Posted November 23, 2020 by Mark Perna
It’s not where you start after high school. It’s where you end up. Mark’s article, “From Apprentice To Entrepreneur: ‘Apprenticeship Changed My Life’,” published at Forbes.com on November 10, 2020.
Without the influence of an open-minded career counselor, Austin Boop’s life would look completely different today.
Once an unmotivated high schooler—“a bit of a lazy student,” in his own words—Boop discovered a career he could care about after his junior year: electricity. An apprenticeship would be the logical path to reach that goal, but there were hurdles. “Apprenticeships were rarely discussed during a school day,” he recalls. “I didn’t fully understand what an apprenticeship entailed.”
Like many high school students, Boop was urged to make college his goal after graduation. But he knew it wasn’t the right way forward for him. “Most people I surrounded myself with all spoke about the importance of ‘getting into a good school,’ while the next sentence was ‘how expensive it is,’ he says. “For me, I knew college was not going to be a good fit.”
Boop started his electrical career as a 17-year-old apprentice during his senior year. After completing four years of training, he vaulted to entrepreneurship in 2016 when he opened his own electrical business, YoCo Electric. “We are now seven employees strong (not including myself) and have had three apprentices enroll in our program since we opened for business,” says Boop.
And it all started with a counselor who saw the value of apprenticeship.
“She challenged me to take a hard look at different industries,” says Boop. “Without her resources, knowledge and patience to learn what I was interested in, I would not be where I am at today.”
Once he signed on, the real work began. Apprenticeship was the right choice for Boop, but that didn’t mean it was easy. Learning a trade and getting on-site experience meant some very long days. “Sometimes we would work from 6:00 AM to 4:30 PM, then I’d have class until 9:00 PM, twice a week,” Boop says.
And it wasn’t just the schedule that was hard. The work conditions weren’t cushy either. “I often found myself exhausted and barely keeping up with my other personal commitments due to the weather conditions we were expected to work in, like freezing winter and scorching hot summers.”
But there were also rewards along the way. Boop found that actually working in the field he was learning spurred him on to higher performance in other areas. “I was awarded the highest GPA among my classmates for all four years, which says a lot because I wasn’t a very good student in high school,” he says. “Apprenticeship changed my life.”
His apprenticeship led him to more than just academic achievement. The most valuable aspect of the experience was the in-demand skill he gained over the course of the program.
“The education leaves you with long-lasting memories and experiences that are irreplaceable,” says Boop. “It’s a great feeling to complete a task that involves advanced electrical knowledge and walk away knowing it was completed correctly. To this day, I do not like ‘guesswork’ and ‘hoping it’s okay.’
“Those are never good phrases when dealing with electricity.”
As the owner of his own business, Boop credits his technical knowledge—gained via his apprenticeship and work in the field—as the foundation of his success. “Though others have done it, I think it would be very difficult to start an electrical contracting business without actually being an electrician,” he says.
“In the beginning months and years of starting my business, I found myself not only pricing work, managing a schedule and making new relationships, but also performing the work out in the field.”
Today, Boop is training his own apprentices with the skills they need to launch successful electrical careers. “Because I went through the program, I can give my current apprentices the opportunity to apply the lessons learned in class immediately in the field, which I have found helps retain information,” he says.
“If I hadn’t had the experience, I would be more prone to hold them back due to uncertainty about their skill level.”
Boop has no regrets about his choice to become an apprentice. “Apprenticeship was the perfect opportunity to gain a skill working with my hands while being paid to do it,” he says. “So many times I run into people who don’t really know what apprenticeship means. Apprenticeship can put you on the fast track to a very rewarding and high-demanding field with no limits.”
Like Boop, not every student fits the college mold. “Take a moment to really think about where you want be in a career—then do it!” he says. “Though apprenticeships may not be for everyone, there is not a better option for those who are interested in the trades and eager to work.”
Apprenticeship demonstrates that it’s not where you start after high school, but where you end up that counts. “I sometimes think our high school students have been taught to ‘get into a good college’ and that doing anything else is somehow unimpressive. But that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Boop says. “There is so much to know in this field. It can be very challenging and you must be intelligent or you may not succeed.Apprenticeship demonstrates that it’s not where you start after high school, but where you end up that counts. Click To Tweet
“If electrical work continues to be in the high demand it is, there may be a time when the folks in the field are making more money than the guy/gal behind the desk.”
As Boop’s story shows, apprenticeships don’t limit or pigeonhole your opportunities. In fact, they do the opposite. Today, the question is not “Why would you complete an apprenticeship?” Instead, young people should be asking, “Why wouldn’t I?”