Apprenticeship in Wisconsin

Apprenticeship in Wisconsin

Apprenticeship in Wisconsin

Apprenticeship is a system of work-based learning that fulfills the needs of industry by preparing workers for skilled trades by combining on the job training with classroom instruction. Wisconsin has a long and proud tradition of apprenticeship training. With the cooperation of industry, labor, government and education, apprenticeship programs assist in the development of a highly skilled workforce capable of meeting industry needs, and helping employees maintain a high standard of living. Industry today demands highly skilled, highly trained workers more than ever due to technological advances and global competition. Increasingly, we read and hear about employers who are unable to find skilled workers in a variety of trades that require highly technical training.

An Overview of Apprenticeship

The apprenticeship method of training - with a skilled worker passing on craft knowledge to another - is almost as old as recorded history.

Since the Middle Ages, skills have been passed on through a master-apprentice system in which the apprentice was indentured to the master for a specified period of years. The apprentice usually received food, shelter, and clothing in return for the work the apprentice performed.

Apprenticeship in the United States continued as an unregulated system until 1911, when Wisconsin passed the country's first apprenticeship law. With safeguards for both the apprentice and the employer, Wisconsin's law became a model for other states and for the federal government in developing their own systems. Also, in 1911, the Wisconsin Legislature established the state's vocational school system to provide the related classroom instruction to apprentices.

The Wisconsin Technical College System continues to play a key role by providing the apprenticeship classroom instruction.

What is Apprenticeship Training?

Apprenticeship is a training strategy that combines supervised, structured on-the-job training with related instruction and is sponsored by employers, employer associations or labor/management groups that have the ability to hire and train in a working environment. The employment opportunity is the most basic requirement for any apprenticeship. Without the job there is no "on-the-job training" and such training represents 90% of the program.

The related instruction is theoretical and technical, and is usually provided by the Wisconsin Technical College System. Related instruction is a key part of each apprenticeship and is required by the Apprenticeship Law. If the apprenticeship is for two years of less, then the related instruction is at least 144 hours per year. If the apprenticeship is for more than two years, then the school provision must be for no less than 400 hours during the term of the apprenticeship.

Wisconsin is unique among the 50 states in requiring that employers pay apprentices for both time worked and time spent in the required classroom instruction, recognizing the importance of both aspects of apprenticeship training. Although the employer is obligated to pay the apprentice's hourly wage while attending related instruction, the apprentice is responsible for paying for books and tuition.

The requirements of apprenticeship training are described in Federal and State laws and regulations. The National Apprenticeship Act of 1937 (also known as the Fitzgerald Act) provides the guidance from the federal level. Chapter 106 of Wisconsin Statutes provides additional state requirements.

These laws and regulations establish minimum requirements for protecting the welfare of the apprentice, such as; the length of training, the type and amount of related instruction, supervision of the apprentice, appropriate ratios of apprentices to journey workers, apprentice selection and recruitment procedures, etc. Each individual trade has specified requirements and standards.

Wisconsin law also requires a written contract between the apprentice, the sponsor, and the State of Wisconsin. The contract specifies the length of the training, an outline of the skills of the trade to be learned, the number of classroom hours required and the wage schedule outlining the wages the apprentice will receive.

Why Choose Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship is a win-win situation. It offers benefits to the apprentice and the employer.

  • Apprentices earn while they learn. They learn a skilled trade while earning a good wage and have a sense of job security.
  • Apprenticeships often serve as an entry point into a career that would otherwise be closed to an individual due to lack of experience.
  • Serving an apprenticeship provides a person with a lifetime skill and a comprehensive knowledge of the trade.
  • The skills apprentices learn are transferable from one employer to another and generally from one area of the country to another.

Employers Reap the Benefits of Apprenticeship

When employers sponsor apprenticeship training, they make a long-term commitment to training and improving the companies' prospects for profitability and growth. Employers have found they gain from sponsoring apprenticeships in a variety of ways.

  • Apprenticeship training reduces turnover.
  • Apprenticeship training is long-term with measurable results.
  • Apprentices are usually highly productive workers.
  • Apprentices are among the most technologically up-to-date workers.
  • The program provides employers with a pool of highly skilled workers from which future managers may be selected.
  • Structured training fosters quality and teamwork.
  • The training gives production workers a path for upward mobility.
  • Apprenticeship programs serve as an effective recruitment method for graduates of the Wisconsin Technical College system.
  • An employer's costs in beginning an apprenticeship program are minimal.
  • Apprenticeship provides state and national recognition.

Veteran Benefits

It is possible to use GI Bill benefits for apprenticeship training. Veterans, active National Guards and Reservists and the children and spouse of a service-connected deceased veteran may qualify for a monthly educational benefit check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.


The apprentice is paid a wage while training with the sponsoring employer. Wisconsin law requires a progressive schedule for wage increases during the term of the contract. The apprentice wage is guided by the skilled wage rate paid in the same trade.

Types of Apprenticeships

A variety of industries offer apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship is organized into three employment sectors: construction, industrial (manufacturing) and service. Each trade has its own program requirements and selection procedures.

