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Why a Construction Apprenticeship is a Post-Secondary Education

When you hear a student mention their plans after high school, do you ask them if they are going to college, joining the military, or starting an apprenticeship in the construction trades?

Higher education is a hot topic of conversation for students and their families during their junior and senior years of high school. We frequently hear about funding and access to higher education being important to the future of our economy and society.

Educators, students and their families often picture higher education as another level of schooling in traditional lecture-style classroom settings that results in a bachelor’s degree. But the dignified title of higher education is not exclusive to those institutions.

Redefining the “Higher Education” label
“At the Construction Careers Foundation, we recognize that higher education teaches people new fields of knowledge, new skills, and prepares young people to begin a career,” said Mary Stuart, associate director of the Construction Careers Foundation. “Craft training programs offered by the building and construction trades are often overlooked, even though they come with great benefits and wages, safety and skills training and often scholarships and minimal to no debt.”

High school graduates have plenty of good postsecondary options from which to choose. The Construction Careers Foundation is focused on helping young adults become aware of the invaluable post-high school options that are available to students who are open to pursuing a career in one of more than 30 careers in the building and construction trades.

“The trades and their apprenticeship training courses are every bit as rigorous and rewarding as most college degrees and set up apprentices for careers that make a difference in literally shaping the world around us,” Stuart said. “It’s time that Minnesota educators look at construction craft training as a true form of higher education that can provide a young person with a fulfilling lifestyle and rewarding skills for a future career.”

Apprenticeship Training is Post-Secondary Learning Experience
Students attending a college or university narrow their interests and choose to pursue a major related to a specific career field. Based on these choices their coursework will change and they will build certain skills. Similarly, construction apprentices have on-the- job training (OTJ) as one of their learning components. This hands-on field work often pairs apprentices with contractors or construction companies who could one day be their future employers. The OTJ learning format allows trainees to earn while they learn and be paid for their on-site labor with wages that increase proportional to their experience and time in the program.

Just like how students can take courses for college credit, standard schools also can offer construction training through electives like shop class or an introduction to construction technology. Students who take advantage of these courses in high school may feel better prepared when starting an apprenticeship because they are already familiar with some of the tools and skills.

Apprentices and Construction Professionals make up a Skilled Workforce
“It’s a common misperception that construction work is unskilled labor,” Stuart said. “But would you want your home, your school or your hospital built by a team of people with no advanced knowledge or formal training in the tasks that built those structures?”

The jobs that create the built environment all around us require unique skills and understanding to be done safely and correctly. Craft training helps to instill that knowledge in students and prepares them to be successful and talented professionals – the core aspect of higher education.

“The same STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes in schools apply to becoming a doctor or a computer programmer, but they also apply to a pipefitter, cement mason and elevator operator,” Stuart said. “How we talk about and think about different types of education has a large influence on behavior and how young people and their families weigh their options.”

By rightfully giving craft training the label of higher education, we can take a step toward opening up new opportunities and potential.

Apprenticeship Includes Opportunities for Credentials, Certificates, Licenses
Higher education is often associated with the verification of completed courses or knowledge retained through transcripts and diplomas. Rather than testing a job candidate for all their knowledge before hiring them, an employer can see a degree listed on a resume and have an easy understanding of the depth and quality of their expertise.

The modern construction industry also has equivalent indicators of competency for craft professionals, apprentices and trainees, including credentials, certifications and licenses.

Credentials indicate the progress a trainee has made through the different stages of craft training. Credentials can be gained for safety to master a certain tool or skill. Moreover, apprenticeships also grant certifications of completion for lessons and sometimes cards or digital badges are used to indicate an apprentices’’ progression allowing any hiring company to understand exactly what the candidate knows, what they can do, and what supplemental training might be helpful.

For more experienced professionals, certifications and licenses also play a role in identifying educational and professional accomplishments and proficiencies.
“Completing higher education requires a system for verifying skills and knowledge and construction apprenticeships supply those qualifications and opportunities,” Stuart said.

For more information on careers in construction or the apprenticeship process visit ConstructionCareers.org.

If students have questions about apprenticeship opportunities or want to be connected with a representative for more information, fill out our interest form.