Historically, apprentices played an important role in developing and supporting the early economy of the United States. In fact, George Washington was an apprentice surveyor and Benjamin Franklin was an apprentice printer. Today, apprentices continue to make critical contributions to our country’s economy, infrastructure, and industry. While apprenticeship thrive across a range of industries, the construction sector has particularly benefited from this training model, which has maintained a skilled and trained workforce to keep up with changing industry demands. Now, with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), apprentices are assured a vital role in supporting the clean energy transition.
Supporting apprenticeships is critical to President Biden’s agenda to build a clean energy economy that works for everyone. Apprenticeships allow workers to get paid while they train to join the clean energy workforce. High-quality, compensated training through apprenticeships can provide a pathway for workers, particularly workers without college degrees, to find good, family-supporting jobs. Apprenticeships also benefit unions, employers, and the nation as we work to decarbonize the economy. From November 14 to 20, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Policy and Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy are joining the U.S. Department of Labor to celebrate this “earn while you learn” model during National Apprenticeship Week.
By combining mentorship, on-the-job training, and classroom instruction, registered apprenticeship programs (RAPs) offer a pathway to a range of careers in the energy industry. Apprenticeships can also build a diverse energy workforce through intentionally recruiting and training workers who have been historically underrepresented in the energy industry, including women and people of color. Hear how apprentices across the U.S. are learning essential skills to build clean energy infrastructure:
Apprenticeships in the Energy Industry
The United States needs a skilled workforce to build and support clean energy infrastructure. Energy jobs can offer high wages, comprehensive benefits, and the opportunity to join a union. In-demand clean energy jobs include:
- Line maintenance
- Power-line distribution erector
- Gas-main fitter
- Water treatment specialist
- Substation operator
The number of registered apprentices in the energy sector has doubled in the past eight years to 13,539 apprentices in 2021. Those numbers will likely continue to grow thanks to incentives in IRA: employers that hire registered apprentices for some projects using IRA funds are eligible to receive tax benefits up to five times larger than for projects that do not hire apprentices. This tax benefit is available for many types of energy projects, including renewable energy storage and alternative-fuel vehicles.
How Apprenticeships Benefit Workers and Unions
Workers who complete RAPs earn an average of $77,000 on in their first year on the job. This is higher than the average salary of a worker in their twenties with a college degree ($52,000) and more than double the average salary of a worker in their twenties without a college degree ($30,000). Over the course of their career, a worker who’s completed a RAP can earn about $300,000 more in wages and benefits than a worker who hasn’t.
Many employers or labor unions will pay their apprentices’ tuition, so apprentices gain skills without taking on student debt. Industry and union involvement in RAPs ensures there will be relevant jobs in the field available for apprentices when they finish the program.
Union-supported RAPs help cultivate a supportive workforce culture by demonstrating the financial and community benefits of a union from day one on a worksite. Mentorship through the RAP can strengthen bonds between coworkers as well as between apprentices and experienced journey-level workers, generating a culture of safety and mutual respect.
How Apprenticeships Benefit Employers
For employers who invest in RAPs, the average return on investment is $1.47 for every $1 invested in an apprentice. RAPs strengthen workers’ trade skills and knowledge, which increases an organization’s productivity.
RAPs also reduce worker turnover. The three-year retention rate for registered apprentices is 89%. RAPs reduce recruiting costs for companies by building a pipeline of skilled workers to complete clean energy projects.
Companies can enhance diversity and inclusion in their workforce by recruiting from historically underrepresented groups into RAPs. Fostering diversity within an organization can help groups tackle problems creatively by bringing together people with a range of experiences.
RAPs are educational programs, so companies can teach how they value diversity and address issues like harassment early on. This can help workers from historically underrepresented groups feel welcome, increasing representation and retention of historically underrepresented workers.
Getting Started with RAPs
Whether you want to advance your clean energy career or find qualified, high-skill workers, RAPs are an excellent tool. Career seekers can connect with RAPs by visiting the U.S. Department of Labor’s website. Employers can explore RAPs to implement in their organizations to better train workers and attract talented tradespeople.
For more about apprenticeships in energy jobs, check out this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor.
For more information on clean energy careers, read about internships, fellowships, graduate, and postdoctoral opportunities and clean energy jobs at the U.S. Department of Energy.