The last College Alternatives post focused on the skilled trades, such as machinist, electrician, arborist, and others. Since college has been pushed as a primary option for most students, there has been a labor shortage in many of the trades, making them a good alternative or second skill to develop. Trades are not for everyone, though, so the final two college options I’ll talk about are entrepreneurship and learning through apprenticeships or guilds. Even if your student eventually decides to attend college, he or she can benefit by having one or more of these experiences during high school.
One way that students can experiment with entrepreneurship is to start a micro business while still in high school. A microbusiness (or micro-business) is a very small business, started with minimal resources, and operating without business loans or major overhead. Microbusinesses are ideal for teens who want to save for college while gaining business skills. They also work very well for work-at-home moms or people who need to make money while caregiving for elderly family members. A microbusiness can also be a good way to try out a possible career, or to supplement income in a flagging economy.
Microbusiness possibilites are nearly endless. My own microbusiness career began when I was in elementary school– I used my little red wagon to peddle avocados around our neighborhood. I made an average of $100 a year, until I got too big to be seen in public with a red wagon. I graduated to making macramé bracelets with beaded names; then to doing–and ultimately teaching–calligraphy. Each of these microbusinesses brought in a decent amount of money for doing something fun and relatively low-key. I’m certain that the skills I learned from each venture were more valuable than almost anything I would have gained in a traditional minimum-wage job.
If you’d like to explore microbusiness with your teens, you will find the four-book Micro Business for Teens curriculum by Carol Topp to be a clear, concise guide. Carol is not only a homeschool mom; she’s also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who has worked with many adult and teen entrepreneurs. If your teen works through the curriculum and successfully launches and runs a business, you can add credit for Entrepreneurship 101 to their high school transcript. Each book builds upon the previous one, developing the business skills necessary for success. The four titles are:
Starting a Microbusiness
Running a Microbusiness
Money and Taxes in a Microbusiness
Microbusiness for Teens Workbook
Apprenticeships and Guilds
Although I’d like to report that formal apprenticeships are easy to find, a recent Wall Street Journal article, Apprenticeships Help Close the Skills Gap. So Why Are They in Decline?, suggests otherwise. Although classic apprenticeship programs allow employers to train for precisely the needed skill set for a position, they have traditionally been seen as more of a blue-collar option. In addition, many employers fear that an apprenticeship program may open the way for unionization (labor unions provide some of the best apprenticeship programs available).
However, an apprenticeship can be well worth pursuing. According to Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, a program of the South Carolina Technical College System, employers who do provide apprenticeship programs discover that “College degrees and internships don’t produce the same quality of worker as intensive, on-the-job apprenticeships.” Many homeschoolers have found informal apprenticeships through acquaintances and local contacts, as described in some of the articles linked below. One of the easiest ways to begin is to offer services on a volunteer basis. Sometimes this will work into a paying position; other times it simply provides experience.
High School Apprenticeships at Home by Maggie Hogan provides a look at two different apprenticeship stories, with a few tips on finding your own. This originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.
Forging Ahead: Apprenticeships in the 21st Century is a good overview of apprenticeship history and options from HSLDA.
Registered Apprenticeship site from the U.S. Department of Labor provides a place where employers can offer apprenticeships, students can search for opportunities, and parents and potential partners can learn more.
Medieval Guilds from Thomas More College ”Inspired by the original models, Thomas More College has established a series of guilds that enable students to gain practical skills and experience in areas such as woodworking, sacred art, homesteading and music.”
Apprenticeships and Resumés by Kym Wright covers helpful information on how to present unique experiences on a resumé.
What Do Homeschoolers Do After Graduation? Here is an interesting look at what some Pennsylvania homeschoolers have done after college, along with some practical advice and comments from parents on things that worked well in their homeschooling.
The National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Inc. (NIMS} Competency Based Apprenticeship System offers the opportunity to become a NIMS Certified Machinist, Toolmaker, CNC Setup Programmer or a Certified Journey Worker at any NIMS occupation.
Arborist Training Programs links to some useful resources for tree climbers. You may find more by searching online for “arborist apprenticeship programs.”
AFL-CIO apprenticeship information: I’m ambivalent about unions, but they do offer extensive, well-paid apprenticeship options.
Small or Local Opportunities
Many small, local companies and organizations offer apprenticeship or internship opportunities. These can be well worth pursuing, as they can open doors to local career opportunities. Try searching online for opportunities in your area by entering “apprenticeship [city name]” or “internship [city name].” You may also add in the field in which you’d like to find on-the-job training–technology, farm work, plumbing, etc.. If your student can shadow a well-respected adult and learn by doing, it is likely to be an experience he won’t forget.
Homegrown Programmers is an apprenticeship program offered by the homeschooling owners of Automation Excellence, a technology company.
The University of Virginia posts opportunities of various kinds; it would probably be worth checking colleges in your own area for the same type of posting.
Agriberry Farm offers a Young Worker Training Program in central Virginia.
Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm has a popular apprenticeship program for “Bright eyed, bushy-tailed, self-starter, eager-beaver, situationally aware, go-get-‘em, teachable, positive, non-complaining, grateful, rejoicing, get’erdone, dependable, faithful, perseverant take-responsibility, clean-cut, all American boy-girl appearance characters. We are very, very, very discriminatory.” Working with the bright and opinionated Salatin is bound to be a life-changing experience for any teen interested in permaculture.
Quivira Coalition lists agrarian ranch apprenticeships in the western United States.
Greenville Technical College is partnering with GE Power & Water to develop skilled machinists through the GE Gas Turbine Machinist Apprentice Program.
You will find that some states have more opportunities than others. To locate more these, copy and paste the following search terms into your search engine, adding your state name:
- machinist apprenticeship programs
- ranch apprenticeship programs
- technical apprenticeship programs
- automotive apprenticeship programs
- arborist apprenticeship programs
Well, you get the idea. If you’re interested in creative, on-the-job learning, just start asking around locally or search online. You’ll be delighted by all the options available!