There is a lot of opportunity to expand apprenticeships in the U.S., but right now apprentices are limited to a relatively few occupations, and relatively few openings.

There is bipartisan support for investing more in apprenticeship programs, but before we expand them, we need to understand the apprenticeships we have. As part of our research with the Managing the Future of Work Project at Harvard Business School, we used the Burning Glass job postings database and other sources to profile the current state of this approach.

Out of the 810 occupations tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor, 27 are regularly filled by apprentices. In 2016, there were roughly 410,000 active apprentices in the United States (not counting those who have been apprentices in the past, of course).

Traditionally—and unlike other countries—American apprentices have been in skilled trades. Of the top 27 occupations, 17 are classified in the Construction and Extraction occupational family. The rest of them are either in Installation, Maintenance and Repair or Production occupations. By contrast, in Switzerland 240 occupations are open to apprentices.

In addition, none of these occupations get workers exclusively from apprenticeships. If these occupations relied solely on apprentices, that would cover another 1.1 million positions.

Apprentices: Comparing the 27 core apprenticeships to all other occupations

One striking point as you look at the list below: there aren’t really any new occupations here. There are no IT jobs, for example, no service jobs, and the installation roles lack newer technologies like solar voltaic panel installers. That’s why our research on apprenticeships identified these as some of the promising fields for expansion.

Then again, the fact that these are established programs is one reason why they work: there has been long-term buy-in from employers, educators, unions, and workers. Re-creating that network is one of the major challenges in building apprenticeships into a real alternative in newer jobs.

The 27 Core Occupations for Apprentices in the U.S.

OccupationOccupational Group
BoilermakersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Brickmasons and BlockmasonsConstruction and Extraction Occupations
CarpentersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Cement Masons and Concrete FinishersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Construction LaborersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Drywall and Ceiling Tile InstallersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
ElectriciansConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Elevator Installers and RepairersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Floor Layers, Except Carpet, Wood, and Hard TilesConstruction and Extraction Occupations
GlaziersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment OperatorsConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Painters, Construction and MaintenanceConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Plumbers, Pipefitters, and SteamfittersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Reinforcing Iron and Rebar WorkersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
RoofersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Sheet Metal WorkersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Structural Iron and Steel WorkersConstruction and Extraction Occupations
Electrical Power-Line Installers and RepairersInstallation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and InstallersInstallation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations
Industrial Machinery MechanicsInstallation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations
MillwrightsInstallation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations
Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers, Except Line InstallersInstallation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations
Telecommunications Line Installers and RepairersInstallation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations
MachinistsProduction Occupations
Structural Metal Fabricators and FittersProduction Occupations
Tool and Die MakersProduction Occupations
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck DriversTransportation and Material Moving Occupations
U.S. Department of Labor, Burning Glass Technologies data


To find out more, read our new report with Harvard Business School, Room to Grow: Identifying New Frontiers for Apprenticeships.

To automatically receive notifications of future blogs, research, and labor market content, sign up at