Apprenticeships: Occupations and outlook
This article has been updated.
You might know that apprenticeships offer a way to earn money while learning a skill. But you might not know that in many occupations with apprenticeships, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment to grow at least as fast as the average for all occupations—if not faster—from 2016–26.
And there’s more: Wages in a number of the top occupations for apprenticeships were well above the $37,040 median annual wage in all occupations in 2016. Keep reading for details about some of these occupations with opportunity.
What’s an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is an arrangement in which you get hands-on training, technical instruction, and a paycheck—all at the same time. Apprentices work for a sponsor, such as an individual employer or a business-union partnership, who pays their wages and provides the training.
Formal apprenticeship programs usually last about 4 years, depending on the employer or occupation, although they may take as little as 12 months or as many as 6 years. Many of these programs are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). At the end of a registered apprenticeship program, apprentices get a nationally recognized certificate of completion as proof of their skills.
Occupations with apprenticeships
In fiscal year 2016, DOL counted about 500,000 active apprentices in more than 21,000 registered apprenticeship programs across the country.
According to BLS, some occupations typically require an apprenticeship to enter. These include:
But there are lots of other occupations with apprenticeships, even if an apprenticeship is not the typical path to entry.
The table shows the occupations with the greatest number of active apprentices in 2016, according to a DOL summary of data sources. For each of these occupations, the table shows BLS data for 2016–26 projected job outlook, 2016 employment, and 2016 median annual wages.
View Chart Data
|Occupation||Employment growth, projected 2016–26||Employment, 2016||Median annual wage, 2016|
|8% (As fast as average)||1,025,600||$43,600|
|12% (Faster than average)||1,216,700||33,430|
Electrical power-line installers and repairers
|14% (Faster than average)||120,900||68,010|
|9% (As fast as average)||666,900||52,720|
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
|6% (As fast as average)||1,871,700||41,340|
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
|16% (Much faster than average)||480,600||51,450|
Sheet metal workers
|9% (As fast as average)||138,900||46,940|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (employment growth, employment, and wages), U.S. Department of Labor.
(selected occupations, based on federal data on active apprentices in fiscal year 2016).
Outlook and employment
In total, the occupations in the table accounted for more than 5.5 million jobs in 2016. And over the 2016–26 decade, these seven occupations are projected to add more than 500,000 jobs.
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers had the most jobs in 2016 of these occupations. Workers typically enter this occupation by taking professional truck-driving courses to qualify for a commercial driver’s license and complete short-term on-the-job training after being hired. And some truck drivers meet these requirements through an apprenticeship.
Of the occupations in the table, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to have the fastest employment growth from 2016 to 2026. These workers install plumbing and related systems in newly constructed buildings, as well as upgrade or repair systems in existing homes and businesses. Apprenticeship is a common pathway into this occupation.
Apprentices usually train under the direction of experienced workers, earning about half of what a fully qualified worker makes. And apprentices earn pay increases as they advance in their training.
BLS data show that many occupations with apprenticeships have relatively high wages. Of the occupations in the table, all but construction laborers had a median annual wage that was higher than the median for all workers. Formal education typically is not required to enter this occupation, but some construction laborers take classes as part of an apprenticeship.
Electrical power line installers and repairers had the highest median wage of the occupations in the table—$68,010 per year. To become fully qualified, these workers typically need technical instruction and long-term on-the-job training, which they might get through an apprenticeship or other employer-training program.
For more information
Learn more about the occupations identified in this article in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
DOL’s Office of Apprenticeship has data and other information, including how to become an apprentice or start an apprenticeship program. It also provides a list of occupations and their program lengths.
About the Author
Elka Torpey is an economist in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Elka Torpey, "Apprenticeships: Occupations and outlook," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2017.