Apprenticeship vs. Trade School: Benefits and Differences

An apprenticeship or technical school can both offer a path to an exciting new career. If you’ve realized that your interests are drawing you towards a hands-on technical career – one that’s growing around the country and can’t be outsourced – congratulations! You’re about to start on a journey to a rewarding future where going to work won’t feel like “work,” one where you’ll know you’re making a difference every day. The question now is, how do I get hands-on training to overcome the skills gap and make it happen?

With a technical career, your options for training and building skills are more focused: a student pursuing these careers is likely to attend technical school or trade school, or seek an apprenticeship, rather than attend a 4-year college. In-depth training will involve more hands-on work offered through very specific programs.

Take a look at the pros and cons of each to decide which is best for you:

Though both training methods pave an excellent learning path, they are fundamentally different. Apprenticeships are hands-on work opportunities, while trade schooling is conducted in a classroom environment.

Go to TRADE SCHOOL or GET HIRED as an Apprentice? How to decide trade school or apprenticeship

Benefits of an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship presents these advantages:

What is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is an industry-driven education program that allows people to receive full practical training and earn an income while learning how to perform a job. It is accessible to all individuals over the age of 16 and usually combines on-the-job learning and classroom education. During an apprenticeship, students work alongside skilled professionals. They learn to use the tools, methods and materials needed for their work. They also get real-world experience and an understanding of what their future job involves. Several industries recommend apprenticeships, including:

Tradespeople such as electricians, chefs and painters seek apprentices to pass on their knowledge and continue their work. Apprenticeship is an excellent opportunity for students to connect with mentors in the industry of their choice. An apprenticeships value depends on the reputation and skills of the teacher.

What is a trade school?

A trade school is an educational institution that provides relevant hands-on training for a specific job in the skilled trades. Trade school prepares postsecondary students for their chosen occupation, concentrating on practical skills. The trade school training program focuses on developing technical abilities in mechanical and skilled trades.

Mechanical trade work involves maintaining, fixing, operating or building mechanical systems. Examples of skilled trade professionals include construction workers, HVAC technicians, car mechanics and welders. “Skilled” means their occupation requires special skills. Trade school helps them develop those skills and provides the knowledge, hands-on experience and technical expertise they need to start a career.

Benefits of a trade school

Trade school presents the following benefits:

Key differences between trade school and apprenticeship

Although both training methods can prepare you to become a successful skilled professional, they have differences you might benefit from understanding. They include:

Time to complete

Trade school takes longer to complete than an apprenticeship. You can earn a trade school degree in two years, while you often need three to five years to finish an apprenticeship. Also, you might have to sign a contract for your apprenticeship, which binds you with the employer during your training period.

Cost of training

Trade school is more expensive than an apprenticeship. A trade school program can cost thousands of dollars a semester. It might lead some students to get loans for average amounts of $10,000. It costs less than college tuition, but the amount to pay is important to consider before deciding.

Learning style

Most trade school programs combine classroom education and practical on-the-job training. Theory courses help you understand the science behind certain technologies using models in the classroom, and you can practice your newly learned skills on projects and assignments. In some cases, you might apply those skills in the field and work as an intern in a professional environment. These experiences are usually unpaid.

Apprenticeships focus primarily on providing a high level of practical education. You are immersed in your field during the length of the program, which allows you to learn about the jobs physical demands and schedule. At the end of the apprenticeship, you know what to expect from this career. The apprenticeship programs structure depends on the employer, and it might involve classroom education. In a typical program, you work full-time during the day and take a few hours of classes in the evening.

Skill set

Trade school teaches a specialized skill set while apprenticeships teach a general skill set. Trade school allows you to gain more specialized and current skills than what you might learn on the job because it uses top-quality tools and techniques.

Apprenticeships teach broader skills than what you can learn in the classroom. The apprenticeships quality depends on the master tradesperson who trains you and their methods and tools.


While trade schools might have connections with field professionals, apprenticeships offer students real networking opportunities by putting them in immediate contact with professionals. By working in the field, apprentices can demonstrate their talents to potential employers and develop their own networks. For example, electricians and carpenters work with several homeowners and contractors who might consider calling them for their next project.


Is it worth doing an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship training programmes are specifically tailored to ensure you develop the skills employers want. This means that apprentices not only have better long-term salary prospects, but they also have excellent progression opportunities, whether looking to study further or climb the ranks within the workplace.

Are apprenticeships equivalent to degrees?

It is important to note that not any apprenticeship is equivalent to a degree, only those that fall under the relevant bands. With this, not all degrees can be achieved with an apprenticeship and they are largely those courses that are vocational.

What is the best trade to apprentice in?

Highest-paid apprenticeships
  • Mechanic apprentice. National average salary: $15.43 per hour. …
  • Elevator technician apprentice. National average salary: $16.52 per hour. …
  • Plumber apprentice. National average salary: $16.86 per hour. …
  • Electrician apprentice. …
  • Carpenter apprentice. …
  • Brick mason. …
  • Automotive technician. …
  • Ironworker.

What are the disadvantages of getting an apprenticeship?

The Cons
  • You won’t get access to certain careers. …
  • You won’t experience university life. …
  • You’ll have greater responsibilities. …
  • Holidays are short. …
  • The competition is tough. …
  • The salary is lower. …
  • You might experience an age gap. …
  • You’ll receive less recognition.

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