Students interested in training for a trade have many choices today—they can take vocational courses, complete an associate’s degree, or attend a private institution. One other option, which has been the main method of trades training for centuries, is an apprenticeship program.
An apprenticeship combines classroom instruction and on-the-job training into a single program. This is one of the best ways to learn a trade because you get your training by working alongside an expert journeyman. One of the main advantages of an apprenticeship is that you earn a wage during your training period. You don’t have to take time off of work to go to school—your work and school are essentially the same. You learn all of the same things you would in a more traditional program, including math, science, and of course the specifics of the trade; the main difference is the format. Apprenticeship programs are usually considerably longer than other types of formal training: four or five years rather than one or two. But if you are interested in becoming a journeyman or master welder, an apprenticeship is one of the best ways you can get there.
There are a couple of different ways to enter into an apprenticeship. United Association, which is a national union for plumbers, fitters, welders, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) service techs, offers a five-year apprenticeship program for people who want to join the union but don’t have any experience in the trades. You start with basic courses and then can choose the specific trade you would like to pursue. Many states also partner with local trades organizations to offer apprenticeships. For example, Oregon has a four-year apprenticeship program for industrial and maintenance welders.
Apprenticeship programs are generally much more competitive than traditional vocational training programs, and often they are restricted in terms of eligibility. As a general rule, you must be at least 18 years old and hold either a high school diploma or a GED to apply for an apprenticeship. There may be additional considerations for programs in your city or state, so if you are interested in this type of training, be sure to make sure you meet all of the eligibility requirements.
Finally, apprenticeships are not necessarily completely separate from traditional welding schools. In fact, some vocational schools and community colleges offer courses that count as the classroom portion of an apprenticeship, and many have professional connections that can lead to an apprenticeship after graduation. The main point is that there are a variety of options, most of which are not mutually exclusive, so it is important that you research the different programs available in your area and select the best one to meet your needs.
United Association: Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and HVAC Service Techs. Apprenticeship.
Oregon.gov. Apprenticeship and training division: Welder.