The Apprentice’s Survival Guide
Why you should consider a construction apprenticeship and how to succeed once you find one
Despite the general public’s current zeal for college degrees for all, apprenticeships have continued to persist as alternative forms of education, especially in the construction industry. The ETA’s 2016 chart of top occupations with high levels of active apprentices is dominated by construction-related jobs, with electrician (33,389), carpenter (10,710), and plumber (10,080) apprentices heading the list.
Apprenticeships represent opportunities that a traditional classroom education cannot offer including paychecks, a foot in the door with a potential employer, direct guidance from an experienced professional regarding real-world applications, and nationally (sometimes globally) transferable credentials. Read on to find out more about how these apprenticeship programs work, what the benefits are, and how you can maximize your success.
How Does an Apprenticeship Work?
Construction apprenticeships are usually either a joint effort between union and employer/company or an individual venture by one or the other. It typically lasts between one and five years. Approximately 20% of the student’s time (at least 144 hours/year) is spent in a traditional classroom setting, learning valuable skills such as first aid and blueprint reading. In the event that your employer/union does not completely cover the cost of the necessary coursework, there are numerous scholarship and grants available for you to take advantage of.
The other 80% of the apprenticeship is dedicated to on-the-job training. Students work under the direct supervision of an experienced and highly skilled tradesperson to practice applying what they learn in class and grow accustomed to the construction team environment. Some may be given tentative acceptance into the apprenticeship program for a short period of time, during which the mentor evaluates whether or not to officially approve the candidate for full instruction.
Advantages for You
Not only is the cost of your education/classroom training supported by your apprenticeship program sponsor, reducing or eliminating the burden of paying for your own education, but you will also receive a regular paycheck. The financial benefits alone may be enough for some people to commit to an apprenticeship.
In addition to the paycheck and free/reduced-cost education, you will receive an exceptionally versatile apprenticeship completion certificate, which is recognized throughout the country as well as many other places around the world.
The onsite experience these credentials represent is extremely enticing to potential future employers. After all, who would you rather have working on your own house: someone with years of practice completing similar tasks, or someone who only studied the process in a classroom or workshop?
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Why Do Employers Like Apprenticeships?
You may be wondering why corporations are willing to invest so much time and money to organize apprenticeship programs that will benefit you so enormously. The answer? Apprenticeships benefit employers more than you probably realize! For example, designing and implementing their own training systems allow employers to tailor your training to fit their business’s needs. If an apprentice joins the sponsor’s workforce, s/he will already be accustomed to the company culture and the firm can expedite new hire training.
Apprenticeships don’t harm profitability, either. Because the students are paid less than fully qualified professionals, employers who utilize them can lower overall labor costs and put forth more competitive offers for bidding projects.
4 Tips for Success
Regardless of whether you must pass an initial trial evaluation or you start work right away, it is essential to put your best foot forward throughout the apprenticeship. You will be performing duties similar to what you will be doing once fully trained, and so any managers or coworkers can serve as very useful references for future job searches and/or resume building. Here are some suggestions to help you excel.
1. Stay committed. Construction positions frequently involve hard physical work, and your apprentice-level paychecks may not be quite what you’d hoped. There are many reasons individuals throw in the towel and decide to quit an apprenticeship program. Don’t quit when you’re nearly finished! Think about your reasons for apprenticing every morning before you go to work and maintain a positive attitude. Remember: you’ll get accustomed to the work and your paycheck will grow.
2. Be open to suggestion or constructive criticism. As an apprentice, your whole objective is to learn. Sometimes, this means you will be told you are doing something incorrectly or inefficiently. Accept these moments as instructional experiences and move on— don’t let a little constructive criticism stand in the way of your education!
3. Be on time. Arriving to a job late is an easy way to instantly irritate your supervisor and coworkers. Being a part of a team means others are relying on your punctuality— especially in construction. Plan your morning so that you get where you need to be five to ten minutes early, making sure to account for traffic. If something goes wrong and you are going to be late anyway, don’t panic; just call your manager as soon as possible and explain the situation.
4. Communicate. If you don’t understand an instruction, ask. If you need something, tell someone. It is imperative for your safety and those around you that you know what needs to be done and are fully prepared to do so. If you know that you frequently have difficulty understanding and/or remembering instructions, repeat them back to your supervisor. This technique, commonly known as Active Listening, not only demonstrates that you are engaged and focused, but also that you care about getting the job done correctly.
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