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Apprenticeships used to be much more common in the United States than they are today, helping train young workers for jobs in a wide range of fields. Today some places, especially European nations like Germany, have thriving apprenticeship programs, but here in the U.S. the past decade has marked a slow and steady decline in the number of individuals pursuing an apprenticeship (in 2003 the Labor Department reported 490,000 registered apprentices but last year the number had dropped to 398,000).

The apprenticeship isn’t dead yet, however, and it could be seeing a rebirth in the U.S., due in part to a large number of employers finding it difficult to locate employees who have the right skills for the positions they need filled. In the wake of an economic downturn, with high unemployment and skyrocketing tuition costs, this mismatch is causing many to seek out alternatives to the current educational system that doesn’t seem to be preparing students to work in some of the most in-need industries. Interested? Here are some fields where apprenticeships offer the chance for students to learn those essential and in-demand skills, training them on the job as well as in the classroom.

  1. Engineering:

    While many careers in engineering still require at least a four-year degree, there are others that pair academics with apprenticeship to help students more quickly get into the working world. These kind of training programs have their origins in Germany and the U.K. but aren’t unheard of here in the U.S. To complete them, students will take classes in subjects like materials science, foundry technology, and engineering drawing (depending on the career they’re looking to pursue) while often working with a corporate or industrial sponsor to learn a wide range of skills in a real-world setting. Not every kind of engineering is offered through apprenticeships, but there are currently programs in operations, manufacturing, electrical, and mechanical engineering in varying locations nationwide.

  2. Electrical Work:

    Electricians have long used apprenticeships as a way to hone their craft. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the National Electrical Contractors Association, and the Independent Electrical Contractors all offer apprenticeships for those looking to do electrical work. Students must complete both in-class and on-the-job training (about 2,000 hours of it), but can often earn a decent wage and gain helpful experience and connections while doing so; these are some of the built-in perks of the apprenticeship system. It works well for electrical training because students can learn the ins and outs of the business by watching experts onsite and getting a chance to learn hands-on.

  3. Telecommunications:

    Many jobs within the telecommunications field require a college degree, but not all. Positions like telecommunications installer rely on apprenticeships in conjunction with classroom training. While the basics of telecommunications systems are learned in the academic setting (covering topics like fiber optics, blueprint reading, and security systems), students see just how to set up wireless networks and lay down fiber optic cable by following and assisting someone who’s already well-versed in how it’s done. Most programs take about three to four years to complete and require apprentices to gain anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 hours of job training. The upside to all that training? Apprentices get paid more as they gain experience and are entering a field that offers pretty solid job security.

  4. Green Energy:

    With more and more businesses, individuals, organizations, and even entire states looking to embrace cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy, those qualified to build and maintain these systems are in ever greater demand. Over the past few years, openings for energy technicians working with wind, solar, and other renewable sources of energy have seen quite a bit of growth, a phenomenon which may just spur a growth in apprenticeship programs, too. In addition to classroom training on wiring, plumbing, fuel cells, and energy systems, apprentices must also train with a licensed technician for at least 4,000 hours. Specialized apprenticeships exist in areas like electronics, plumbing, construction, wind energy, and other fields. With new types of clean energy systems being devised all the time, the variety could expand even more in the future.

  5. Plumbing:

    Plumbing has always been a field where novices learn through apprenticeships, but there could be a significant growth in the number of those apprenticeships over the next few years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They expect the market for plumbers to grow by 26% annually, fueled in part by a focus on environmental issues that is changing building codes and building trends. Plumbing apprenticeship programs take about the same amount of time to complete as college degrees, teaching apprentices how to read a blueprint, follow building codes, and troubleshoot pipe and water disposal system problems over the course of four years.

  6. Carpentry:

    While facing some serious hurdles amid the economic downturn, the BLS expects construction work, at the heart of most carpentry professional work, to bounce back in a big way, growing by 20% annually. Carpentry is currently one of the most popular apprenticeships in the U.S., with numerous programs available that each take about four years to complete. During that time, apprentices learn how to read blueprints, operate heavy equipment, build and repair structures, and most importantly, memorize the state building codes.

  7. Health Care:

    In many ways, nearly every job in health care has elements of apprenticeship, more often called residencies. Doctors and nurses take a large number of college courses but learn the bulk of their skills on the job, working under more experienced professional in the field in treating patients. Without this real-world experience, most would graduate pretty poorly prepared to work in their field. Yet other areas of health care also offer apprenticeship programs within a much shorter time frame. These include training for work as a medical coder, mammography technologist, CT technologist, MRI technologist, nursing assistant, pharmacy technician, health care IT professional, home health aide, and more. In these programs, health care apprentices take a two-year course of study but do the bulk of their learning in hospitals and treatment facilities to really get a chance to connect with the equipment, situations, and people they’ll encounter in their careers.

  8. Manufacturing:

    Manufacturing jobs, especially in this high-tech age, often require a very specific set of skills. That can make it hard for employers to find candidates that meet their needs and has helped to fuel the growth of apprenticeship positions focused on industry. Many major firms (German car companies BMW and Volkswagen among them) support apprenticeship programs that help them custom-tailor grads to their needs. Students take courses at a local college, then work in factories or machine shops to learn the systems specific to the industry. This allows apprentices to gain useful skills and may even set them up for jobs years before they graduate from their schools. It’s unclear how far programs like these will expand, but so far they’ve been a winning solution for both the companies and the apprentices.

While these fields are some of the most common for apprenticeships at present, other fields may soon offer a greater wealth of opportunities as well. In the U.K., law apprenticeships are seeing a comeback and other fields like accounting and information technology are also seeing a surge in apprenticeship openings. Only time will tell if the same happens here in the U.S.