Applying for a union apprenticeship can be an arduous process. Most applicants have no idea what a union entrance exam will cover, or even what qualities unions are looking for. Truthfully, every union is different in positive and negative ways in terms of who they take into their apprenticeship programs. This is the general process.

1. The Hiring

Apprentices can be hired at any time depending on the needs of the trade and how many individuals are on the waiting list. If you apply to a union and never hear back from them, don’t be discouraged. Just like any other job, keep after it — you still need to sell yourself.

Keep in mind that if you live in an area of the country where there is very little need for skilled tradesmen, you may find that your local union is accepting very few new apprentices. Conversely, if you live in an area with high demand for skilled labor, you may find that you get called back immediately, depending on your entrance exam scores and your aptitude in the trade union you applying to.

2. Academics

Becoming a union apprentice is the union saying to you that they feel you are a worthwhile investment and that you have a promising future as a member of their union. Gone forever are the images of the itinerant dock worker with a third-grade education.

Unions today are looking for the best and brightest candidates they can find. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to have prior experience in order to join a union. You are applying for an opportunity to learn a trade, not necessarily to work immediately in that trade.

Having prior experience helps, but it is your ability to absorb the apprenticeship curriculum that they are banking on. Unions love applicants with college credits and a proven track record of academic achievement. College students are also less likely to be academically rusty as the apprenticeship begins.

Applicants with nothing but experience in their work background may not have seen the inside of a classroom since high school and may have a harder time in the classroom setting.

3. Entrance Exam

Union entrance exams cover a variety of academic subjects, including mathematics, reading comprehension, vocabulary and mechanical aptitude. Taking time to study these subjects prior to taking the exam will only serve to improve your results.

Entrance exams are usually timed and it is entirely possible to pass the test without answering all of the questions. Focus instead on giving accurate answers.

Once you have passed the exam you still have to convince the union to accept you. Other than the obvious necessity to be early to the interview and dressed appropriately, an apprenticeship interview will most likely be a mixture of formal and informal questions. Informal questions may be directed toward how active you are, but what they are really asking is whether or not your body can stand up to rigors of a full workday. If they ask what your hobbies are, they are really trying to find out what skills you have.

4. Interview Questions

Letting them know that you routinely exercise and stay fit is a good way to address these types of questions. You also enjoy working on domestic projects in your off hours that involve skills such as plumbing, electrical or mechanical work.

This lets them know that you have a passion for the trade and want to make it your career. Formal questions may involve your academic records and why you want to join a union.  Having good grades definitely helps and highlighting any achievements or awards is also beneficial to mention. If your grades were bad, you may have to make a case for why you will be a better student as an apprentice.

As far as why you want to join a union, never say, “Because I want to make more money.” Instead, let them know your desire to learn a valuable skill and be a part of a brotherhood of workers with the support and structure unions offer.

Getting into union can be tough. You need to be smart, talented and dedicated to learning a new trade. If you do not get in on your first attempt, keep trying. In many cases, special consideration is given to applicants who come back and try again. If you are willing to put in the hard work and serious preparation, there is no reason why you can’t be a proud member of your local union.

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