What is Apprenticeship?

The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Federal Committee on Apprenticeship (1992) defines apprenticeship as a training strategy with eight essential components:

1. Apprenticeship is sponsored by employers and others who can actually hire and train individuals in the workplace.  It combines hands-on training on the job with related theoretical instruction.

2. Workplace and industry needs dictate key details of apprenticeship programs--training content, length of training, and actual employment settings.

3. Apprenticeship has a specific legal status regulated by federal and state laws.

4. Apprenticeship leads to formal, official credentials--a Certificate of Completion and journeyperson status.

5. Apprenticeship generally requires a significant investment of time and money on the part of employers or other sponsors.

6. Apprenticeship provides wages to apprentices during training according to predefined wage scales.

7. Apprentices learn by working directly under master workers in their occupations.

8. Apprenticeship involves both written agreements and implicit expectations. Written agreements specify the roles and responsibilities of each party; implicit expectations include the right of program sponsors to employ the apprentice, recouping their sizable investment in training, and the right of apprentices to obtain such employment.


It is equally important to understand what apprenticeship is not. In some European countries, apprenticeship is a widely used form of vocational training for young people (Brodsky 1989). In Austria, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, apprenticeship is a common path for transition from school to work. In the United States, on the other hand, apprenticeship is not aimed at youth who are completing school; rather, it functions far more often to provide upgrading and retraining for adults who are already employed (Glover 1986).

Furthermore, apprenticeship is not a standardized, uniform institution in the United States ("Apprenticeship" 1991-92). The DOL's Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training oversees apprenticeship functions in collaboration with agencies in 27 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Apprenticeship programs may be sponsored by employers, employer associations, or jointly by employers and unions. Programs registered with state or federal agencies offer apprenticeships in approximately 830 occupations.

In addition, apprenticeship is--in some respects--not widely used as a training strategy (General Accounting Office 1992). Two-thirds of all U.S. apprentices are in 20 of the 830 occupations which have apprentices; of those 20 occupations, all but three (corrections officer, fire fighter, and police officer) are in the construction and metal trades. In addition, minorities are underrepresented in apprenticeship programs (ibid.).

Moreover, apprenticeship is not closely and productively linked with vocational-technical education in the United States (Grossman and Drier 1988). Some apprenticeship leaders feel that vocational-technical training provides inadequate preparation for the workplace. Apprenticeship leaders often have little detailed knowledge of vocational-technical education, and educators often lack such detailed knowledge about apprenticeship. In addition, leaders in both vocational-technical education and apprenticeship can be influenced by issues of control and ownership.

Finally, apprenticeship is not just a strategy that involves training outside the classroom or training content strictly determined by occupational needs (Federal Committee on Apprenticeship 1992). Apprenticeship is distinguished from such training strategies--including cooperative education, tech prep, and summer or part-time work experiences--by the unique combination of its eight essential components. Although such other training strategies may have great value in their own right, only apprenticeship produces fully trained, competent journeypersons with the skills needed to perform effectively in the workplace.