Traditional apprenticeships in previous eras varied widely in their length and working conditions. Modern apprenticeship programs in the United States were standardized in the 1930s with the passage of the National Apprenticeship Act. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration sets standards and provides oversight to the individual State Apprenticeship Agencies.
The Apprenticeship Process
Apprenticeships vary in length, depending on the complexity of the trade. Some are as short as two years, but most last for four or even five. Apprentices must work full-time in their trade, usually 2,000 hours for every calendar year of their apprenticeship. They must also complete a set number of hours of classroom training each year, varying from 100 hours per year for laborers to 200 or more for some skilled trades. The IUEC apprenticeship requires 144 hours per year in the NEIEP classroom. At the end of the apprenticeship period, apprentices are eligible to become journeypeople, usually by passing both a written exam and a practical hands-on exam. Journeypeople are licensed to work in the trade independently, without supervision.
Trades training in a technical school costs money, but an apprenticeship is a full-time paid job. Apprentices’ pay scales are established in contracts negotiated by the union’s bargaining unit and increase over time. A first-year apprentice’s wages are typically 40 percent to 50 percent of a journeyperson’s wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
. When each year of the apprenticeship is completed, the apprentice’s pay increases by a fixed percentage. After completing the apprenticeship and any necessary testing, the newly trained journeyperson earns a full union wage.