Graduation from a top performing union apprenticeship program is the equivalent of graduation from any junior college and many four year institutions. It melds technical and practical learning; provides payment for the duration and escalates the market worth of the student in visible and immediate ways. This preparation will lead to earnings over a 25 year career that will range between a million and two million dollars. In short, it is a hell of a deal. So how many apprentices really understand and appreciate the opportunity they have been given? Not many, I think.
These same students are being instructed by top craftsmen who otherwise could almost always make much more money if they decided to continue to work in the field; particularly those that would be in supervision. Selfless and dedicated, these instructors did not just wash up on the beach. They made a conscious choice to teach and help others at their own expense. How many apprentices understand the personal and financial commitment being made towards their success?
These are just a couple of examples of opportunities we have to both sell the value of apprenticeship and get the students to realize the opportunity that lays before them. It is a regular occurrence that apprentices write an email to me after one of my presentations exclaiming how they really never understood how they fit into the picture; or what was at risk or the true upside of their career opportunity. Beyond the students are the barriers of career counselors, parents and teachers who often still have a totally unrealistic view that everyone should be on the college track and that the trades are not suitable for a career destination. When people don’t get it, we lose. It seems more important than ever to tell our story effectively.
What are some ways to create a more comprehensive picture of apprenticeship and its benefits overall? Well here are a few:
- Host community events at the training center. Allow non-profits, schools and the community to utilize common areas during underutilized times. Seeing firsthand the training infrastructure will make a big impression.
- Review the career pyramid with first step apprentices. Show them the upward mobility of time, earning and opportunity in our industry. Right from the start we want to fire their ambitions.
- If your program provides college credits for apprentice courses, let everyone know that. Many programs now have the ability to sell a trade, a career and college credit – a very potent package that may attract a different profile of candidate.
- Utilize social media to tell your training story – especially You Tube. Right now do a search on your craft or Local Union on You Tube. See if what comes up promotes the best part of your organization – don’t be surprised if it alarms or dismays you instead. In today’s world your website should have streaming video, testimonials and all the key benefits of your training program, apprenticeship and the union.
Union apprenticeship is the best kept educational secret in North America. Let’s shine a light on it for what it is – for the student, the industry and the community.