Construction Trades

Approximately half of the active apprentices in Wisconsin work in the construction trades. This includes the people who build, repair, and remodel homes, commercial and industrial buildings, bridges, highways, airports and other structures.

Industrial Trades

Apprenticeable occupations in the industrial sector are usually offered in plants, factories, and machine shops. There are many types of industries that utilize apprenticeship training including paper mills, commercial dairies, food production facilities, tool & die shops and automobile manufacturers.

Methods of Access

Minimum requirements for entry into an apprenticeship vary by occupational areas and are determined by the Department of Workforce Development, Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards with assistance from the industry. The Bureau jointly reviews classroom training with the Wisconsin Technical College System. The Bureau also works closely with state and local apprenticeship advisory committees for all major trades groups, with labor unions, employers and employer associations to uphold the quality of the Wisconsin Apprenticeship System.

Methods of Access - Construction Trades

The application process for construction trades varies depending on the trade and the area of the state. Construction trade apprenticeships are sponsored by local trade committees comprised of skilled workers and employers who are advisory to the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards. Committee members recommend approval of qualified applicants to the Bureau. Each committee develops its own policies and practices, with approval from the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards, for operating its apprenticeship program and for selecting apprentices.

Applications are taken by each local committee. Each committee will determine the selection items required for the selection process. These may include an aptitude test, an interview with the committee, high school transcripts, proof of graduation or equivalent, birth certificate, and valid driver's license or a drug test. Once all application materials are on file and the applicant is deemed to be qualified, the committee will notify the applicant as to the next step in the procedure.

The construction trades use two methods for the actual placement of apprentices in jobs: the rank order list and the letter of introduction.

In the rank order list method, the committee creates a list of candidates in order of their scores on written and oral examinations. An employer seeking an apprentice will make a request to the appropriate apprenticeship committee. The committee will contact the next person on the list and ask them to report for acceptance into the apprenticeship program and to sign the contract.

In the letter of introduction method, applicants who meet the basic requirements are given a letter from the sponsoring committee stating they are eligible to be hired as apprentices. They must then find an employer to sponsor their apprenticeship. Frequently the committee will provide a list of participating employers.

To obtain a list of local construction trade committees contact the local Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards representative.

Methods of Access - Industrial and Service Trades

Applying for apprenticeship in the industrial and service sectors involves applying directly to the company that operates an apprenticeship program. Although the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards has set minimum entry requirements for each individual trade, eligibility requirements will vary from employer to employer and trade to trade. Most employers require a high school diploma or equivalent, and math and reading skills.

Some employers test individuals to determine aptitude and trade knowledge. Some of the larger companies and those companies that have collective bargaining agreements often limit apprenticeship opportunities to people who are currently in their employment. This may mean that an individual interested in becoming an apprentice will have to take another position with the company while waiting for the opportunity to serve in an apprenticeship. Some companies may list apprenticeship opportunities with the local Job Center, Technical College, or in the classified ads of the local newspaper.

Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity

Apprenticeship Opportunities are available to all qualified persons, and the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards is committed to assisting employers and local committees in meeting their affirmative action goals. The Bureau has adopted the following Equal Employment Opportunity pledge that all apprenticeship sponsors also support:

  • The recruitment, selection, employment and training of apprentices during their apprenticeship shall be without discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, creed, handicap, marital status, ancestry, sexual orientation, arrest record, conviction record, or membership in the military forces of the United States or this State. The sponsor will take affirmative action to provide equal employment opportunity in apprenticeship and will operate the apprenticeship program as required under Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 30, the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law, and all applicable state laws.

Preparing for Entry into an Apprenticeship Program

Preparing for apprenticeship includes both physical and mental readiness. Many of the skilled trades require physical strength and endurance. Regular exercise and training will help prepare individuals who wish to enter a trade with demanding physical requirements. Persons with disabilities may take advantage of apprenticeship opportunities in trades where the disability does not limit the individual's job performance.

Academic requirements and background will vary from trade to trade. Most trades require that applicants are high school graduates or the equivalent. Many of the trades require a strong math background and some require classes such as Algebra and Geometry. Applicants who did not take a required class in high school may still have the opportunity to take the classes necessary at the local Technical College or another adult educational facility. Some employers require that apprentices have some technical training (such as a Technical College degree or certificate) before entering an apprenticeship program.

Written tests are often a part of the application process for Apprenticeship. Tests may include some or all of the following subject areas: Math, Reading, Science, Spatial Ability, Manual Dexterity and other areas that may be important to the individual serving an apprenticeship. Persons who need help to prepare for a test may find assistance at the local Technical College or Public library. High school students may work with their guidance counselor or individual instructors to prepare for testing.

Apprenticeship Occupations

There are currently hundreds of occupations defined as apprenticeable by the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards, with new titles being added as the need arises. Occupations approved in the state of Wisconsin must also appear on an approved list by the Federal Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training or be submitted to the Federal Bureau for approval. In order for an occupation to be approved by the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards as apprenticeable, an occupation must meet the following criteria:

  • Involve manual, mechanical or technical skills
  • Customarily be learned through on -the-job training
  • Require related instruction to supplement on-the-job training
  • Be recognized throughout an industry
  • Not be part of an occupation already recognized as a separate identifiable trade