Illustration of an older electrician showing a younger one how to splice a cable (State Dept./Doug Thompson)
(State Dept./Doug Thompson)

From an early age Kyle Horn aspired to become a master electrician like his father and uncle. Now he’s following their tried and true route into the profession: a coveted, five-year apprenticeship.

“I always wanted to be in the trades,” says Horn, 29, of McHenry, Illinois, who earns well above the average U.S. salary. “I think an apprenticeship is the way to go for just about everything.”

President Trump believes apprenticeships are a reliable way to fill the need for skilled workers across a gamut of industries. The president wants to double the current half-million apprenticeships registered with the U.S. Department of Labor.

“In today’s rapidly changing economy, it is more important than ever to prepare workers to fill both existing and newly created jobs and to prepare workers for the jobs of the future.” ~ President Trump

Apprenticeships go back to the Middle Ages and are flourishing still in Germany, Switzerland and other countries. They provide a steady pathway to high-paying, in-demand jobs. Apprenticeships pay workers who are learning on the job and also taking classes.

But apprentices are only 0.2 percent of the U.S. workforce, compared with nearly 2 percent in England and 3.7 percent in Germany, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Horn, an Army Reserve staff sergeant who served two tours in Iraq, has nearly completed 8,000 hours of training and 1,200 hours in the classroom. The once-a-week classes are held in the evening after a full day’s work.

A contractors’ group and electrical workers’ union in Crystal Lake, Illinois, jointly run the program. There are comparable programs nationwide for hundreds of trades.

Nearly half are in construction — electricians, carpenters, welders and more. A quarter of sailors and one-in-14 Marines are enrolled in apprenticeships. Health care, advanced manufacturing and information technology are popular fields. The average starting salary: $60,000. And apprentices earn $300,000 more over their lifetimes than do workers with similar jobs but no apprenticeship in their backgrounds.

Industry bears most apprenticeship costs, typically tens of thousands of dollars. But for employers, the reliable pipeline of skilled workers outweighs the costs.

More than 90 percent of apprentices land permanent jobs in their industry after earning their certificate.

Emily Williams, 23, of Flint, Michigan, is on her way to becoming a bricklayer and is already making $40,000 a year, plus overtime and generous benefits. “I don’t have a job, I have a career,” she says. “Every day I am excited to get to work.”

And Horn, who has also amassed nearly enough college credits for an associate degree, says the rewards of being an electrician are more than financial: “It’s a good feeling when you get called out to businesses without power. I love seeing their eyes light up when the power turns back on.”