Apprenticeships: An Alternative Pathway to Licensure


Apprenticeships, an “earn while you learn” program with on-the-job training for future practitioners of a trade or profession, are an increasingly available pathway toward licensure in several states. According to DOL statistics, 94% of those who complete an apprenticeship program maintain employment and earn an average salary of $70,000. With such success stories, there has been a 128% increase in new apprenticeships since 2009 and 12,300 new apprenticeship programs created in the last five years. In 2021, numerous bills about apprenticeships and apprenticeship programs have been introduced in state legislatures across the country.

There are two types of apprenticeship programs: registered apprenticeship programs validated by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and industry-recognized apprenticeship programs.* The requirements for entering a registered apprenticeship program include being at least 16 years of age and registering with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship or a state apprenticeship agency. Most also require a high school diploma or Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED). Apprenticeship programs range from around 12 months to six years and end with a nationally recognized certificate of completion.

Some licensed professions — carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. — even require apprenticeships. However, apprenticeship programs are available in over 1,000 occupations,  including careers in high-growth industries such as health care, cybersecurity, information technology, and energy. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor has identified 53 apprentice-able occupations in health care and 40 currently are approved for apprenticeships.


While apprenticeship programs require an investment from the employer, they can be beneficial as many states provide tax incentives to employers who hire apprentices, and there are a multitude of federal grants offered to support these programs. For example, Senate Bill 508 was recently introduced in Florida and specifies that eligible apprenticeship program sponsors can be entitled to direct reimbursement. Additionally, studies have shown that apprenticeship programs produce lower recruitment costs and reduced turnover rates. They also are beneficial to apprentices, who can earn wages for their education and  college credit while completing their apprenticeship programs, although many use apprenticeships as an alternative to college.

Intended populations

Apprenticeship programs often are found in professions with workforce shortages, as the program can provide a direct channel into licensed occupations. To enter a profession, applicants must meet a certain set of requirements to qualify for a license. Apprenticeships often work to fulfill both education and experience requirements for obtaining a license, removing barriers for individuals who might not be able to enter via other pathways.

Individuals with disabilities, justice-involved individuals, and veterans can benefit from the work-based education that apprenticeships provide. Making apprenticeship programs available to these populations can be a viable pathway for removing the barriers to licensure these groups often face. Studies show that apprenticeships can provide a more diversified workforce and states have introduced legislation for this purpose.

In New Jersey in 2020, Senate Bill 973 was passed. It requires the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to establish apprenticeship mentoring programs for women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. Additionally, House Bill 1029 was enacted in Maryland in 2020 to provide funds for recruitment of veterans and formerly incarcerated individuals into registered apprenticeship job training programs.

Recent legislation

Recent apprenticeship legislation can be categorized by: revisions made to apprenticeship programs, promoting registered apprenticeships, creating rulemaking authorities, providing funds for recruitment, and incentives for apprenticeship programs. For example, the following bills have been introduced in 2021:

  • The National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 is being considered in Congress and would provide statutory authority for the Office of Apprenticeship programs in the Department of Labor (DOL) to make provisions regarding grant programs and promotion of apprenticeship programs.   
  • House Bill 1258 in South Dakota would revise certain provisions regarding cosmetology apprentice programs.
  • House Bill 791,  House Bill 175,  Senate Bill 508 in Florida would make revisions relating to apprenticeship and preapprenticeship programs, providing additional duties for the department of apprenticeship, specifying the eligibility of sponsor to receive reimbursements, and more.
  • House Bill 578 in Congress would promote registered apprenticeship programs to in-demand industry sectors.

Furthermore, there have been many bills introduced related specifically to how apprenticeships can lead to licensure:

  • Senate Bill 424 in Iowa to require a board to grant licensure to those who complete an apprenticeship program that meets certain requirements.
  • House Bill 178 in Idaho would create provisions for the recognition of apprenticeships for licensing purposes.
  • House Bill 575 in New Hampshire would establish pathways to licensure for cosmetology, esthetics, and manicuring through apprenticeship programs.

*The Biden administration has rescinded an executive order that created industry recognized apprenticeships and is pushing for their reversal.

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