Tennessee recently announced a new teacher apprenticeship program called “Grow Your Own,” which allows teachers to get their licenses through an apprenticeship rather than education. Forbes calls the model “creative problem-solving,” and “a sorely needed alternative to existing K-12 licensure systems,” but apprenticeships are not without their legal pitfalls.
In translating the new program from paper to practice, the nation’s first registered apprenticeship for teaching could run into some problems. Our team at Donati Law, PLLC is here to help you face those problems head-on.
Before you join the Tennessee teacher apprenticeship program, read our blog to get more information about apprenticeships and your rights as an apprentice.
How Are Apprenticeships Different from Internships and Externships?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship.gov, apprenticeships are usually longer than internships and externships, structured differently, and have different results than internships and externships.
Apprenticeships typically last for 1 to 3 years, include a structured training plan that focuses on mastering specific skills to fill an occupation, involve mentorship, are paid, and lead to an industry-recognized credential and full-time employment.
Some apprenticeship programs lead to a debt-free college degree.
Internships and externships, on the other hand, are structured to help people (primarily students) gain entry-level work experience in 1 to 3 months. They are frequently unpaid and must follow certain rules and regulations to be legal in Tennessee. For instance, interns should not expect their internships to lead to full-time employment.
Please note that internships are much more common than apprenticeships. Fortunately, the Tennessee program for teachers IS an apprenticeship.
Do Apprentices Get Paid?
Yes. Apprentices usually make 40 to 50% of a skilled worker’s wage with regular, guaranteed wage increases as they develop new skills. They must make at least the minimum wage specified by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and receive overtime when applicable.
Additionally, per chron.com, apprentices who assume the duties of professional workers should receive the same pay as professionals. Conversely, some apprentices do not receive payment for hours classified as “instructional.”
Upon completion of the apprenticeship, the apprentice should have a job in their chosen field; 92% of apprentices retain employment with an average annual salary of $72,000.
Legal Pitfalls of Apprenticeships
Apprentices are employees, which means they must be of legal working age (18 in most states) and possess the correct qualifications (usually a high school diploma or GED and the aptitude, interest, and ability to succeed). Like other employees, apprentices are protected from exploitation and discrimination by the FLSA and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).
The details of each apprenticeship should also be specified in an apprenticeship agreement (an apprenticeship-specific employment contract), so the apprentice has legal recourse if something goes wrong with their specific arrangement. For example, an apprenticeship agreement should have instructions about how an apprenticeship should be terminated because apprentices are paid less than other employees with the promise of a full salary and a full-time job at the end of the program.
Many of the issues related to apprenticeship are misclassification (the apprentice is not actually an apprentice) and wage and hour concerns (the apprentice is underpaid). Employers may also take advantage of apprentices, having them perform unpleasant or unwanted tasks for less money (turning them into a gofer) without providing the promised training and mentorship.
Ultimately, apprenticeships are highly regulated by state and federal governments, and apprenticeship programs like Tennessee’s “Grow Your Own” program are often run by governments themselves. As such, problems rarely arise, but the issues that do come up are serious and hard to navigate.
From beginning to end, Donati Law, PLLC can help you understand your rights as an apprentice, negotiate a favorable apprenticeship agreement, and guide you through disputes and problems if your employer breaks the rules.
We are excited to see what Tennessee does with its teacher apprenticeship program – and to help apprentices make the most out of their careers.
If you are considering an apprenticeship or need help resolving a problem within this unique employment arrangement, please call us at (901) 209-5500 or send us a message online to avoid or address the legal pitfalls of apprenticeship programs.