Graduate high school, go to college, get a job. Traditionally, that was a guaranteed path to success. But the job market today has many more paths to entry into the work world.

More and more people choose alternatives to traditional education. One of the hottest alternatives paths to entry is an apprenticeship and even a pre-apprenticeship. In 2020, there were more than 636,000 apprentices in the US. That’s a 70% increase since 2011.

Apprenticeship programs use hands-on training and education to prepare you for a specific career. And a pre-apprenticeship program is the best pathway to a Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP). A RAP is an apprenticeship vetted by the US Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency.

Learn the difference between a pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship and how a pre-apprenticeship program can start you on your path to a future career!

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship.gov defines an apprenticeship as a way an employer prepares and develops a future workforce and where “individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a portable, nationally-recognized credential.” Employers can offer their own apprenticeships or offer them through a RAP.

Apprenticeship programs are required for many trade sector jobs, such as HVAC technician, construction or plumbing. That’s because to be successful in a trade job, you need specific job skills. Those skills are something you can learn as an apprentice, a pre-apprentice or in a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

Jobs in other industries offer apprenticeships too, including jobs in energy, finance, healthcare, hospitality and more.

Apprentices usually split their time between on-the-job training and classroom learning. That leads to job experience, a credential, college credits and even a full-time job.

Qualifications vary by state, but most apprenticeship programs require you to:

  • Be 18 years or older
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be physically fit
  • Have reliable transportation

But what if you’re under 18, a veteran, still in high school or didn’t graduate from high school? That’s where the pre-apprenticeship program or CTE certification comes in handy.

Is a pre-apprenticeship right for you?

A pre-apprenticeship is for those in high school, under 18, without a high school diploma, a veteran and others. The goal is to explore a career, earn skills for a job and/or prepare for and get into a RAP. Youth apprenticeship is another term used for pre-apprenticeship but applies only to students younger than 18, including middle school students in some cases.

A pre-apprenticeship is typically shorter than a full apprenticeship, lasting a week to a few months. A pre-apprenticeship uses industry standards approved by a RAP partner to provide actual or simulated job experience. Like CTE programs, pre-apprenticeships are often available through high schools or community or technical colleges.

Before entering a CTE program, pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship, find out what you’re good at by taking an aptitude assessment. It’s the easiest way to discover your natural talents. If you take the YouScience Discovery aptitude assessment, you’ll find careers, needed certifications and education for those careers. You also find employers (including those with apprenticeships) that match your aptitudes.

Once you know what you want to do, you can focus on exploring career options. The following is a small sampling of careers that offer pre-apprenticeships to prepare for a job or an apprenticeship supported by a RAP:

  • Carpenter
  • Certified nurse aid
  • Construction worker
  • Corrections officer
  • Electrician
  • IT project manager
  • Machinist
  • Millwright
  • Mason
  • Painter

How to find a pre-apprenticeship program

While apprenticeships are common, pre-apprenticeships can be harder to find. But there are options, including your local high school or technical or community college.


YouthBuild is a government program created for at-risk youth aged 16 to 24. It’s a popular program for students who left high school and don’t have the resources to finish their educations.

Each year, more than 6,000 participants choose the YouthBuild program. It combines hands-on training with classroom time to ensure students get their diplomas or GEDs. YouthBuild  ncreases the chance of obtaining an apprenticeship or full-time job.

The program also offers mentoring and counseling services. Participants have access to volunteer opportunities and community-based initiatives.


JobCorps is an agency in the US Department of Labor that provides pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship services for people 16 to 24 years old. Programs are residential and include access to room and board for up to three years. The benefit of working through JobCorps is that you earn your high school diploma and/or college credits. You also access free housing, meals, health care, and mentoring and counseling services.

Job and Pre-Apprenticeship/Apprenticeship Websites

There are websites than can help you find apprenticeships. Job searching sites, such as LinkedIn, offer possibilities, although options are more limited.

You can also check out the official government website for apprenticeship programs. The site sometimes features pre-apprenticeships as well, but you may have to dig around a bit.

One of the best options is to apply directly to a local pre-apprenticeship program. For example, if you’re located in Oregon, there are resources on the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries website. You can search your state’s government site or your “state plus pre-apprenticeship” in a search engine to find information for your area.

The benefits of completing a pre-apprenticeship

Completing a pre-apprenticeship is a great way to transition into a RAP and then a job. But there are other benefits of pre-apprenticeship programs too.

Industry standards curriculum

Because pre-apprenticeship programs follow a standard curriculum for learning, your hands-on training meets industry standards. Meaning you learn the skills your future job requires.

Hands-on training

Learning essential skills is the key component of a pre-apprenticeship program. Rather than studying theoretical ideas in a classroom, you get specific real-world training. So, on your first day of full-time work, you can be confident and prepared.

Direct entry

The biggest benefit of a pre-apprenticeship is gaining direct entry to an apprenticeship or job. Pre-apprenticeship programs usually have partnerships with RAPs.

And, because of their rising popularity, apprenticeships can be competitive to get into. Direct entry from a pre-apprenticeship helps improve your chances. So, starting an apprenticeship and later a career is a much faster process.

How do CTE certifications compare to pre-apprenticeships?

Both pre-apprenticeships and CTE certification programs are typically school based. Both provide valuable job skills, knowledge and certification.

The difference between the two is muddier. They differ depending on the state and program.

On one end, CTE programs are considered the same as pre-apprenticeship programs. That’s due to the high-level definition of pre-apprenticeship, which is “Pre-apprenticeship — a program or set of strategies designed to prepare individuals for entry into an apprenticeship program. Instruction may vary in length and scope, and may include basic skills training, academic skills remediation, or an introduction to the industry.” (Source)

Other CTE program curricula are designed to seamlessly move students from the program into a separate apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship. Other give students preferred or optional entry.

To find out how CTE programs align with apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships in your area, contact your state government or local school CTE director. Many high schools and technical colleges nationwide offer entry- to mid-level CTE career certifications through Precision Exams by YouScience in all 16 National Career Clusters.

Discover your next step

If you’re not sure about your abilities and career options, get a YouScience account. You can get your own or often through your local middle or high school or community college.

Taking the YouScience Discovery aptitude assessment lets you uncover your natural talents. You find in-demand careers and employers where your talents empower natural success and satisfaction. It also shows you the education pathways to attain the career that’s right for you — whether certifications, pre- and/or regular apprenticeships and/or or post-secondary schooling.


To find out whether your aptitude for spatial visualization makes you the next Tony Stark, or another job that will make you just as successful, try Discovery for yourself.

Talk to us how the unique YouScience Platform is revolutionizing how individuals, education, and industries connect and succeed.