Trade School vs. Apprenticeship

There are many different ways to become an auto mechanic. Find out the pros and cons of two of the paths as we look at trade school vs. apprenticeship.

Difference Between Trade School and Apprenticeship

When seeking a career as an auto mechanic, it is important to keep in mind all of your options to gain training. No matter what, you know that working on cars is what fuels you up so that is what you’re going to do! Maybe you’re asking, “Can you become a mechanic without going to school?” The answer is yes, and there are a few ways to get there. Perhaps the most common today is trade school while apprenticeships are being pursued less and less. Either way, both are great options and can get you to a career working on autos! The major differences between the two are cost, time and learning styles. Keep in mind that neither of the two is objectively better than the other. Even though each are great options, one may be better than the other in your personal situation. So, let’s dive in to see what is the difference between an apprenticeship and a vocational course.

Trade School vs. Apprenticeship: Cost

In the world of a large and growing student debt, the cost of training is a huge deciding factor for students. It is true that trade school is much more reasonably priced than college. Even still, trade school can cost thousands of dollars a semester. This in turn forces students to take out loans up to $10,000 on average. This is where an apprenticeship can really shine, you get paid to do it! Each apprenticeship will pay different amounts just like a regular job although as you learn more and gain more experience your wage should increase. In the U.S. the average wage for an apprentice is $15.00 per hour according to the U.S. Department of Labor. So, as an apprentice you can learn to do the thing you love while getting paid! This sounds almost too good to be true!

Trade School vs. Apprenticeship: Time

It is important to consider that many apprenticeships last much longer than vocational training. Trade school degrees often take about 2 years to complete while many apprenticeships can last from 3 to 5 years. Although you are getting paid throughout the entire training, apprentices are often required to sign a contract to complete the entire program. If you end up hating the environment or people you work for, this can be an extremely long time.

Years to Complete Trade School

Years to Complete Apprenticeship

Trade School vs. Apprenticeship: Learning Style

In trade school, education is split between two different styles, theoretical (classroom) and practical (hands-on) learning. This can be good but it is important to choose a school that provides as much hands-on learning as you desire. Some programs will even require you to work as an intern in an auto shop although these sometimes are unpaid internships. If all you want is hands-on learning then an apprenticeship may be the route for you. Apprenticeships are structured however the employer desires. Therefore, they may incorporate some theoretical learning but a majority will be practical. The downside of having all hands-on learning is that it is harder to learn and understand the science behind automotive technologies. In a trade school these will be taught through models and instruction in the classroom.


Pros and Cons

Pros of Trade School

  • Incorporates both hands-on and classroom learning
  • Provides a more well-rounded education
    • Including soft skills such as communication, time management, writing, and budgeting
  • Instructors are professionally trained mechanics and teachers
  • Can earn specialized training much easier through specific programs
  • You can often choose your class schedule allowing you to work part-time

Pros of Apprenticeship

  • Immense amounts of real-world application training
    • Work with real customers face-to-face
  • You get PAID TO LEARN
    • The more you learn, often the more you get paid (this depends on your employer)
  • Often leads to a full-time job offer upon completion
  • Does not cost money to gain training
    • Other than cost of tools
  • Often is a much faster paced learning environment

Cons of Trade School

  • Large financial commitment
    • Average student graduates with $10,000 in debt
    • Average program costs $32,832
  • Lacks training or experience dealing with customers
  • Can be too slow for individuals who learn best when just thrown into the fire

Cons of Apprenticeship

  • It is uncertain whether the person you are learning from will be a good mechanic or a good teacher
  • Competition is extremely high to land an apprenticeship
    • Important to start building your automotive network to lessen this
  • Can be frustrating if you do not get along well with your coworkers and employer

How do I get an Apprenticeship?

There are many different ways to get into an apprenticeship program. Maybe you have a connection with a local auto shop owner and they are willing to hire you as an apprentice or maybe you don’t have any connections and are new to the industry. If so, perhaps the best directory for finding apprenticeships is hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor. The thing that really sets their apprenticeship directory apart from others is that they include both private and government organizations seeking apprentices. Most other directories only provide private sector companies seeking apprentices, which limits your opportunity! If you are having trouble getting accepted or hired in an apprenticeship, you might want to gain a little basic training to put on your résumé. This could be taking a couple extra auto shop classes in high school or taking a few automotive classes at your local trade school.

Apprenticeship FAQs

Understanding the best path for you to become a mechanic can be hard and brings up many different questions. When considering trade school vs. apprenticeship this could not be truer! Here are some of the most common questions we see regarding whether trade school or apprenticeship is right for you.

Can you become a mechanic without going to school?

Yes, of course! This is the essence of an apprenticeship. Many people are simply not tuned to sit in school all day, which is why apprenticeships are still around. For many people, completing an apprenticeship will be much more valuable and educational than attending a trade school or even a 4-year university.

What is the difference between an apprenticeship and a vocational course?

There are many differences between apprenticeships and trade school, these are the major factors:

Trade School Apprenticeship
Pay to learn Paid to learn
Blend between classroom and hands-on learning Almost all hands-on learning
Average of 2 years to complete Average of 4 years to complete

Are apprenticeships paid?

Apprenticeships are treated just like regular employment so yes, they are paid. The amount of pay will vary from apprenticeship to apprenticeship. Some may be salary based and some may be hourly based, it all just depends on the program and the employer.

How much do apprentices get paid?

According to the US Department of Labor, the average starting wage for an apprentice is $15.00 per hour. Keep in mind that this is the starting pay and many apprenticeships have different levels built into the program. So, once you gain different skills you will start to earn more money. Hopefully by the end you will be earning enough money to sustain yourself and family (or future family).  Along with that, there is a large chance your employer will want to hire you full-time afterward.

Why do apprentices get paid so little?

In the US, the average apprentice wage ($15.00) is well over the national minimum wage of $7.25. On top of that, it is higher than the highest minimum wage in the country of $13.25. Considering this, $15.00 is a very good wage for a starting job fresh out of high school or fresh into a new career. The reason it is not higher is because employers see that there is much more value being added to the apprentice than just money. You give up a (potentially) higher wage for the chance to learn great skills for your career as an auto mechanic.

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