4 Reasons Veterans Should Consider Taking an Apprenticeship

(Debralee Best/U.S. Army photo)

As older generations retire, many will leave behind lucrative careers in skilled occupations that are sorely needed by businesses, industries and the country at large. Their loss can be a veteran's gain, and veterans can pick up these skills absolutely free.

There was a time when the skilled trades were considered blue-collar work, and even lower class. On TV, skilled tradesmen like plumbers and HVAC repair people were depicted as bumbling losers. Those "losers" are laughing all the way to the bank these days, as job postings for these skilled workers are up as high as 50% in the past few years and wages are on the rise.

Many of these careers start with basic formal education and move into an on-the-job training phase, much like military technical training. Another way to learn these skills is through an apprenticeship, where you learn by doing, maybe with a little bit of classwork on the side at times.

Apprenticeships aren't just for skilled trades, but are more likely to be found in skilled trade careers. An apprenticeship is basically a company making an investment in developing a skilled worker, paying them to learn the tricks of the trade as they gain valuable experience. Here are some reasons to consider an apprenticeship, as opposed to a four-year degree, after leaving the military.

1. No Student Debt

In 2019, the average amount of student loan debt per borrower was around $39,000. That may not be a big deal when you have 36 months of GI Bill benefits waiting for you on the outside of the military, but for the bigger jobs, ones that require a master's degree, three years isn't going to cover it.

While there's nothing wrong with taking out a student loan to get that dream job you've been thinking about, remember that getting the required education, internships and experience is just the start. There's no guarantee that this kind of post-military life will lead to the job you want. With an apprenticeship, you will already have the job you want as you start learning how to do it. Ready, fire, aim.

2. The Paycheck

GI Bill benefits come with a regular paycheck to cover the costs of living as veterans go to school, but again, veterans benefits only cover 36 months of school time. That doesn't cover summers, breaks and time away from school for unforeseen reasons.

Apprentices can earn wages starting at around $33,000 per year, with some salaries going much higher. Apprentices are also often treated the same as any other full-time employee, onboarded with full benefits and sometimes even a paid-for formal education to go along with it. They also tend to earn up to $300,000 more than non-apprentices over the course of their career.

3. Job Security

When a company takes on an apprentice, it is making an investment in a worker who will not only become skilled in a job and industry, they also will be familiar with the way that company works. That's not the kind of investment a company will just disregard during hard times.

Moreover, it's becoming a more common career path for workers entering a new industry or sector, even for older workers like veterans. There are more than a thousand different kinds of apprenticeships open for those who are looking to enter the civilian workforce for the first time and want a legitimate career path, even if they aren't young and fresh from high school.

4. America Needs Apprentices

Experienced skilled tradesmen and manufacturing experts are retiring at an alarming rate. It's not alarming that they're retiring, because they've spent a lifetime doing good work. What's alarming is that there are so few skilled people out there to replace them.

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare critical skills gaps in the workforce and shortages caused by the lack of those skilled workers, showing us just how vulnerable we can be without them. Right now, the shortages are being linked to logistical problems, but just imagine how much worse it would be if there was no one around to produce those products and services in the first place.

Veterans could be the ones filling these critically undermanned roles, and U.S. companies -- along with the federal government -- are willing to pay top dollar to turn them into skilled workers.

If an apprenticeship sounds like a job for you, learn more about it at Apprenticeship.gov or check out apprenticeship job listings on Military.com's parent company, Monster.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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