Apprenticeship vs. Trade School: Benefits and Differences

Updated June 24, 2022

Training and education provide you with the required skill set and expertise for your future career. Technical jobs such as electricians and mechanics require special training that students can receive either through a trade school or an apprenticeship. If you recently graduated high school and are considering a career in the skilled trade industry, you might benefit from learning about the differences between apprenticeships and trade schools. In this article, we define apprenticeship and trade school, review their benefits and compare their differences.

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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:

  • Construction: The construction industry includes trades such as carpenters, plumbers and painters.

  • Manufacturing: The manufacturing industry includes trades such as industrial mechanics and die and toolmakers.

  • Service: The service industry includes trades such as hairstylists and waitstaff.

  • Transportation: The transportation industry includes trades such as automotive service technicians and mechanics.

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 apprenticeship's value depends on the reputation and skills of the teacher.

Related: How To Find an Apprenticeship Program

Benefits of an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship presents these advantages:

  • Practical: Apprenticeship offers hands-on training, allowing you to apply what you learned in class to real-world situations.

  • Experience: You gain experience while learning, increasing your value in the job market.

  • Income: You receive wages while learning.

  • Cost-efficient: The training is free. You only pay for the tools you need. Apprenticeships usually allow you to gain an education without acquiring debt.

  • Opportunities: Apprentices usually receive a full-time job after completing the program. You might receive a job offer from the employer who trained you.

  • Dynamic: It is a fast-paced learning environment.

  • No barrier: Apprenticeships present little to no entry barriers to candidates. The only requirements to start an apprenticeship are being the minimum age and having a high school diploma.

Related: How Do Apprenticeships Work?

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.

Read more: What Is a Trade School?

Benefits of a trade school

Trade school presents the following benefits:

  • Professional teachers: Instructors are professionals trained in the skill you learn.

  • Well-rounded instruction: It offers relevant education and teaches you valuable soft skills.

  • Complete training: Trade school combines classroom and hands-on learning.

  • Flexibility: You can often choose your class schedule, giving you the ability to work part-time.

  • Tuition: The costs are lower than college tuition.

  • Development: Trade school programs improve critical thinking and encourage personal growth.

  • Specialization: You can specialize in a particular field.

Related: 72 Trades To Learn for a Successful Trade Career

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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.

An apprenticeship doesn't involve any costs apart from your tools and learning materials. You also get paid during your training. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average pay for an apprentice is $15 per hour. Your wages usually increase with experience. Therefore, apprentices are often more financially comfortable than trade school graduates when they finish their training and seek employment.

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 job's physical demands and schedule. At the end of the apprenticeship, you know what to expect from this career. The apprenticeship program's 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 apprenticeship's 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.

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