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The Degree Dilemma – The True Value of Apprenticeships

Manufacturers are actively seeking to hire new employees with specific skills. However, finding individuals with the right skill sets has become increasingly difficult due in part to the stigma associated with the manufacturing industry and parents, teachers, and media pushing the idea that a college degree is the only way to succeed in today's world.

From an early age, children in the United States are told that the only way to get a good job is to get a four-year college degree. Often, the type of degree isn’t even the focus. All that matters is that they bury themselves in debt and receive their bachelor's degree. This thinking has led to Americans acquiring the most student loan debt in history1. After graduation, they walk into a job market saturated by individuals coming out of college. Graduates struggle to find full-time work, and often, the jobs they do manage to secure are rarely in the field they studied in school.

College doesn’t have to be the only path for a high-school graduate. There are a variety of pathways a high school graduate can take to secure work and live an economically stable life. The manufacturing industry is experiencing a resurgence. In New Jersey alone manufacturing clusters produce $156 billion in annual output2. More than 11,000 manufacturing businesses, STEM firms, and TLD companies employ over 1 million people. These businesses offer an average annual salary upwards of $92,0002 in the Garden State.

Manufacturers are actively seeking to hire new employees with specific skills. However, finding individuals with the right skill sets has become increasingly difficult due in part to the stigma associated with the manufacturing industry and parents, teachers, and media pushing the idea that a college degree is the only way to succeed in today's world.

Apprenticeships – The True Value

Manufacturing careers provide steady work but there are also incredible opportunities for vertical growth and professional development. An apprenticeship is an ideal way for manufacturing businesses to upskill their workforce and position employees to take on critical roles throughout a company. Many manufacturers invest in their employee’s education to ensure they develop new skills that set them apart and put them in a position to become future leaders.

In 2017, there was an average of 30 annual job openings for Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators. These individuals rely heavily on computer-controlled robotic machinery. They listen to machines to detect and fix malfunctions and use precision measurement tools to ensure finished products conform to specifications and blueprints. The average annual compensation ranges from $33,000 to $53,000 in New Jersey without a college degree 3.

Registered apprenticeship programs like the one connected to NJMEP’s Pro-Action Education Network™ are nationally recognized by the United States Department of Labor. This means these credentials are valid in all 50 states and the courses include all essential materials. Additionally, NJMEP’s Pro-Action Education Network™ Apprenticeship Programs can take 1 to 1 ½ years whereas other apprenticeship programs can take between four and five years to complete.

Apprenticeship Near You – How Individuals Gain

When weighing the options between a college degree and joining the manufacturing industry, there are some extremally valuable benefits when beginning the journey to becoming an apprentice. An apprentice must already be employed by a manufacturer for at least 30 days. Work is already secured for that individual and the added stress of accumulating debt while working on their education is eliminated. Furthermore, businesses continue to pay individuals taking part in an apprenticeship program their hourly wage, even while they’re away from the facility participating in the classroom section of an apprenticeship program. Apprentices are being paid to gain additional education that will help them become more valuable employees and advance their careers.

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Apprenticeships Benefit Business

The businesses that invest in their employees benefit as well. When employees see their company investing in their education and future, loyalty skyrockets. Apprentices are being groomed to play essential roles within their employers’ business. After experiencing that commitment for themselves, they are much more likely to remain at that company. Beyond loyalty, apprentices can have a direct impact on a business’s bottom line. The skills and education acquired throughout their journey are directly related and tailored around their current role through On the Job learning. Increased production, efficiency, and gaining more in-depth knowledge of their roles and responsibilities are all results of the training they receive.

College isn’t the only career path, and that’s just fine. There are options available for those interested in exploring a different path. The manufacturing industry has made incredible strides in terms of technology, innovation, and culture over the past decade and there has never been a better time to join the workforce. Apprenticeships provide an incredible way for high school graduates to advance their education, salary, and value as well as helping businesses improve their bottom line and secure a legacy. Apprenticeships are truly a mutually beneficial arrangement between employee and employer.


1https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2019/02/25/student-loan-debt-statistics-2019/#b871e8c133fb

NJMEP. (2019). Executive Summary. State of New Jersey Manufacturing Industry Report 2019, 4-6

3 New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Office of Research and Information

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