Apprenticeship FAQs 


1. What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship is a time-tested education and training program in which apprentices seeking to learn a trade obtain needed skills and knowledge from experienced experts, known as mentors. Most of the training is held in the workplace as on-the-job learning (OJL), where mentors and apprentices work side by side to master specific job tasks. Complementing OJL is related technical instruction (RTI) or related supplemental instruction (RSI), which typically consists of classroom instruction, labs, web-based distance learning, instruction provided by technical schools and community colleges, additional ongoing mentoring, and other sources. Together, OJL and RTI offer the educational resources needed for an apprentice to become proficient in mastering a trade. For example, in transit, apprenticeships are typically used to train frontline workers, such as bus and rail technicians and operators, although they can be applied to any occupation. In addition to joint labor-management development of the program, minimum standards include that an apprentice is a full-time, paid employee of the transit agency from the start of the program.

2. What are the major benefits of apprenticeship in general?

There are many benefits to apprenticeship regardless of the occupation. Apprenticeships serve as pathways to well-paying, long-term careers, and fill dual needs by being both a job and a learning experience. On-the-job training is a part of the work assignment for the apprentice, so apprentices earn a decent wage while they learn and work as productive employees. In addition, apprentices are rewarded for their increased skills as they progress through the program – as skills increase, so does the pay. Many employers see a return on their investment in apprenticeship because apprentices are often working at close to full competency while still earning a reduced rate before they graduate to become journey workers. Typically, apprenticeship programs don’t require apprentices to have a college degree making them more accessible regardless of educational attainment. In addition, through partnerships with community colleges, apprentices can earn college credits for the training received through the apprenticeship. Many programs represent enough college credit hours to place an apprentice well on their way to completing an associate degree.Another significant benefit is that apprenticeships offer a varied learning environment that combines hands-on learning with classroom instruction. The apprentice applies theory learned during the RTI when they perform assigned tasks. The classroom instruction provides the theory for the apprentices to develop skills that are then applied in a work environment. A structured mentor program with a skilled senior worker that serves as a learning coach supports the apprentice’s success in the program. This learn-while-doing training method is ideal for boosting confidence and preparing apprentices for the job tasks they will be expected to perform.Other advantages of receiving targeted one-on-one learning from a mentor include having someone available to answer questions, help perfect skills and techniques, address weaknesses and maximize strengths, apply classroom studies to real-world work experiences, and even help with personal matters. Mentors can also help strengthen an apprentice’s communication, confidence, and interpersonal skills; and assist with understanding compensation, job expectations, work hours and time off, and other important, foundational aspects of the job and the transit industry in general. Those who complete an apprenticeship program typically have greater career advancement opportunities, earn higher wages, stay at their jobs longer, and enjoy their jobs more than those without the benefit of having gone through an apprenticeship program.

3. What are Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAP)?

Registered Apprenticeship Programs are registered through a State Apprenticeship Agency (SAA) or Federal Office of Apprenticeship (OA). The US Department of Labor (USDOL) apprenticeship website provides guidance on whether your region is served by Federal OA or state SAA (See state-by-state information and the process under question 7). To register apprentices, the sponsor will customize standards for their program as part of the application. Registering an apprenticeship offers a great degree of flexibility in how the program is structured and administered. The state SAA and Federal OA can provide assistance to the sponsoring organization or employers in registering their program.

The standards for a RAP include the content referred to as a work process that includes the RTI and OJL content for the occupation to be apprenticed. RAPs can be time-based (from one to six years) competency-based, or hybrid in structure, with a minimum of 2,000 hours of OJL and 144 hours of RTI. Since most RAPs are more than one year, the apprentice must complete the requisite hours of OJL and RTI for each additional year of the apprenticeship. The RTI can take place in a classroom setting at the workplace, a local community college, trade school, online, or other educational providers.

Joint apprenticeships: Typically, when a labor union local represents the workforce, Registered Apprenticeships are developed jointly, in which both groups (the union and the transit agency) have equal latitude in structuring and running the program.  The employer and union form a Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC) to oversee the RAP.

Non-joint apprenticeships: If a union local does not represent the workforce, Registered Apprenticeships are developed by the employer, often with the involvement of the workforce to ensure an effective program.

