A Guide to Skilled Trades Apprenticeships and Internships

A Guide to Skilled Trades Apprenticeships and Internships
portrait of Liz Simmons
by Liz Simmons
Published on November 16, 2021


Apprenticeships and internships are some of the best ways to prepare for a career in the skilled trades.

Skilled trade jobs usually do not require a traditional four-year college degree. Instead, students prepare for their careers by attending trade school, community college, or on-the-job training programs.

Aspiring tradespeople can complete apprenticeships or internships as part of formal school programs. Employers also sometimes offer their own stand-alone apprenticeships that can help people gain career-relevant skills and training.

This guide explains what to expect from skilled trades apprenticeships and internships. Discover apprenticeships for electricians, HVAC technicians, lineworkers, welders, and others. Learn about skilled trade internships and trade schools.

What Education Do You Need for a Trade Job?

Education requirements for skilled trade jobs vary by occupation, but skilled tradespeople usually need a high school diploma or GED certificate to start. Many industries require job applicants to complete additional education through apprenticeships, internships, trade schools, or community colleges.

Some of the best trade school jobs include electrician, web developer, dental hygienist, and elevator installer and repairer. Other skilled trade occupations that often pay high wages include radiation therapist, diagnostic medical sonographer, plumber, and wind turbine technician.

Trade school provides technical training that prepares graduates to pursue high-paying skilled trade jobs in industries like repair and maintenance, healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing.

Trade schools and training programs often take less time and money to complete than traditional college degree programs. For some learners, the skilled trades offer a more practical pathway to lucrative careers.

Skilled Trades Apprenticeships

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships help workers develop the skills and knowledge they need for skilled trade jobs. Apprentices typically participate in a structured training program with an experienced mentor.

Apprenticeships usually include paid work experience and classroom learning. They often lead to full-time employment. Apprentices receive an official industry-recognized credential after completing their training.

Some skilled trades require prospective employees to complete an apprenticeship as a condition of hiring. In the past, apprenticeships existed primarily for trade professionals like plumbers, electricians, and machinists. However, today, the tech and business fields also sometimes employ apprentices, strengthening the relationship between higher education and apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships and internships both provide professional experience and may be transferred into college credit in some cases. However, several differences exist between the two. Internships can be paid or unpaid and may or may not lead to a job offer. Internships can also last for a short amount of time — often 1-3 months — whereas apprenticeships usually last 1-3 years.

Overall, apprenticeships require a greater commitment than internships, but they may offer more benefits and support. Students can find apprenticeships offered by workplaces, through their trade school or community college, or by contacting unions.

Specific apprenticeship details vary by field and employer. Below, we explain what to expect from specific skilled trades apprenticeships.

Electrician Apprenticeships

An apprentice works under the supervision of a professional electrician for several years before they can become an electrician. Some states count time in electrician trade school toward the electrician apprenticeship hours required to receive certification.

Common duties for an apprentice electrician include helping the supervising electrician, maintaining electrical equipment, and completing less complex installations. Apprentices learn to install and maintain electrical systems, master electrical codes, and study safety requirements.

The National Electrical Contractors Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers can help students find electrician apprenticeships.

HVAC Apprenticeships

Although the HVAC industry does not require formal education, an apprenticeship can help a student gain the skills necessary to become an HVAC technician. HVAC apprenticeships cover HVAC maintenance and installation, troubleshooting, and customer service. Apprentices learn to use handheld tools and electrical testing equipment.

Learn more about HVAC apprenticeships from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

Lineworker Apprenticeships

A lineworker apprenticeship provides on-the-job training to become an electrical lineman. Working under the supervision of a journeyman lineworker, apprentices help build, maintain, and repair overhead and underground electrical power lines. Lineworker apprentices use line trucks, wire-pulling equipment, and aerial booms.

Lineworker apprenticeships include instruction in electrical theory, mechanical principles, and electrical distribution systems. Apprentices may need to respond to emergencies after hours.

Find lineworker apprenticeships and other career resources at Lineman Central.

Welding Apprenticeships

Welding apprenticeships usually take 6,000 hours (or about three years) to complete, including on-the-job and in-school training. Apprentice welders learn and apply welding processes and train in workplace safety measures. Other topics of instruction include blueprint interpretation, thermal cutting, and material and process quality.

Learn more about welding apprenticeships from Welding Headquarters and local chapters of the Ironworkers union.

Other Skilled Trades Apprenticeships

A general plumbing apprenticeship typically takes about 48 months to complete. Plumbing apprentices assist with plumbing repairs and diagnosing problems, learn state codes, and get experience reading blueprints.

Construction apprentices choose from specialties like concreting, paving, waterproofing, and scaffolding. Length of time varies by specialization, but the average apprenticeship lasts 12-24 months.

Trainees can pursue an automotive apprenticeship with focuses in areas like body repair technology, diesel fuel technology, electrical technology, and light vehicle mechanical technology. Automotive apprenticeship program lengths vary by specialization, with an average length of 36-48 months.

Hairdressing apprenticeships take 33-36 months to complete. Apprentices help their supervising hairdresser wash and cut hair, maintain the salon, and prepare hair color treatments.

Skilled Trades Internships

Internships are popular for students pursuing a traditional college degree. Recent college graduates also often work as interns. However, internships are less common than apprenticeships in the skilled trades.

Skilled trade internships offer trainees short-term professional experience. They help students develop their skills, make new professional connections, and decide if they would enjoy a career in the field.

Skilled trade internships can be paid or unpaid and may count toward college credit. Even if an internship is unpaid, it can offer benefits. Internships can result in job offers and letters of recommendation.

To successfully apply for an internship, craft a strong resume and cover letter, gather references, and make sure you know the application deadlines.

Trade School

Students can pursue education and training for the skilled trades in trade school, also called technical school or vocational school. Trade school usually costs significantly less and takes less time to complete than a traditional four-year college degree.

Trade schools offer postsecondary education for technical or manual careers like carpentry, welding, cosmetology, and HVAC. Some online community colleges offer skilled trade programs leading to a certificate, diploma, or associate degree.

The price of trade school varies, but the average vocational school education costs $33,000. Many four-year colleges charge more than this for just one year of a school. Program length also varies, but most take two years or less to complete.

To choose a trade school, consider the programs offered by each institution, the cost of tuition, accreditation status, and the schools' reputations. Also, explore financial aid opportunities, job placement assistance, and graduation rate.

Frequently Asked Questions About Skilled Trades Apprenticeships and Internships

How do I enroll in a skilled trade apprenticeship program?

You can find skilled trade apprenticeship programs through trade or vocational schools, community colleges, and unions. You can also find opportunities by contacting a prospective employer directly.

The U.S. government also offers a variety of resources about skilled trade apprenticeships for career-seekers, employers, and educators.

Are skilled trades worth it?

Training in a skilled trade can be a more affordable route to a lucrative career than enrolling in college. Skilled trade jobs attract people who enjoy tangible, hands-on work. Trade school may appeal to individuals who can not or do not want to spend the time and money it takes to earn a four-year degree.

Skilled trade jobs exist in healthcare, information technology, maintenance and repair, and manufacturing. To estimate your potential return on investment, subtract the amount you need to spend to learn your trade from your projected salary. Some apprenticeships pay students while they receive training, making the skilled trades even more appealing.

How many hours per week does an apprentice work?

The number of hours a skilled trades apprentice works each week varies depending on occupation, industry, and employer. Many apprentices work full time, but some programs allow students to apprentice part time.

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