For the hundreds of thousands of people who enroll each year in federally registered apprenticeship programs, learning begins not in a college classroom, but, for instance, in the belly of a nuclear power plant.
An apprenticeship is a unique form of education, allowing participants to earn a paycheck while training for an occupation, both in classes and on the job. Traditional trades such as construction and manufacturing continue to draw the most students, but newer industries including health care and information technology have also begun to offer apprenticeships, broadening their appeal.
At the same time, there is growing recognition that an apprenticeship may not be enough. Labor experts stress that the jobs of the future will demand a more educated work force. Meanwhile, even those apprentices interested in college have no clear path to an associate or bachelor’s degree. But the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education are trying to change that: They are building a national network of colleges that will grant academic credit for the skills apprentices acquire in registered programs, making a transition to higher education easier to navigate.
For now, apprentices have no guarantee that their prior learning will be accepted for credit at any college. Those decisions depend on state higher-education systems or individual institutions and can be inconsistent. Often students are forced to take courses that repeat topics or skills they’ve already learned during an apprenticeship. And even if a student finds a college that does grant credit for prior learning, transferring to another institution means going through that process again. And journeymen, as apprentices are often called when they complete their training, commonly relocate for work. (Read more. Requires paid subscription.)