While graduates of the IBEW apprenticeship programs are all but guaranteed a good-paying job, the first year can be tough in terms of up-front costs. With books, tools and other supplies, an apprentice in his first year can expect to pay between $1,000 and $1,200 out of pocket. So when Ted Jenkins, training director for the Tulsa, Okla., JATC, learned about a program through the Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that provides financial assistance, he applied.

“When you come in to the apprenticeship, you’re at your lowest pay scale. A lot of times you’re coming from starter jobs that don’t pay well,” said Jenkins, a Tulsa, Okla., Local 584 member. “There’s never really been any help for these apprentices, and it can be a struggle when you first come in.”

Tulsa, Okla., Local 584’s apprenticeship program is taking advantage of a program to help first-year apprentices cover their costs, easing the barrier to entry for many.

More and more, people are touting the benefits of apprenticeships . You learn a marketable skill and get paid while doing so. Unlike a four-year college degree where graduates often emerge with thousands of dollars in debt and precarious job prospects, graduates of an apprenticeship have no such debt. And they will make an average of $50,000 in their first year. Still, that first year can be difficult financially. Not everybody has $1,000 to spend, even if it’s for an investment in their future.

“It’s been very helpful,” Jenkins said. “We don’t want these costs to be a barrier to entry.”

Jenkins says the Tulsa apprenticeship program was the first in the state to apply. They had eight recipients their first year. This year they will have about 15 to 20.

“So far it’s allowed me to save almost a grand,” said Tyler Ford, a first year apprentice “It’s paid for my books and my first year of tools, which I use every day on the job.”

There is no cap on the number of apprentices who can receive funding. As long as apprentices apply to an accredited program and qualify for assistance, they will receive funding.

“My wife and I were kind of tight on money when it was time to pay for books, and it took that pressure off,” said first-year apprentice Ross Peary.

The funding goes directly to the apprenticeship program, which purchases the materials. The money does not need to be repaid.

Since the program is federal, any accredited apprenticeship in the country can apply. Funds are for first-year apprentices only. For further information, Jenkins says trainers can talk with their local workforce, or employment office.

The Tulsa program has been so successful that Jenkins was asked to join the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development. The Council is responsible for allocating funds for programs that ensure Oklahoma’s working men and women are educated and trained for careers in the modern economy. Council members include business and political leaders, and representatives from labor and community organizations.   

“It’s important that we have a say in where the money goes, and to push for apprenticeships,” Jenkins said. “By 2020 more jobs will require some sort of certification beyond a high school diploma, and apprenticeships like the IBEW’s are an excellent opportunity for the right person.”

For more on the Tulsa program, watch this video.

Note: The National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (NJATC) rebranded in 2014 and transitioned into the Electrical Training Alliance.