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Apprenticeships are a great way to launch a career

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Four years ago, Shawn Galligan was working part-time jobs in retail and wondering what he was going to do with his life. Today, he is an electrician with a great job and a bright future.

It all started when a friend suggested he look into an apprenticeship.

“I was completely green. I knew some basic tools,” Galligan, 29, says of the day he started looking into apprenticeship opportunities in construction — plumbing, welding, pipe fitting, HVAC — and decided he might be well suited to electrical work. His lack of experience wasn’t a problem. He was picked up by M.Davis & Sons construction out of Wilmington, started attending class two nights a week, and worked 40 hours as a paid electrician’s helper.

Matt Truszcienski | PHOTO COURTESY OF JOE DEL TOFO/MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY

Another M. Davis employee, Matt Truszcienski, 31, graduated from his apprenticeship program as a pipe fitter this past spring. He says of the program: “If you’re willing to work, willing to learn, it’s hands-on and someone is by your side.”

Some 1,500 Registered Apprentices are working in over 20 different occupations in Delaware right now. The most in-demand apprenticeship programs involve construction, but opportunities don’t end there. More than 390 apprentice sponsors are registered in Delaware, including employers in automotive mechanical, fire protection, hospitality, child care, and medical fields.

“It’s a great opportunity for young people to get into a career,” says Ed Capodanno, president of ABC Delaware, an association of builders and contractors. “We’re experiencing a big-time shortage in our industry. The average age of a construction worker is 47 years. Apprenticeships help us replenish the worker shortage.”

Due to the high demand for skilled workers in the building trades, “employers are continually hiring motivated individuals wanting to become apprentices,” says Darren Nichols of the Delaware Department of Labor. It’s a system that helps companies find and train a qualified workforce and helps potential employees receive the training they need to succeed. Nichols says he can’t see any downside to the program. “From their first day of work, apprentices receive a paycheck that is guaranteed to increase as their training progresses. ”

The Other Four-Year Degree
Apprenticeships are often referred to as “the other four-year degree,” because that is generally how long the training runs. Most Registered Apprenticeships are four years in length, or 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. For each year of training, a minimum of 144 hours of related instruction is required.

Peggy Del Fabbro, CEO of M. Davis & Sons, with Shawn Galligan, who is holding his Certificate OF Completion of Apprenticeship. | PHOTO COURESTY OF M. DAVIS & SONS

One of the big differences between a traditional four-year degree and getting your journey person’s papers through apprenticeship: an apprentice gets paid to learn. Galligan started at $10 an hour as an electrician’s helper. Pay raises are built into the program. Galligan quickly started moving up the payscale to more than double his initial paycheck.

Upon completion of the required on-the-job training and related instruction, the Registered Apprenticeis eligible for journeyperson papers. A journeyperson is nationally recognized as having a well-rounded ability in all aspects of his or her trade.

Galligan earned his journeyperson papers in June and is expecting another bump up in pay, he says. Plus he has a retirement plan and other benefits through his employer. Fully proficient workers who have completed a Registered Apprenticeship earn $50,000 per year on average, and over their careers, they will typically earn $300,000 more than non-apprenticeship workers, says Nichols.

Then, there are the less tangible benefits of completing the program, which are nonetheless important. “There are a lot of times when it’s going to feel too time-consuming and just making it to class is the hardest part. But graduating and the sense of accomplishment when it’s finished is worth all the nights spent in a classroom,” says Truszcienski.

‘A Great Place to Pull Employees’
Apprenticeships are a win-win for job seekers and employers, says Bryan Horsey of the Delaware Technical Community College’s Office of Work-based Learning. They make students more competitive for jobs and give businesses a more direct pathway to job candidates.

Apprenticeships have proven so useful that several employers signed on to teach the class sector of the program.

“It’s proven to be a great place to pull employees,” says Eric Koelsch, vice president at M. Davis, who teaches mechanical and electrical instrumentation two nights a week to apprentices.

Koelsch praises the Delaware program run through the Department of Labor, noting that for those who can’t afford a four-year college or don’t think it’s right for them, the apprenticeship program offers an alternative pathway to a good living.

A $2.5 million grant from the U.S.Department of Labor is expected to help fill the pipeline even more, says Luke Rhine, director of career and technical education with the Delaware Department of Education. Last year, the program helped about100 youth between the ages of 16 and24. In 2021, that number is expected to more than double. The goal is to have more than 400 students in the program in the next few years, he says. 

For more information about apprenticeships, go to labor.delaware.gov/divisions/employment-training/apprenticeship-and-training/ 

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