In a Registered Apprenticeship program, the apprentice must also be paid at least the minimum wage, with wages increasing at specified intervals as the apprentice moves through the program. Additionally, OJL must be structured, planned, and coordinated with RTI, and cannot only be a job shadowing experience or a short-term employee induction program.


USDOL ApprenticeshipUSA

Quick Start Tool Kit from USDOL for establishing a Registered Apprenticeship

Additional information from Jobs for the Future on competency-based apprenticeships

Additional guidance from the Urban Institute on developing Registered Apprenticeships

National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards

4. What are the specific benefits of a Registered Apprenticeship?

Unlike other programs, RAPs lead to a nationally recognized credential issued by USDOL or SAA, which has advantages for both employers and apprentices. Employers gain confidence in knowing that frontline workers are properly trained to perform their jobs safely and effectively. At the same time, apprenticeship graduates have a formal credential that can lead to other career opportunities.  

RAP sponsors also have access to certain federal and state funding programs, such as the GI Bill (which provides supplemental support to veterans engaged in apprenticeship), the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (which may offer wage reimbursements to employers), and state workforce development grants. Most importantly, validation by a recognized agency such as USDOL ensures the program is well designed and meets established quality criteria.

USDOL offers the Universal Outreach Tool to help sponsors find diverse candidates for its apprenticeship programs. The tool includes nonprofit, state, local, and community organizations across the country. In addition, sponsors can use the tool to identify organizations in their area that can help them recruit from diverse apprentice applicant pools.


USDOL Universal Outreach Tool

5. Are there different ways to structure an apprenticeship program?

Yes. Transit agencies can choose to follow a time-based, competency-based, or hybrid model for their apprenticeship.

Time-based apprenticeship models are known for their structured approach: 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of related classroom instruction per year. The apprentice progresses through the program with an assessment of their skills throughout the schedule of the program. Wage increases are based on their time in the program.

The competency-based model focuses more on the apprentice’s ability to demonstrate competencies in an observable and measurable way. The primary benefit of this approach is that the apprentice can move through the program based upon mastery of knowledge and skills rather than being bound to the timeframes of specific courses. As a result, the competency-based model is well suited for apprentices with strong foundational skills, such as those from the automotive and trucking industries.

The hybrid model combines specified minimum hours of on-the-job learning and the successful demonstration of identified and measured competencies to confirm the apprentice’s skill acquisition.

In addition, an apprentice that has previous experience in the occupation and can demonstrate their competency in the skills required to complete at task may enter the program with advanced standing. The sponsor must assess the level of competency to determine at what level the new apprentice may enter the RAP. For example, an experience auto mechanic may enter a 3- or 4-year program in the 2nd year.

6. What are the key steps in establishing a Registered Apprenticeship Program?

1. Obtain labor and management commitment to work together to establish a Registered Apprenticeship program.

2. Form a Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC) with equal participation from labor and management.

3. Contact the appropriate Department of Labor office (see state-by-state information and the process under question 7) to inform them of your intentions and seek guidance.

4. Jointly develop Standards of Apprenticeship. Key elements include determining:

  • JAC composition & duties 
  • Qualifications and selection process for apprentices entering the program 
  • Qualifications and selection process for mentors
  • Apprenticeship term and probationary period 
  • Work hours and wage progression scale for apprentices 
  • How OJL and RTI will be coordinated  
  • How apprentices will be supervised  
  • How apprentices will be evaluated and advance through the program  
  • How apprentice records will be maintained  
  • If a Certificate of Completion is issued 
  • Process to keep notifying Registered Apprenticeship Agency (Fed/State) 

5. Submit to the appropriate Department of Labor office for approval.


National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards

Transit Maintenance Mentoring Guidebook

7. How do I contact my local DOL office?

The Registered Apprenticeship program is a federal program that, in some states, is administered by a representative of USDOL’s Office of Apprenticeship (OA) and in others is administered by a State Apprenticeship Agency (SAA) that acts on behalf of USDOL.

Federally Approved States include: Arkansas, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Wyoming.

State Approved States include: Arizona, Connecticut, Washington DC, Delaware, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin.

An interactive map showing Federal and State Apprenticeship locations and related contact information can be found here.

