I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Apprenticeship Tips for Homeschooled High Schoolers

teen doing construction

According to Forbes magazine, hiring a plumber to snake a clogged drain will cost you $125 to $360. If you've got a tougher clog, be ready to shell out as much as $800. A recent survey of 2,000 American car owners confirmed that only about 1/3 know how to change their vehicle's oil. One can only assume that the other 2/3 pay someone else to do it, which, according to Kelly Blue Book, runs them each anywhere from $35 to $125, depending upon the type of car they own and the type of oil it requires. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that when budgeting for a basic home construction or repair project, one should expect to add 20-40% to the total budget for labor costs.

 (This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)

In other words, owning stuff is expensive. When considering a purchase, we must consider the full cost—not just the initial total but also the price of maintaining it. 

While organizations like WANTO and the Mike Rowe WORKS Foundation are slowly turning the tide, there is still quite a disparity between the percentage of "digitally native" Americans who know blue-collar skills and those who don't. Sadly, over 1/3 of young adults admit that they are unable to perform ANY home maintenance tasks without the assistance of the internet.

Apprenticeship Tips for Homeschooled High Schoolers #homeschool #apprenticeship #tradeskill #highschool

As a homeschool mom, I want my kids to launch into adulthood feeling confident and equipped not just in academics but also in basic care and keeping skills. Furthermore, I'd like them to possess enough home and car maintenance competency that they don't need to pay the exorbitant labor prices of repair shops. 

To that end, my husband and I have made blue-collar/trade apprenticeship a mandatory graduation requirement for all our high schoolers.

But what if they don't want to go into the trades, Jamie? you may be thinking.

That's a fair question, especially considering the fact that Teen #1 is currently in her sophomore year at a Christian college and hopes to earn a B.A. in psychology. Teen #2 just graduated with dual-enrollment credits through an online Christian liberal arts university and has signed a six-year military contract. Teen #3 seems to vacillate between thoughts of a white-collar desk job and a blue-collar career nearly every week. And Teen #4 has his sights set on art school. (It's still too early to determine the post-graduation path of their younger brother, but he definitely has his opinions.) 

Regardless of their eventual vocation, all of my kids will apprentice in a blue-collar/trade skill before graduating from our homeschool. No exceptions.

teen mechanic

Why Blue Collar Apprenticeships? 

During their homeschooling years, my in-laws had the forethought to encourage their high school-aged sons to apprentice in a trade. And I'm so grateful they did. Since homeschooling allows for a more flexible schedule, my husband was able to learn from a local floor coverer who was nearing retirement and needed some help with the manual grunt work of carpet and tile installation. Here are a few of the long-term benefits we've enjoyed because of that early skills training. 
  1. We have saved thousands of dollars on floor installation fees over the years. My husband has not only been able to do all the labor himself, but he has also been able to apply industry secrets when purchasing materials to acquire the best quality flooring at the lowest prices. 
  2. In the early 2000s, shortly after graduation, he could not find a single job in his degree field of advertising/design. The recession had hit, forcing businesses to cut or slim back their advertising budgets. Consequently, ad firms were not hiring new employees. I had just left my teaching career to stay home with our one-year-old and was newly pregnant with Baby #2. It was not an ideal time to be jobless, to say the least. Since he had apprenticed in floor covering during his high school years, my husband was able to get alternative work in the trades. He stayed there for about three years until the economy began to shift again, and he accepted a design position with a small advertising agency. 
  3. For over a decade, even after landing a desk job, he was able to work a few evenings or a Saturday each month installing carpet to earn some extra spending cash. His trade skills made a great side hustle income.
  4. Whenever we've needed other home-building projects done--projects my husband wasn't fully equipped to tackle--he's been able to use his trade to barter with friends. He's exchanged flooring skills for electrical, plumbing, and automotive help.
  5. Over the years, he has been able to bless friends, neighbors, local mission organizations, and even our church with free floor-covering labor.
I hope someday, my children will have similar stories to tell of how God used their trade skills to provide for their families and friends.

blacksmithing apprenticeship

Different Types of Apprenticeships

There are three main types of apprenticeships. Your decision to choose one over the others will depend upon the outcome you are desiring and the availability of professionals in your area willing to train a teenager. 

