By Leigh Emrick

Graduate high school, go to a four-year college, get a job. This is what many parents and guidance counselors tell their children and students nearly every day. But, there is another option that needs to be talked about: apprenticeships.

Yes, a bachelor’s degree from a University of Wisconsin System school is something that should be valued, but no one should try to devalue individuals that choose a different path. Today, the average college graduate leaves school with more than $27,000 in debt, and just as a new crop of students were graduating this year, the national unemployment rate for 18 to 29-year-olds was sitting at 13.8 percent.

The overall unemployment rate was just 5.4 percent at that time.

While college graduates are racking up debt during their time at school, apprentices are learning a valuable trade and earning real money. Not to mention, their prospects for future employment are much brighter.

In fact, there will be a shortage of 1.6 million skilled workers in the construction industry by 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is why organizations like the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) are celebrating National Apprenticeship Week November 1-7.

An apprenticeship is an alternative to college that can setup anyone for a successful career. And there is a need for more people to take this route.

Already, four out of five ABC member businesses across the country are experiencing a shortage of properly skilled workers. This is despite the fact that they invest more than one billion dollars annually on apprenticeship and workforce training.

Here in Wisconsin, ABC has been offering apprenticeships and training for over 25 years. Thousands and thousands of Wisconsinites have participated, many of whom still work in the construction industry today.

A prime example is Jessica Cannizzaro. After high school, Jessica went through the five-year plumbing apprenticeship program. This prepared her to take and pass the required tests to become a master plumber.

Today, she runs her own business, Milestone Plumbing, Inc.

“The apprenticeship program helped strengthen my self-confidence by providing the tools necessary to pursue not only becoming a licensed plumber, but also achieving another goal of becoming an entrepreneur,” Jessica said about her experience. “I am a proud supporter of the ABC Apprenticeship Program and fully believe in its mission.”

This year alone, ABC of Wisconsin will train nearly 1,000 apprentices, and it is easy to see why ABC’s programs are so popular.

The average skilled wage rate for carpentry is $29.26 an hour – more than $60,000 a year. The average plumber in Wisconsin makes $31.86 an hour – more than $66,000 a year. Add in benefits and compensation is even higher.

These family supporting jobs are in demand right now. Plus, these jobs are not only lucrative, they provide a sense of accomplishment.

ABC member businesses pride themselves on the fact that their projects are built on merit, meaning they are selected because of their quality of work. And, to a see a project go from dirt on the ground to a finished structure is something that every employee can be proud of.

Anyone looking to prepare themselves for a successful and meaningful future should consider becoming an apprentice. With so many in-demand fields looking for skilled workers today, there is no better time to get started.

To find out more about Apprenticeship Week and the ABC apprenticeship program, visit abcwi.org/apprenticeship.

Emrick is the Apprenticeship Director at Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.