8. What are the key challenges associated with establishing an apprenticeship program?

Along with the benefits come certain challenges that must be understood. The primary challenge associated with forming an apprenticeship program is that it requires dedication, resources and time, which are often in high demand. The program will only be successful if representatives from both labor and management are dedicated to marshalling the necessary resources. For agencies with a formal training department, apprenticeship typically becomes a separate training track that requires dedicated instructors and supervision.

For agencies without formal training programs, staff from other departments must pitch in to initiate and guide the program. Additional staff may also be required. Those without formal training departments will also need to identify training partners such as local providers and community colleges to customize the necessary RTI, which could be provided through distance-based online learning platforms, by neighboring transit agencies, or through local technical and community colleges.

All agencies will need to locate competent mentors to provide OJL. Doing so, however, may be difficult given the current staff shortages in which all workers, especially those with the skills that qualify them as mentors, are needed to meet daily service requirements.

Despite the challenges, the benefits of an apprenticeship program are well worth the effort, especially when competing industries seek to draw from the same limited pool of qualified frontline workers. Growing a skilled workforce through apprenticeship represents a viable way to train workers according to the agency’s requirements and expectations, and provides the organization with a predictable, steady stream of highly qualified workforce.

9. Are there roles other parties, besides labor and management, can play in supporting the development and implementation of a Registered Apprenticeship?

While labor (or in non-union settings, workforce) and management collaboration is at the core of the in development and implementing a RAP, there are other entities that can play significant roles. Educational institutions, such as local community colleges, can be a key partner in many RAPs; some states, such as California, require such partnerships. These educational partners can play a range of roles, from assessing existing agency training programs for academic credit, to providing supplemental classroom-based education and pathways to certifications and a degree. TWC’s Resource Center includes examples of these sorts of Registered Apprenticeship partnerships.


California Transit Works

TWC’s Resource Center

10. Where can I find support for the development and implementation of a Registered Apprenticeship?

In addition to the resources available in the Resource Center, TWC provides access to peer discussion and support for locations interested in apprenticeship programs through its American Transit Training and Apprenticeship Innovators Network (ATTAIN). TWC’s Resource Center also contains a range of materials on and examples of apprenticeships, and TWC staff can offer technical assistance to individual locations; contact Other organizations can provide support in varied locations, such as California Transit Works. And, for unionized locations, some national unions offer their locals and their management partners support in establishing RAPs.

Several federal agencies also provide general resources on Registered Apprenticeship, including the US Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship and Office of Labor-Management Programs. In addition, state departments of labor usually provide relevant information on their websites as well as staff who can serve as informational resources on establishing RAPs. 


American Transit Training and Apprenticeship Innovators Network (ATTAIN)

California Transit Works

TWC’s Resource Center

USDOL ApprenticeshipUSA

State Labor Offices


1. Do I need to change the training I already provide to have a registered bus operator apprenticeship?

No, bus operator apprenticeships use the training that an agency already provides to new bus operators to satisfy the related technical instruction requirement and the on-the-job learning hours behind the wheel as the bus operator drives regular routes. For example, a 9-week training class that meets 8 hours per day more than satisfies the 144-hour requirement.

2. What is the role of the mentor?

Operators that have completed their training class are assigned mentors and they exchange contact information. They provide advice and guidance based on their years of on-the-job experience and agree to be generally available to their assigned apprentice. Agencies may also include one or more “ride-alongs,” when the mentor accompanies the apprentice on a route and observes their performance to offer advice or recommend changes to certain behaviors.

3. How are mentors selected?

Mentors apply for the position voluntarily. Applications are reviewed and mentors are interviewed and selected by the joint apprenticeship committee. The joint apprenticeship committee must agree upon the qualifications required to become a mentor and the criteria on which selection will be based. Qualifications often include a minimum number of years on the job, minimal unexcused absences, no drug or alcohol violations, and no significant safety violations.

4. How long is an operator apprenticeship?

Registered Apprenticeships must be at least a year in length and most operator apprenticeships are close to a year in length. However, the agency and union/workforce are free to have a longer program, if desired. All of the required related technical instruction (144 hours) occurs at the beginning of the apprenticeship during an agency’s new operator training. If an agency wants to have a longer apprenticeship program, additional related technical instruction will need to be provided.

