Johnathon McGhee likes working with his hands. He wanted to learn a skilled trade, but didn’t want to have the debt associated with a traditional college program. He found his answer with the apprenticeship program at Hawkeye Community College.

“I like the fact that you can earn a living, work full-time, and still be able to go to class,” said McGhee, who is a Plumbing Level 4 apprentice at Dalton Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, Electric and Fireplace, Inc. in Cedar Falls. “It’s a great opportunity that Hawkeye provides for individuals who want to get involved in a trade program.”

Ellie Mollenhoff, Level 4 Plumbing Apprenticeship with Young Plumbing and Heating.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are more than 530,000 apprentices in the U.S. and more than 662,000 new apprentices have been registered since 2014. Hawkeye Community College offers four levels of apprenticeship in electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and carpentry.

“Strong apprenticeships rely on a solid three-way partnership between students, employers, and the college,” said Jerry Orr, trade and industry coordinator for Hawkeye Community College Business and Community Education. Apprentices are sponsored or employed by a local business, providing them on-the-job training that pairs with classroom instruction.

Apprenticeships are a sound business plan, with studies showing a $1.50 return for every dollar a company spends. They are shown to reduce turnover costs, increase employee retention, and serve as a flexible, industry-driven training model. Currently more than 170 Hawkeye apprentices are working and learning at more than 60 Cedar Valley companies.

“The benefits of participating in an apprenticeship program are extremely high,” said Ellie Mollenhoff, who recently completed her Plumbing Level 4 apprenticeship with Young Plumbing and Heating. After completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she knew she didn’t want to go to graduate school and incur more debt. Like McGhee, Mollenhoff wanted a hands-on career with the hands-on training to match. An apprenticeship seemed like the perfect option.

GROWING DEMAND Apprentices enrolled in Hawkeye’s program: 2013: 88 2014: 93 2015: 94 2016: 101 2017: 120 2018: 172“Apprenticeship programs allow people to gain experience in their field and be trained by other journeymen or journeywomen who are skilled in that trade,” Mollenhoff said. “The abilities and knowledge I have obtained before getting my license are extremely valuable.”

The U.S. Department of Labor recognizes more than 1,000 apprenticeships, including business, healthcare, and information technology. Orr says while Hawkeye’s current programs fall under the construction trades family, the possibilities for new apprenticeships are nearly limitless.

“It’s really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to apprenticeship opportunities,” he said. “It’s an age-old model, but one that has adapted well to meet the modern demands of business and industry.” 

Jason Staker

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“It’s really nice to work full-time and get your education… It’s a great program, with an easy schedule and friendly teachers.”

Jarrod Barker
Level 3 Electrical Apprentice
Employer: Tatroe Electric




“We have a family business and eventually I want to take over someday. This is the starting point. Apprenticeship is really helpful to get a foot in the door and helps you prepare for the journeymen test.”

Adam Bachman
Level 4 HVAC Apprentice
Employer: Fairbank Plumbing and Heating



“I would recommend apprenticeship because you have no debt for college, as you are sponsored by a company,” says Johnathan McGhee, Level 4 Plumbing apprentice sponsored by his employer, Dalton Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, Electric and Fireplace, Inc. “You get paid to learn the trade.”

Johnathon McGhee
Level 4 Plumbing Apprentice
Dalton Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, Electric and Fireplace, Inc