is lagging badly in states with large inventories of unsold and underwater houses.
UPDATE: I computed the percentage of the workforce that is unionized in the low-apprenticeship-density states. The average for these 9 states is 5.3%. For the 8 states with the highest density of apprenticeships, an average of 11.6% of the workers are union members.
In next week’s blog, I’ll write about the trends in military apprenticeship programs.