The Modern Apprenticeship

A New Look at an Old Career Path

Traditionally, apprenticeships have been associated with technical, industrial, or manufacturing careers that may not require a college degree, but do require continued instruction and certification. Today, people can find learn-and-earn programs in fields ranging from agriculture to tattooing. Different from an internship or a co-op, an apprenticeship involves paid work with related instruction allowing the apprentice to move within a range of career opportunities in their field. The apprentice model is economically beneficial to the employer in the long run, because they invest in the apprentice’s training up front, and typically take on that highly skilled worker for a contracted number of years following their apprenticeship. It’s growing in popularity again because it works: the success of the manufacturing boom in Germany, for instance, has been attributed to a strong apprenticeship model.

So how is our region taking advantage of state and federal funds to support apprenticeship programs and create a skilled pipeline for high-demand jobs? Here is a sampling of the wide range of available apprenticeship programs in our area.

Catalyst Connections

Petra Mitchel, CEO of Catalyst Connections, says companies and potential employees struggle to understand what apprenticeship programs are available if you don’t know what questions to ask. To build that pipeline and clear the confusion, Catalyst Connection is creating manufacturing apprenticeship programs for area businesses. The foundational apprenticeships use curriculum and best practices developed by the Industrial Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship. Once completed, apprentices can branch into areas as varied as welding, machining, or biomedical production.

Local Joint Apprenticeship Committee

The Joint Apprenticeship Committee is a national body that oversees apprenticeships in various trade unions. Locally, Community College of Allegheny County is an affiliated partner of the JATC, which means students earn can their industry credentials toward a CCAC degree.

One example of this apprenticeship model is the Plumbers Union, where students learn everything from welding to rainwater harvesting solutions. These programs appeal to young people who find they can’t sit still in school and like to take things apart. “If you like to use your hands,” instructor John Inks says, “You’ll feel good in this field!”

Emerging Black Arts Leader Apprenticeship

Pittsburgh has joined a nationwide movement to increase diversity in leadership of art museums (PDF), where only 4% of employees identify as African American. Hosted by Contemporary Craft, the apprenticeship provides 10 months of management experience to emerging arts managers of color. The apprenticeship builds skills in business, nonprofit environments, exhibition and education programs, fundraising, and other supplemental artistic skills with mentoring and networking opportunities. This position is funded via the Opportunity Fund.

Pittsburgh Glass Center

Summer Intensive at Pittsburgh Glass Center / Photo via

Summer Intensive at Pittsburgh Glass Center / Photo via

The Pittsburgh Glass Center offers a learn and earn program called a Technical Apprenticeship, allowing glass artists who have completed their BFA to gain professional studio experience, teaching skills, and the knowledge necessary to run or work in any glass studio. Apprentices also are awarded 10 paid hours per week to focus on their own work, and spend the rest of their work time learning to operate and maintain equipment or engaging studio visitors.

Apprenticeships in Folk and Traditional Arts

PA’s Council on the Arts funds artistic apprenticeships, allowing residents of the commonwealth to study under a master in their discipline. Apprenticeships in Traditional Arts grants are offered annually in both performing or craft traditions that are part of contemporary life. The program connects artists among a network of folk artists around the state and the country, with mediums ranging from Jewish calligraphy to clay flutes to Native American beadwork.

Agricultural Apprenticeships

An organization called ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture Program (part of the National Center for Appropriate Technology) supports various earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship programs for would-be farmers. One such program is called Troops to Tractors, focusing on military personnel transitioning to civilian life. Many of these opportunities are supported by the GI Bill and/or registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, and apprentices earn a wage while studying with experienced mentor farmers throughout the region.


StartablePGH / Photo: Ben Filio

Teens test the waters of maker entrepreneurship at StartablePGH / Photo: Ben Filio

Startable offers teens an 8 week entrepreneurial apprenticeship where students develop, design, prototype, build, brand, market and sell products of their own creation. In addition to a stipend, students get to keep the profits from selling their wares! This year’s product tracks include Fashion and Music, and the programming helps students identify various career tracks that utilize their new skills in those areas. The program focuses on entrepreneurship, and connects students with mentors in their chosen fields.

Published March 23, 2018

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