Want a High-Paying Career and No Student Loan Debt? Try This Alternative to College

A young man gets guidance during his carpenter training.
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Excited to kickstart your career, but dreading the thought of student loans? Believe it or not, there is another way to learn skills that translate to good jobs.

It might sound like something out of the Middle Ages, but an apprenticeship is still a legitimate route to a well-paying career. In fact, the federal government reports that 93% of people who complete a registered apprenticeship find a job with an average annual salary of $77,000.

Look at St. Petersburg College in Florida for an example. The school reports that between 2019 and 2020, 1,603 apprentices completed their on-the-job and classroom training to receive apprenticeship certification enabling them to make a starting average wage of $21.27 or $44,241 a year.

Schools across the country have partnerships with employers for apprenticeships. At Southern Piedmont Community College outside of Charlotte, N.C., there is ApprenticeshipIMPACT.

The program “provides students who are interested in workforce-specific programs the opportunity to work and learn while they are pursuing education. So there’s an incentive for employers to train them on the job and have more positive outcomes in recruitment and retention,” the college’s vice president of academic affairs Carl Bishop stated recently in Business North Carolina magazine.

“For students, it’s attractive because they have a job,” he told the magazine. “They also have a wage that is progressive, so they aren’t forced to choose between work and school. All of it is tuition-waived, so they don’t have to pay a thing.”

Apprenticeships can be found through schools, the government and private employers. Here’s what we learned from the U.S. government’s website, apprenticeship.gov.

What is a Registered Apprenticeship?

Obtaining a registered apprenticeship ensures you are learning a trade that is in demand and that your training will meet the demands of jobs across the country.

Industries offering apprenticeships include: Advanced manufacturing, agriculture, social services, education, construction, cybersecurity, energy, financial services, healthcare, hospitality, information technology, public service, telecommunications and transportation.

A registered apprenticeship also meets these standards:

  • From day one of on-the-job training, apprentices earn family-sustaining wages from their employers.
  • Registered apprenticeships provide structured on-the-job learning and job-related classroom training.
  • Apprentices can earn wage increases as they learn and gain new skills, even before they are ready to work on their own.
  • On-the-job learning is conducted in the work setting under the direction of a mentor
  • Training results in a portable, nationally-recognized credential.

How to Get an Apprenticeship

Check Out a Local School 

If you are already in school, ask your career services office about any apprenticeship partnerships between an employer and your school. Go on any school’s website and search “apprenticeship” to get a list of openings or the contact info for someone at the school to help you find an apprenticeship. Even if you aren’t enrolled, if you find a program you like you can enroll and apply for the apprenticeship.

Use the U.S. Government’s Apprenticeship Finder

You can also apply directly to employers or a program manager through the federal government’s Apprenticeship Finder.

Once on the site, applicants can type in a skill and a city or state where they would like to find an apprenticeship.

For example, typing  “construction” and “North Carolina” brings up 36 apprenticeships listing the salary range and the type of work required. Some also list that they prefer one or two years experience in the same or similar industry or the military. Other listings don’t mention a preference for prior experience.

One global mechanical and electrical construction company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange is looking to fill its Summer 2023 apprenticeship class in Raleigh, N.C. It is seeking candidates interested in getting into one of the following fields: electrical, rigging, millwright or iron work. Indeed.com estimates the starting salary range will be $37,000 to $47,000 a year for the on-the-job training.

Or, type “retail” and “Texas” and 172 listings appear. They include numerous positions as a pharmacy technician for Walgreens that require no prior experience or an alarm technician apprentice or jewelry repair apprentice.

Start looking and you could be making money in months, and fully trained within a year or two.

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance editor and reporter living in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker.