Apprenticeships Help Young Adults in Westchester Launch Careers

Not everyone can afford a traditional four-year degree, and for some students, college may not be the right path.

With college education costs on the rise, many young adults are looking for an alternative means to help them gain employment — enter apprenticeships, which teach valuable career skills that can help young adults “earn while they learn” in a variety of industries or help those who are seeking to enter a new career field.

> $29,400

Average student loan debt in 2021–22 for bachelor’s degree recipients

> $17–21 per hour

A construction apprentice’s average starting wage

Sources: College Board, Construction Industry Council of Westchester and the Hudson Valley

The average student loan debt for bachelor’s degree recipients was $29,400 for the 2021–22 school year, according to a report published by the College Board last year. Students in Westchester County often face an even larger financial burden to pay for college, with many graduates attending costly private or out-of-state public universities.

construction

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“The schools that many Westchester high school graduates are aiming for actually cost a lot more than that figure,” argues George Drapeau, publishing and public affairs specialist at the Construction Industry Council of Westchester and the Hudson Valley, a professional trade organization in the region’s construction industry. Many of the council’s members offer apprenticeship opportunities here in Westchester.

apprenticeship

Traditionally, apprenticeship has always been strongest in the building trades, with almost 15,000 apprenticeships available in New York State, according to the Department of Labor. “Right off the bat, apprentices in construction can earn $17–21 per hour, learning a skill that is transferrable anywhere in the world,” says Drapeau.

Apprenticeships can vary in length from 12 months for jobs such as a heavy truck driver, to six years for highly specialized fields such as a machine tool builder. As apprentices gain competency and move through the program, their salary usually increases.

Apprenticeships Available in More Fields

“While apprenticeships have traditionally been in the construction field, the scope of industries offering apprenticeships has expanded greatly,” notes Jason Chapin, director of workforce development at the Westchester County Association. Forty out of 53 new programs for apprentices through the first nine months of 2023 were in industries other than construction, according to the New York State Department of Labor.

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construction

Chapin credits several government initiatives that are helping to create new apprenticeship opportunities in Westchester, particularly Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent announcement of a $45 million apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship initiative to train job seekers who wish to enter the clean energy industry. Jobs in wind, solar, and geothermal energy are expected to grow a great deal here in the coming years.

In addition, the federal government’s Department of Labor just made a second round of $200 million in grants to help fund and expand registered apprenticeship programs in sectors as diverse as cybersecurity, early childhood care, mental healthcare jobs, hospitality, and supply chain logistics.

“In the past three years, it has become a job-seeker job market, forcing employers to become more creative and more worker-friendly. With that, workers have gained more flexibility and better benefits as employers struggle to fill positions that remain open and unfilled for a long time, so they are using all resources and strategies to fill those jobs,” comments Chapin. That includes apprenticeships. Today’s apprenticeship learning opportunities can happen with a hands-on approach in fields like construction or direct patient care, or they can take a more hybrid or virtual approach for fields such as IT or programming.

Apprenticeships provide a chance for job seekers of any age to acquire real-world experience in a trade while getting paid. The photos on this and the previous page show apprentices of the Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 1 in action.
Apprenticeships provide a chance for job seekers of any age to acquire real-world experience in a trade while getting paid. The photos on this and the previous page show apprentices of the Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 1 in action.

Many of today’s apprentices are first-generation Americans and are looking for employment opportunities that are offered locally. “They want apprenticeships in the region that offer job stability and they want to stay anchored locally, which is great for the county,” says Chapin. Drapeau echoes Chapin’s comments and says there is currently a record number of attendees now in apprenticeship programs in fields as diverse as construction, manufacturing, and urban forestry — an apprenticeship program run by Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES. With continued excitement about these opportunities and expansion into other sectors, apprenticeships are sure to remain a popular option for young adults hoping to build a career in the county.

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Many apprenticeships are run through local unions, and there are other benefits to being part of a union too. Learn more about Westchester County unions by scanning the QR code.

Related: What to Know About Joining a Union in Westchester County

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