5. Do mentors receive additional pay?

An agency may choose to provide operator mentors with a modest wage increase, but typically, the mentor position is voluntary and does not come with an hourly wage increase. Agencies have found that experienced drivers are motivated to share their wisdom and advice to help others find the success and fulfillment they have enjoyed. Agencies may provide badges or pins to attach to a uniform that identify mentors and give some recognition of their status and the service they provide.


1. How should the training be structured?

Developed by ITLC and approved by USDOL, the Bus Maintenance Apprenticeship Framework identifies the major tasks that an apprentice will need to master as part of the training program. ITLC developed a detailed spreadsheet to accompany this framework, divided into job function areas, including: steering suspension, propulsion, electrical and other major bus areas. Agencies can use the framework to develop their apprenticeship programs and establish the Work Process Schedule required as part of the Standards of Apprenticeship for Registered Apprenticeship Programs.


National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards for Bus Maintenance Technicians

Excel version from ITLC can be easily modified to suit agency need

2. How should agencies verify technician competencies?

There are several ways in which mastery of technical skills can be verified. ITLC has produced an Apprenticeship OJL Task Book (see Resources below) that mimics the tasks listed in the Bus Maintenance Apprenticeship Framework. Agencies can use the book as a checklist, whereby both the mentor and apprentice each sign off that a specific task has been mastered. As with the Framework, agencies can modify the tasks contained in it as they see fit. The Task Book serves as a convenient way to track apprentices’ progress and confirm that all required job tasks have been mastered.

Other agencies require apprentices to take and pass a series of written certification tests developed by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) specifically for transit bus technicians (H Series). The tests are meant to identify and recognize those transit bus technicians who demonstrate knowledge of the skills necessary to diagnose, service and repair various systems on transit buses. To help technicians prepare for these tests, ASE offers a series of downloadable study guides, available free of charge (see link below). ASE initiated this test series with the support of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). While some agencies praise the validity of these tests, others claim that the lack of hands-on demonstrations inherent in the ASE tests may inaccurately reflect the ability of some technicians who are competent at their jobs but are not good at passing “pen-and-paper” tests.

Other agencies develop their own in-house testing comprising written and hands-on exercises. Whatever method is adopted, it is important that the process be clearly articulated in the Standards of Apprenticeship document.


Additional ASE Transit Bus Certification Testing information can be found at:

Downloadable ASE Study Guides can be found at:

3. Where can agencies find help in selecting and training maintenance mentors?

Selecting the right mentors is important because so much of the training is spent on the job. One helpful resource is the mentor guidebook, available at the link below, which outlines the key aspects of selecting qualified mentors. Another is the mentor training course provided by

TWC at the agency’s location. This workshop is designed for employees or journey workers designated as mentors to support on-the-job learning for apprenticeship programs. The content includes a review of mentor roles, an introduction to learning styles, and a facilitated discussion about communication and problem solving. The second half of the workshop includes role-playing exercises for the participants to practice what they learned. The instructor leads the participants through a structured review of that experience and review of the mentoring concepts presented. The program acknowledges the wisdom of the mentors and encourages them to view themselves as ambassadors for the apprenticeship and advocates for the apprentices. Additional information can also be found in question 6 below.


Mentor Guidebook

Mentor Training Course

4. Do mentors receive a wage increase for their work as mentors?

Unlike bus operator mentor programs, bus maintenance mentors typically receive a wage increase for the time spent mentoring apprentices. The amount of the increase is determined by the JAC or through the Collective Bargaining Agreement and is typically either a percent increase of the technician’s regular wage or a flat amount.

5. What do agencies use to test the aptitude of apprentice candidates?

There are several tests that test general as well as mechanical aptitude. The resource section below provides descriptions and links to the most popular. When choosing a test to assess candidates, an Agency will want to ensure the test they choose is a Validated Test to ensure it will not cause a disparate impact on any protected classes.


Bennett Mechanical Comprehension Test

Wiesen Test of Mechanical Aptitude (WTMA)

Ramsay Mechanical Test

6. What resources are available to help develop a bus maintenance apprenticeship?