Certification programs- Like college, these formal apprenticeships are generally reserved for post-high school graduates. Students earn a small income while gaining hands-on practice. Their wages increase as their knowledge base and experience increases. They eventually work their way toward a certificate or professional licensure. 

Pay-to-play programs- Some handcraft industries offer apprenticeship-type classes. Students pay to work alongside a professional artisan until they have logged a certain number of hours or can showcase a certain level of skill.

Volunteer/shadowing programs- The casual format of a shadowing program is often the best option for teens looking for a basic introduction to a trade. An informal agreement is made with a tradesman or artisan. He/she consents to teach the foundational skills through on-the-job training, and the apprentice agrees to provide free labor. No money is exchanged. While this particular type of apprenticeship does not lead to formal licensing, it can help a teen decide if they like the trade enough to continue learning through a certification program. If nothing else, they end their time knowing the basics of a much-needed blue-collar skill. 

Log splitting

Finding Experts

Currently, there are formal/certification programs for learning trade skills in all 50 states. Follow the appropriate link below to be directed to the apprenticeship registry of each state's Department of Labor.

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming

Many art institutes and folk schools also offer mentorships for teens wishing to learn from local artists. 

That said, the trickiest part of establishing an apprenticeship isn't finding an expert willing to mentor a teen. It's finding one whose character and conduct are worth emulating. Your high schooler could potentially spend numerous unsupervised hours with their mentor. Needless to say, an eenie-meenie-minie-mo approach to tradesman selection is unwise.

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth inquiries. When I went looking for tradesmen willing to let my teens learn alongside them, I asked my pastor if he could connect me to men and women in our church congregation who worked in particular trade fields. Additionally, I asked trusted friends for recommendations and even posted in a Facebook group of like-minded homeschool families. 

belaying a climber

Things to Consider

Legal Ramifications- Sadly, many tradesmen are wary of working with teens because of the potential legal ramifications of allowing an unlicensed or uninsured individual to be on the job site. If you struggle to find a laborer willing to take on an apprentice, begin looking for a layman or laywoman who, while not necessarily professionally trained in that particular skill, has learned more than enough through age and experience. For instance, when he learned that I could not find an auto mechanic willing to teach my middle son who wanted to learn how to fix cars, a homeschool dad from our church volunteered to take my boy under his wing. By day, this gentleman is an engineer, but at night and on the weekends, he enjoys rebuilding old cars. He and my boy have been working together for nearly two years and have even joined forces with another homeschool dad and mutual friend who also moonlights as a lay mechanic.

Time Investment- Apprenticeships are deep dives and will naturally require a large time investment. You have to be willing to allow your teen to forgo some subjects or courses in order to make room for learning a trade. Don't consider this a loss. Remember, innovators and intellectuals down through the ages became experts in a field not because they knew a little bit about many things but because they knew everything about one thing. 

Grades & Transcripts- Keeping records of an apprenticeship for a transcript is not as difficult as it may seem. There are a few ways to translate the time, effort, and knowledge gained into a high school credit. 

  • You can create a simple rubric--a scoring sheet that lists the daily expectations of the master and a corresponding numbering system from 1-5. Ask the master to "score" your teen's performance each day by simply circling the number that reflects his/her efforts in each area. Tally the numbers and divide the total by the points possible to get an average for the day. (5 = "A" quality work; 1 = "F" quality work) At the end of the semester or year, add up all the points and divide by the points possible to determine a letter grade and/or grade point for the course.
  • You can log hours. Most states require a student to log 150 hours of learning/practice for a full-credit core subject class and 120 hours for a full-credit elective class. Record the effort on a transcript in the same way you would for any other non-credit class: "S" for "Satisfactory" or "P" for "Pass."
  • Instead of assigning a grade point for the apprenticeship, list it on a transcript in the same way you would a sport or volunteer experience. These are usually just placed towards the bottom of the grade records as "Additional Activities." 

