One of the coolest parts about apprenticeships is that you get paid to obtain the valuable skills and experience you need to succeed. No crushing student debt necessary — just a recognized credential and a direct pathway to a potentially lucrative career.
Before becoming an apprentice, however, you need to make one important decision: Should you join a union apprenticeship or try to find a non-union shop that is looking to take on an apprentice?
Spoiler alert: There is no right answer to this one. That being said, some journeymen strongly believe that union apprenticeships are the way to go. Let’s take a closer look at what a union apprenticeship is, what the benefits are like, and how you can get one.
Related Reading: What Is an Apprenticeship?
First, a Quick Primer on Trade Unions
Before we talk about union apprenticeships, you first need to understand how trade unions work. A trade union is an association of workers who come together to form a legal personhood, generally known as a “bargaining unit.”
Workers in a trade union use their collective bargaining power to negotiate wages, rights, workers’ compensation, and other employment agreements that affect their work. In exchange for being part of the union, a certain percentage of their paycheck goes toward union fees and dues. (You also get tons of benefits, which we’ll talk more about in detail below.)
What Is a Union Apprenticeship?
A union apprenticeship is a registered apprenticeship that is administered by a trade union. Like non-union apprenticeships, union apprenticeship programs are sponsored — typically by unionized contracting associations and trade unions representing their trade.
For example, electrician apprenticeships are sponsored by Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees (JATCs), which coordinate with local chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). These sponsors develop and administer training programs that give apprentices the skills they need to be successful in their field.
Similarly, an ironworkers’ union would sponsor an ironworking apprenticeship, a construction union would sponsor a construction apprenticeship, a plumber’s union would sponsor a plumber’s apprenticeship — and so on and so forth. Since unions have several associations and partnerships, they often have the world-class resources needed to provide apprentices with top-notch training.
Benefits of a Union Apprenticeship
As far as job duties go, there is virtually no difference between union and non-union apprenticeships. The main thing that separates union from non-union apprenticeships is the amazing benefits that unions provide their members.
- Higher Salary and Benefits – Unionized workers command higher wages on average compared to non-unionized workers, which is a good thing considering that some of that money needs to go towards union dues. Unions also use their collective bargaining power to pave the way for better salaries, pensions, health insurance, sick pay, overtime, and more.
- Job Security – Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of joining a union is job security. Unlike non-union workers who are hired “at will,” union workers can only be fired after an employer proves they have “just cause” to do so.
- Safety – Union trade workers are safer, and that’s just a fact. Study after study has shown that workers in unionized workplaces are less likely to suffer a fatal accident on the job compared to non-unionized workers.
Again, the only drawback is that you need to pay your working dues. If you don’t pay your dues, you can get kicked out of your apprenticeship program.
How to Get a Union Apprenticeship
While many people assume that union apprenticeships are hard to get, that’s simply not true across the board. If you have prior experience and breeze through their tests, you may have a relatively easy time getting accepted into a union apprenticeship program.
To get a union apprenticeship, your best bet is to find your local union (often simply called a “local” by journeymen) and get in touch with them. Though most locals have online forms you can fill out, it’s often easier to talk with them in-person. This will give you a better idea of what applications you need to fill out and what tests (if any) you should expect.
Tip: Consider brushing up on your math skills using the Khan Academy’s free online courses. Unions generally prefer applicants with a solid background in math.
Building a Better Future with a Union Apprenticeship
Landing a union apprenticeship can come with a slew of benefits: incredible pay, long-term career growth, and job stability, just to name a few. And if you think that union apprenticeships are out of your reach, we encourage you to just go for it. You never know until you try!
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