Developing an Apprenticeship Program

Historically, an apprentice was someone who assisted a master craftsman and learned his trade by helping and observing. In modern times, this has expanded to include anyone that engages in on-the-job and classroom training to learn a skill or craft. This is usually a formal program that is established by an educational institution or government agency, but can also be an informal program that you organize in your own small business. An apprentice is normally paid a fair wage commensurate with their education and experience.


The goal of a structured apprenticeship program is to enable employers to teach applicable industry standards and practices and to achieve improved quality and productivity. Registered programs allow the participants to earn certifications that are recognized within their state or nationwide. This entitles the apprentice to immediate acceptance by the industry as a skilled journeyman. Many apprenticeships feature incentives and wage structures designed to attract and retain the trainees once they have completed the program.

How a Registered Apprenticeship Works

The business owner can do this alone, or a group of businesses can join together and sponsor a program. Registered programs must abide by established standards for the particular job or industry. This ensures a consistent approach so that certifications will meet all the basic requirements for specific industries and occupations.

The sponsors determine the eligibility criteria and content of the program within these guidelines:
  • Identification of skills to be mastered to qualify for beginner through expert level
  • Definition of the selection criteria and process for applicants
  • Duration of the training program (generally one to six years)
  • Number of hours of classroom instruction needed
  • Wages to be paid throughout the program
  • Provide private instruction, or contract with government-funded school districts or community colleges
If the training is conducted through public institutions, apprentices are normally exempted from registration and workshop fees.

There are few limits on what type of instruction can be provided under an apprenticeship program. Some of the more common trades include auto mechanic, environmental analyst, childcare professional, insurance claims adjuster, chef, baker, optical technician, tool and die maker, machinist, firefighter, painter, dental assistant, truck driver, dairy technician, horticulturist, laboratory technician, bricklayer, and computer programmer. In the construction industry, the programs are targeted toward sheet metal and structural steel workers, plumbers, electricians, pipefitters, carpenters, roofers, and heating & air conditioning specialists.


An apprenticeship has multiple benefits to both the employer and apprentice:

Employer --
  • Can train the apprentice to replicate their unique processes and procedures
  • Develop employee loyalty which reduces turnover and absenteeism
  • Improve productivity
  • Recruit and retain better qualified employees
  • Reduce overall training expenses by sharing costs and taking advantage of state and federal funding
  • Establish a framework for training employees outside the scope of the apprenticeship
  • Business may qualify for financial incentives such as state tax benefits
  • Allows your business to network with other similar businesses
Apprentice --
  • Obtain specialized, hands-on training for their chosen career
  • Acquire a broad skill level
  • Develop a working relationship with the employer
  • Earn competitive wages while learning on the job, with increased wages as they progress
  • Potential for college credit for completed courses
  • Most programs feature guaranteed employment upon successful completion
  • Establish contacts in the industry
  • Obtain certification that will benefit your career wherever you decide to work
  • Avoid incurring large debts for educational expenses
  • Allows you to focus on long-term career
Registered Program Information

Businesses have the option of sponsoring an existing apprentice program or developing a new one. While a new program will involve more time and effort to set up, the advantage is that it can be tailored to meet your specific needs.

The duration depends on the specific occupation and whether it is competency-based, time-based, or a combination of the two. The average is four years within a range of one to six years. The majority of the training is on-the-job which is supplemented by classroom instruction. The size of the program can range from one apprentice to hundreds.

At the state level, apprentice programs are administered by state agencies such as the department of education, career development, adult education, or apprenticeship programs.

At the federal level, the United States Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration manages the Registered Apprenticeship program from its headquarters in Washington, DC. Its national network extends to all fifty states.

Candidates for registered programs must apply and meet minimum requirements set by federal rules. Selection criteria are job related and are tailored to the specific needs of each occupation.


An apprenticeship program can benefit your small business in many ways. If you are looking to expand, this is an efficient way of setting up a flexible and customized training program that will benefit both you and the employee. In addition, you may be able to get financial support as well as tax advantages to help fund the program. This is a win-win situation that could be of significant value during tough economic times.