At a glance
An apprenticeship is a job where employees earn while they learn.
Apprenticeships can be a great option for teens with learning and thinking differences who aren’t headed for college or trade school.
Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of fields that require manual, mechanical, or technical skills.
There are many paths teens can take after high school to start a career. If your child isn’t going to college or trade school, an apprenticeship may be a great option.
Apprenticeships are jobs that allow employees to “earn while they learn.” Employees can get training in a wide range of fields that require manual, mechanical, or technical skills. These include health care, construction, law enforcement, and food services.
The benefit to kids with learning and thinking differences
A big advantage is that apprentices aren’t left to “sink or swim” like they might be at a typical job. They’re trained by mentors while they work. This support can help smooth their transition into the workforce.
Some kids with learning and thinking differences have documented disabilities. Employers are encouraged to hire people with disabilities. So apprentices can be open about their challenges.
Trainees also spend time learning in a classroom. That can be helpful if they’re considering going to college or technical school at some point. Some apprenticeships can even count as credit toward an associate’s degree.
How apprenticeships work
A true “registered” apprenticeship is a formal program. It’s recognized by the U.S. government, and usually pays about 40 to 50 percent of what trained workers make. It can last anywhere from one to six years.
Someone who successfully finishes a programs gets a Certificate of Completion from the Department of Labor. If they joined a union, they may also be certified as a “journeyman” in that industry. That means they’re fully trained and qualified to be an employee in that trade.
Employers decide what the qualifications should be. Most require that trainees be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Some may also require related work experience.
Most programs require a standard test to assess basic math and reading skills. The minimum acceptable scores vary, depending on the nature of the work.
Sponsors are often willing to assist people who have trouble with testing. Some will honor IEPs and allow for extra time. Others will let candidates with low scores study and re-take the test during their apprenticeship. Some will even provide free tutoring.
How to find the right apprenticeship
What if kids aren’t ready for a formal program, or don’t know what trade to pursue? They can enroll in what’s called a “pre-apprenticeship.” These programs help build basic skills to prepare people for apprenticeships. They’re generally offered by high schools, community colleges, local agencies, and industry organizations.
Here are some other ways to help your child find an apprenticeship.
- Talk to your child’s case manager or guidance counselor. Your school may already be working with local organizations that sponsor apprenticeships. It’s even possible that your high school offers pre-apprenticeship programs.
- Ask your child’s school for a list of resources. These might include local agencies, state offices, and community colleges that can help with your search.
- Explore potential opportunities with your child. The Department of Labor’s (DOL) My Next Move website provides lots of valuable information and guidance. It even has a directory of careers by industry. In addition, the DOL offers resources and specific information about apprenticeships and disabilities. Download this PDF if you’re interested.
- Scout for potential apprenticeships online. The national Office of Apprenticeships website can provide a list of opportunities in your area. Then spend some time talking with your child and the case manager about trades that may be a good fit.
Apprenticeships are just one option for teens who aren’t ready or able to jump into college right after high school. Learn about other ways your child can learn a trade. You may be surprised by the opportunities that are out there as kids transition to young adulthood.
Apprentices aren’t left to “sink or swim” like they might be at a typical job.
Your teen’s case manager or guidance counselor can help identify local resources and opportunities.
The Department of Labor offers ideas for trades and information on potential apprenticeships in your area.
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About the author
About the author
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including
Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.