Union apprenticeships offer pathway to career after high school

If college isn’t for you, consider job with top pay, benefits

Cyndie Williams. (File photo)

Life is starting to get real for high school seniors across the country. The holidays bleed into class trips, proms, term papers and one of the biggest decisions of their lives: What’s next?

It’s a pivotal moment, and the pressure can be overwhelming. That pressure often leads young adults to make decisions they may ultimately regret. Too many will choose the college route, where they’ll wind up spinning their wheels, chasing a degree they’ll never use — or even finish — and, in the process, rack up suffocating debt.

With a decision as important as this one, young adults should understand that they have options. College is one of the most popular paths, but is, frankly, not for everyone. It comes with four additional years of schooling and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. For a lot of young adults, going into a union apprenticeship is a great alternative.

A union apprenticeship can be an incredible opportunity for young adults. Apprenticeships offer both classroom and on-the-job training, all while earning a living wage and graduating without debt. When an apprentice graduates, they have an established career, full family medical insurance and a pension plan. Organized labor was a foundational factor in building the American middle class. According to a recent study published by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, on average, lifetime union members make around 19.3% more than college graduates during their working years.

A similar study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms better earnings and benefits for union members. Unions are even closing wage gaps. That BLS study revealed that Black and Hispanic union members earn more than nonunion workers by 13% and 19%, respectively. And there’s this: Women workers earn, on average, 78% of what men earn, while unionized women workers earn 94% of what men earn.

Typically, a union job in the construction trades begins with an apprenticeship where men and women receive on-the-job training. You learn from experienced professionals. And, unlike college, where you have to pay tuition and fees, a union apprenticeship pays you a salary while you learn the skills of your trade. You also get raises as you progress through the program and gain more experience.

Choosing an apprenticeship also means you will receive continuing education even after graduation. Many unions offer opportunities for professional development. You can always continue your studies later, debt-free and equipped with valuable practical experience. The Carpenters apprenticeship program, Carpenters Technical College, even awards its graduates college credits, at no cost, at graduation.

With these big decisions, parents and students should be educated on their options. Please reach out to your local carpenters union or find out more information here to find out if you’re the right fit to be a union carpenter.

Cyndie Williams is the executive director of the Carpenter Contractor Trust.