Earn While You Learn Jobs

Earn While You Learn: Jobs That Start as Apprenticeships

If you’re looking to make a career switch but need to stay employed, you can learn on the job through an apprenticeship program. Many apprentices are paid from the start, though at a lower rate than they’ll earn once their apprenticeship training period is complete.

Probably the best-known careers entered through the apprenticeship route are electrician and plumber, but you can apprentice in a wide range of jobs, from accounts-payable clerk to wastewater treatment plant operator. The U.S. Department of Labor oversees hundreds of official, defined apprenticeship programs, and a spokeswoman said the agency plans to add new apprenticeship programs for growing fields such as healthcare and “green jobs” involving energy efficiency or conservation.

Industries in each state decide whether they will participate in federal apprenticeship programs (state-by-state list here: http://www.doleta.gov/OA/sainformation.cfm), and in some cases states create their own apprenticeship programs. You’ll need to do a little sleuthing to see what’s available in your area. Generally, the Department of Labor reports entry requirements are minimal – must be 18 and a high school graduate, as well as physically able to do required tasks.

There are three advantages to participating in an official apprenticeship program, says Laurence Shatkin, co-author of 200 Best Jobs Through Apprenticeships (Jist Publishing 2009). With a formal program, you’ll complete a training course of a required length, and potential employers will know you’ve demonstrated a specific skill level. The rules of the apprenticeship will protect you from being exploited on the job, as they define the wages you should be paid. And finally, you’ll make valuable industry contacts.

“Often, you’ll have worked at more than one job site, so people in the industry get to know you,” he says. “When you’re done, you can tap into your network for referrals.”

The following list of careers you can get into through apprenticeship programs display the great variety of choices available:

1. Fashion designer. The competition is intense, but if you’ve got an eye for style you may be able to convince a pro to take you on. Once you’ve completed your fashion design apprenticeship, you can strike out on your own – about one-quarter of designers are self-employed, the DOL reports.

2. Industrial production manager. If your area has a strong manufacturing base and you have some assembly-line experience, an apprenticeship could help you move up to a supervisory role, Shatkin says.

3. Air traffic controller. If you live near an airport, this is a great career to enter now. A generation of controllers hired during the 1970s is nearing retirement, so future hiring prospects are bright.

4. Firefighting manager/supervisor. This is a good option for those who’ve been first-responders of some kind in the past, even as volunteers, Shatkin says. No matter what happens with the economy, firehouses will still need someone to organize the crews.

5. Power plant operator. There are power plants of all types, all across the country, including an increasing number of wind farms, Shatkin notes. The Department of Labor reports that most operators learn on the job.

6. Building code inspector. Many in this role are employed by governments, which are required to inspect buildings to comply with a range of laws regarding structures.

7. Telecommunications equipment installer. There’s only one way to learn how to set up a wireless network or lay fiber-optic cable – follow somebody around who’s doing it. Shatkin notes this career is expected to boom as the economy recovers.

8. Ship’s mate. Many get started in this career in the Navy, Shatkin says, but you can use an apprenticeship as an entry point as well. Mates, also sometimes called deck officers, direct routine vessel operations and coordinate crew activities.

9. Paralegal. Though most paralegals take a two-year college course, you can find apprenticeship opportunities, Shatkin says. The DOL forecasts rapid growth in demand for this role.

10. Funeral director. Until someone discovers the fountain of youth, this job isn’t going away. Some directors take college courses to become morticians as well, Shatkin notes, but you can learn to arrange funerals on the job.

Business reporter Carol Tice (www.caroltice.com) contributes to several national and regional business publications.