Payment- Wages are rare for teen apprenticeships. Your teen should be ready and willing to earn knowledge and experience in exchange for hours of labor. 

Supplementary Materials- Consider requiring your teen to read a book or watch videos about the skill in order to add layers to their learning, especially if he is not naturally a kinesthetic learner. 

Because his mechanic apprenticeship hours were fewer in the fall and winter months, I had my middle son complete the Auto Upkeep workbook during the school year to keep his skills fresh between mechanic projects. 

Hawk Mountain Ranger School

Alternatives to Apprenticeships

If, for whatever reason, an apprenticeship just isn't possible, ask a master tradesman if your teen may job shadow for a day or two. This will not necessarily provide him with any hands-on training, but it will allow him to see the inner workings of a potential career to better assess whether it's worth pursuing in the future. Additionally, assign him to watch applicable YouTube videos to learn more about a particular task he witnessed. 

Don't discredit the skills he can learn through clubs like Trail Life USA, 4-H, or Civil Air Patrol. During his six-year membership in CAP, my eldest son learned to marshal small aircraft, participate in search and rescue operations, perform CPR and basic first aid, operate a drone, and more. 

If all else fails, never underestimate the benefits of autodidactic learning. Encourage him to employ project-based learning steps to learn the trade all on his own. 

Replacing a car engine

A Final Word

For the final two years of high school and the two years following graduation, my daughter apprenticed as an all-around "handyman" at a local Christian camp. She was given room and board and a very minimal salary in exchange for the training necessary to do things like use large power tools, operate various motorized watercraft, build an outdoor ice skating rink, craft with leather, use industrial kitchen equipment to prepare food for large crowds of people, care for petting zoo animals, belay rock climbers, create sets/backdrops for skits, run a soundboard for chapel, etc. Admittedly, it was not a typical apprenticeship but one which taught her a variety of practical skills.

My eldest son apprenticed through a spring and summer under a building contractor from our church.

As I mentioned, for the past two years, my third-born has been apprenticing with two family friends who are both amateur mechanics. 

My fourth-born has been apprenticing in a more formal capacity with a local blacksmithing club.

With the exception of my middle son, who plans to earn a degree in automotive engineering to design the inner workings of new cars, none of my kids aim to develop their practiced trade into a full-fledged vocation. But the time spent was not wasted. They've each learned and are learning skills that will reap dividends in their lives for years to come. 


  1. I was so encouraged reading this. And the practical tools packed into this post are very helpful. Pinning it for reference later. Thank you for taking the time to share, Jamie!

    1. I'm so glad it was helpful, Caroline. If your teens end up doing apprenticeships in any capacity, I'd love to know how it works for you and them.

  2. What a great idea! I wish I'd had something like that as a high schooler (I was public schooled however). My BSc was almost useless for getting a job, whereas my husband's welding and maintenance skills from his army apprenticeship opened many more doors for job.

    1. I think the demand for jobs in the trades will only increase in coming years. I did research a few years ago about the starting salary and opportunity for advancement in the trades vs. high-paying white-collar jobs, and it was shocking to see that most tradesmen can advance to managerial and ownership positions and retire with higher pay than many white-collar workers simply because of supply and demand.

  3. This was a great post. Thank you! I think the hardest thing is a child figuring out "what" they want to do. I will have to work harder at encouraging this. Thanks!

    1. Yes, I had one child who couldn't decide, so I presented him with lots of different options and showed him short YouTube clips of different types of tasks within a few fields until one of them sounded interesting to him. The other thing to remember is that your child can start an apprenticeship in one trade and switch to a different one if he's not enjoying or understanding it. Apprenticeships today aren't like they were in days of old when students had to commit to seven years of labor.