The Best Kept Secret: Apprenticeships

apprentices learning skills on the job
Rebecca A. Eckland

Are you looking for a well-paid, and stable career, but you don’t want to spend an enormous amount on tuition and fees to get it?  If you like working with your hands and are interested in earning a credential that could potentially take you anywhere around the world, then apprenticeship programs are offered through a partnership between TMCC and the Northern Nevada Apprenticeship Coordinator’s Association (NNACA) that can lead you to a journeyman’s card and an associate’s degree. 

“Most people think of career pathways as either trades or education,” said Dean of Technical Sciences Barbara Walden. “Yet, the partnership between TMCC and the Construction Unions blends the two systems and gives apprentices an opportunity to earn both Journeyman status and an associate degree.”   

In other words, apprentices earn an education and hands-on experience without the costs typically associated with higher education or even most conventional forms of professional development: there’s no tuition, and while some learning takes place in a classroom, the majority of learning and work is literally “on the job”— which means you’re being paid to learn how to be a full-time professional in one of many exciting careers. 

Constructing a Compelling Future...and Career

If you have an interest in the construction trades—designing, building, installing, repairing, and retro-fitting—then this unique opportunity provides you with a cost-free pathway to earn your Journeyman status and an associate degree while you learn your trade from the inside-out.  

“We call ourselves mechanics, so this is a career for someone who likes to work with their hands, and to see things go from zero to built,” said Josh Morrow, Northern Nevada Sheet Metal Apprenticeship Coordinator. “However, one of the interesting things about my craft is that we install what we build: we design the ductwork to fit inside the building. Most of us in the trade think that is a really cool thing. So we tend to be on the project from day one to the end.” This requires that apprentices understand how to design, build, install and repair: tasks that transpire at every stage of construction— tasks that require apprentices to go beyond the hands-on nature of the construction trades.

In fact, these days the construction trades have moved beyond hammers and nails, incorporating sophisticated technology including design software, GPS and other instruments to gather and interpret data from a job site. 

Alan Darney, Coordinator for the Northern Nevada Electrical Training Center, said that technology has changed the nature of the trades. “Electricians are using iPads to understand the systems they work on as well as GPS technology. This is just like diesel mechanics who use a laptop to plug into an engine to diagnose a problem, and not just manual tools,” he said.  

While each apprenticeship program varies in duration and details, potential apprentices can expect to spend 3–5 years in the program taking a combination of general education classes paired with on-the-job training. 

For example, students in the five-year Inside Wireman program receive five credits or more per semester for the work that they do in the apprenticeship program. The hands-on work is paid, beginning at a rate of approximately $17 per hour. In addition to the hands-on work and related technical instruction, students also take general education classes that are tailored to their line of work. These classes include English, business, political science, and history of the built environment, to name a few examples. 

“These classes are tailored for the students and are construction-related. This makes what they are learning meaningful because they can apply it to the hands-on work they do in the field,” said Darney. These general education classes also offer students the opportunity to complete an Associate of Applied Science degree at the same time as their journeyman’s card.

The bottom line? While completing an apprenticeship program might be the golden ticket to a great career, it is by no means easy. Apprentices in the Inside Wireman program will complete 8,000 hours of on-the-job training in addition to 220–225 hours of classroom instruction per year over the course of the five-year program.

“We aren’t looking for students who couldn’t make it in college,” Darney said. “We’re looking for students who can handle this kind of technology [and workload] because, in reality, this is college. We are training our apprentices for a job that will earn them a salary of $100,000 or more. We are training our students to be true professionals… and the partnership with TMCC is essential for us to do that.” 

Meeting the Requirements

If you are interested in learning more about apprenticeship opportunities offered through this partnership between Northern Nevada Apprenticeship Coordinators Association and TMCC, make sure you meet the minimum requirements: you must be 18 years old, have a high school diploma, a driver’s license, and have completed one year of high school algebra. Granted, both Darney and Morrow admit that many apprentices are much older than 18 and have already faced “real life” and want to pursue a new career.

Yet, any applicant who meets the minimum requirements will attend a pre-apprenticeship course that functions as an extended interview process, while also providing the apprentice with essential safety training. 

“It is hard work, and it can be extreme sometimes. Sometimes you’re working inside, sometimes you’re outside in sub-zero weather, sometimes 100+ degree weather, and there may be traveling involved,” said Darney. “But even given all of that, it is rewarding work, and apprentices can come out of the program without debt of any kind.”

These apprenticeship programs boast impressive completion rates—often 90% or above—with cohorts that foster friendly camaraderie and support that lead to successful outcomes for these program completers. Class sizes are small, around 20 students, and admission is accepted year-round.

For more information on apprenticeships, contact the NNACA at 775-772-7146.