Bridges to Apprenticeship

A woman with safety equipment on, programs a machine in her apprenticeship program at Mid-State Technical College

An apprentice at Mid-State Technical College is part of the ‘Tools of the Trade’ scholarship program. She received $1,500 from Ascendium Education Group.

Apprenticeship programs offer incredible opportunity through a unique earn-while-you learn framework comprised of training through on-the-job learning and post-secondary coursework combined. Apprentices are hired first by a sponsor and attend college as part of their full-time work week. The apprenticeship modality of learning a new career is available in high-skilled, high-wage, and in-demand careers in construction, manufacturing, utilities, healthcare, finance, information technology, agriculture, and service sectors. The WTCS provides instruction for over 75 apprenticeable occupations…and counting!

Unique to Wisconsin, apprentices in registered apprenticeship programs are required by law to be paid their hourly wage while in school as if they were on the job. As with all apprenticeship programs nationwide, apprentices also benefit from pre-determined wage increases that progress over the term of the apprenticeship. In many cases, apprentice sponsors also cover the cost of tuition and fees.

Across the WTCS, the median salary for 2017-18 apprentice completers was over $80,000 which surpasses the national median earnings of individuals with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.[2] In addition, while over 95% of WTCS apprentice completers stay in Wisconsin,1 they earn a nationally recognized completion credential.

While apprenticeship programs hold great promise for individuals who might not otherwise afford the time or cost of college, those who most need these opportunities have historically not had clear access to apprenticeships, both nationally and within Wisconsin. Nationally, women and people of color are significantly underrepresented in apprenticeship programs.[1] In Wisconsin, people from minoritized communities (women, people of color, etc.) are also significantly underrepresented in apprenticeship programs (Figure 1).

Bar chart that summarizes the representation of demographics groups (female, minority, veteran, and race/ethnicity) in Wisconsin and representation in apprentice positions.

Figure 1. Summary of demographics for Wisconsin apprentices (Characteristics of Active Apprentice Contracts, DWD) compared to the overall Wisconsin population for 2019 (ACS 1-year estimates). Representation within the Wisconsin population is shown with the light blue horizontal bars, whereas representation for apprentices is shown with the black vertical bars.

Strategies to diversify apprenticeship:

Build bridges

Bridge and pre-apprenticeship programs can recruit individuals from diverse backgrounds and provide the necessary supports to help each individual be successful in preparing for apprenticeship opportunities and connecting with employers who offer apprenticeship positions.

  • Madison College recently created a Bridge Apprenticeship program. To learn more about this program, student outcomes, and how to implement this at your college, see the WTCS Voices interview with Brad Baranowski.
  • While pre-apprenticeship opportunities are available in Wisconsin, they are primarily provided through community based organizations located in the southeastern and south central areas of the state. Starting in fall 2020, efforts are underway to develop five new sector-based, pre-apprenticeship programs models that could be offered through the WTCS colleges themselves. This would make pre-apprenticeship opportunities more readily available across the state and streamline the pipeline into registered apprenticeship programs.
  • Some of the pre-apprenticeship opportunities are administered by equity intermediaries. Equity intermediaries help businesses create and expand apprenticeship programs with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusive practices. For instance, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP)/ Big Step is an equity intermediary in construction and manufacturing in the greater Milwaukee area and southeast and south central Wisconsin. To learn more about the work of equity intermediaries and equity-focused apprenticeship programming in Wisconsin, see the Equity in Apprenticeship report from COWS.

Increase transparency

Historically, information about apprenticeship within Wisconsin has not been easy for individuals to find and navigate. Yet recently, big changes have been set in place to make this information transparent and more widely available.

  • Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards (BAS) has posted a searchable database of featured employer sponsors on their website. These employer sponsors have hired and trained apprentices and are likely to have additional openings. For construction apprentices, which are sponsored by local committees rather than employers, DWD BAS has a searchable database of local apprenticeship committees.
  • DWD Job Center of Wisconsin has added an ‘apprenticeship filter’ to their online job search tool. This filter allows prospective apprentices to find employer sponsors in their occupational area that are currently hiring.
  • Federal and Wisconsin Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunities (AA/EEO) regulations have been updated, and these changes took effect in January 2020 in Wisconsin. With these changes, DWD BAS has provided AA/EEO guidance to apprenticeship sponsors. Under these provisions, employer sponsors with five or more apprentices must closely monitor the demographics of their recruitment area. If women, individuals with disabilities and particular race/ethnicity groups are significantly underrepresented within their current apprentice program, then they must set targets and strategies to diversify their recruitment and hiring of apprentices.

For more information, see…

For questions, please contact Nancy Nakkoul, Education Director of Architecture, Construction, and Apprenticeship.


[1] Hanks, Angela, Annie McGrew and Daniella Zessoules. 2018. The apprenticeship wage and participation gap. Center for American Progress. 1-11.

[1] WTCS. 2020. Apprenticeship Completion: Employment and Salary Data for 2017-18 Apprentices. Wisconsin Technical College System Publications.

[2] Torpey, Elka. 2018. Data on Display: Measuring the value of education. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.