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Six Steps to a Construction Apprenticeship in Minnesota

When you hear the word “apprentice,” what do you think of?

Do you think of medieval times with knights and blacksmiths in training hammering hot metal swords on an anvil? Or do you think of Jedi Knights in Star Wars training padawans?

While the term apprentice is oftentimes referenced in historical or fantasy books and movies, the pathway to becoming an apprentice in the field of construction is a very real and legitimate form of education and training that sets young people up for a lifetime career.

“The apprenticeship model of education has been around for centuries, dating back to the Middle Ages, and there’s a reason this system has persisted and remains relevant,” said Sarah Lechowich, senior director of the Construction Careers Foundation, a Twin Cities nonprofit that oversees Construction Career Pathways, a statewide initiative to make young people throughout Minnesota more aware of careers in Minnesota’s construction industry.

“Many of today’s electricians, pipefitters, roofers and other construction professionals have learned their craft through an apprenticeship,” Lechowich continued. “With skilled positions in high demand, construction apprenticeships are more important now than ever.”

An apprenticeship is a system of paid training that combines in-class learning and on-the-job training experiences. Many apprentices earn a license to practice in a regulated profession. (Photo Credit: CCP)

To start your path to an apprenticeship path in Minnesota’s building and construction industry, follow these six steps:

1. Search your interests. Know your strengths. Minnesota has more than 30 different construction apprenticeship programs. Can you focus on small moving parts for a long time? A career in the electrical trades would bring out your strengths. Do you prefer to work in a team or work by yourself — consider joining the pipefitters or becoming an operating engineer? Are you physically fit and can lift more than 50 lbs.? If so, a laborer might be a career you would find rewarding. Not all trades require the same skill sets. If you are unsure of what you are best at, think about what people ask you for help with or ask a friend, guardian or teacher. A list of Minnesota’s construction trades and the preferred skills are found on the Careers page of ConstructionCareers.org, a website dedicated to apprenticeships in Minnesota’s construction industry.

2. Now that you’ve narrowed down your apprenticeship interests it’s time to learn the qualifications of the trade. The qualifications to become an apprentice are dependent upon the program, but in most cases, minimum requirements include being at least 18 years of age and having attained a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Many apprentices start right after high school, while others are individuals transitioning to a new career.

3. Your interests, skills and qualifications are organized. It’s time to connect with your union training center and apply for apprenticeship. Contacts for union training centers are found at the bottom of each career on the Careers page, along with links to trades’ websites.

Prepare for Your Path

4. Review the apprenticeship application. All trades will have an apprenticeship application to fill out. Most applications are available on the union’s website. For some trades, the first step in the application process is passing a basic assessment on reading, math and mechanics. Study guides are provided by the unions.

5. For other trades, the path to apprenticeship begins by being hired by a contractor. To assist young people who want to enter the trade, unions that have this requirement will often supply a list of contractors with whom they work. Students working for a contractor will begin learning on the job and gain skills they can apply in the classroom portion of the apprenticeship.

The length of apprenticeship programs can vary depending on the craft and the previous experience of the apprentice. The standard apprenticeship program is about four years in duration – the same length as a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Not unlike receiving a degree, apprenticeships can also lead to industry-recognized credentials and certifications that represent their skills and knowledge progression.

“What separates an apprenticeship education from a four-year degree is that students get paid to learn these skills through the ‘earn while you learn’ model,” Lechowich said. “Through an apprenticeship you get paid to be educated. Apprentices receive wages for their on-the-job work, which increases incrementally as they progress through their training.”

6. Congratulations, you have successfully applied for a construction trades apprenticeship. Be prepared to follow-up with your contractor, union education leader or apprenticeship coordinator. Show up on time to class or to the job site and be prepared to work hard and learn from great mentors.

For more information on Minnesota’s more than 30 construction careers, visit ConstructionCareers.org. Students can also fill out the Construction Interest form on our website for more information on apprenticeship from trades navigators and representatives.