Apprenticeship isn’t necessarily the first thought when we think about continuing education, but perhaps we need to rethink what it means to be a...

Apprenticeship isn’t necessarily the first thought when we think about continuing education, but perhaps we need to rethink what it means to be a college student today.

Just ask Elise Feldt, a single mom of two who, until four years ago, juggled two jobs trying to make ends meet. Or Shanae Hilliard, a native of Alamogordo, New Mexico, who learned of The Apprentice School from a fellow basketball player who was recruited by The Lady Builders, the Apprentice School’s women’s basketball team.

The Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding is proud to be a leading member of ApprenticeshipUSA, a national effort that recognizes how students like Hilliard and Feldt can benefit from an educational experience other than the traditional college route. The campaign’s mission is to double the number of registered apprenticeships over the next five years. It comes at an important time and is intended to make apprenticeship more viable today than ever.

Countries like Switzerland, Germany and Austria have a much higher density of apprenticeships, ranging from 11 to 14 times higher, than in the United States, where dinner conversations continue to focus largely on the need for higher education, but rarely mention Apprenticeships.

Yet, at The Apprentice School, registered apprenticeships in 19 shipbuilding trades and eight optional advanced programs are offered. The school, with 800 students, has graduated more than 10,000 shipbuilders since its inception in 1919.

Like traditional colleges and universities, The Apprentice School offers a challenging education, professional societies, student organizations and athletics—as well as four associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree in engineering, thanks to partnerships with local community colleges and Old Dominion University. Unlike its traditional counterparts, The Apprentice School offers students real-world experience, full-time employment with a Fortune 400 company from the first day of their apprenticeship, and no student debt.

Despite the fact that students have no obligation to remain with the company after graduating, better than 80 percent of alumni remain with the company 10 years later. This strong affiliation with The Apprentice School and Newport News Shipbuilding has everything to do with the apprenticeship experience.

Hilliard, who fell just four points shy of a 1,000-point career as a Lady Builder, was featured on ESPN when her half-court shot at the buzzer defeated a team on a 16-game winning streak. More importantly, Hilliard was the first female Foundry Molder Apprenticeship to graduate at Newport News Shipbuilding. She plans to continue her career at the company while pursuing a degree in business administration.

Feldt is working toward an associate’s degree in engineering with a specialization in modeling and simulation while earning a paycheck. The best part, she says, is she is still able to be home every night to tuck her two children into bed.

As the nation celebrates its first annual National Apprenticeship Week Nov. 2-8, I encourage parents and students alike to consider the life-changing opportunities offered by The Apprentice School and other registered apprenticeships. These educational opportunities will strengthen the fabric of our nation, form a strong foundation for thousands of lives, and contribute to the stability of our economy during these challenging times.