Apprenticeship Programs Are Financially-Viable Alternative to College

Construction apprenticeship. Image source: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt
Image source: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt
Published On
Jan 24, 2020

A new study, “The Apprenticeship Alternative,” jointly researched and published by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana finds that those who graduate from registered joint labor-management construction apprenticeship programs earn virtually the same as (and, in some cases, more than) individuals graduating college with a bachelor’s degree.

The report noted that, “Registered apprenticeship programs produce good middle-class careers and should be encouraged as a viable alternative to college. Journeyworkers graduating from joint labor-management construction programs earn about $40 per hour, resulting in lifetime incomes that parallel the average for workers with bachelor’s degrees.”

The report defines registered apprenticeship programs as “training programs in which participants get the opportunity to ‘earn while they learn’ with tuition costs covered by employers or joint labor-management organizations, who gain access to a pool of skilled, productive, and safe workers.”

According to the report, on average, apprenticeships in joint labor-management construction programs are required to complete 7,306 hours of training, while the typical bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois requires a minimum of 5,760 hours.

And while the average joint labor-management construction programs have had a 54% completion rate since 2000, the graduation rate at non-profit universities was 66%, 61% at public universities and 43% at for-profit universities.

After completing joint labor-management construction programs, the average first-year apprentice earns $19.15, and the average journeyworker earns $40.40 per hour, while those with bachelor’s degrees were earning about five dollars less per hour ($35.28) by midcareer.

And, despite the likelihood of suffering an unemployment spell, according to the report, a union journeyworker will earn about $2.4 million during his/her career, while a worker with a bachelor’s degree will earn approximately $2.5 million (after repaying student debt).

In addition, some careers provide even more economic advantage. For example, after completing a five-year apprenticeship through the IBEW-NECA Institute, a journeyman wireman in Illinois makes more than $49 an hour.

In addition, first-year union workers had higher average hourly wages ($19.15, as noted above) than those with just high school diplomas or their equivalents.

As a result of these data, the report suggests that, “Pre-apprenticeship programs should be expanded to end the stigma of choosing trade schools over college.”

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