There are not too many win-win situations, but it seems that apprenticeships can be exactly that. If for a year during your early learning years, you were willing to work for free or for a nominal amount, at a production studio of good repute a) you'd get invaluable "real world" employment training b) hands-on work experience c) a big reduction in education costs. The apprenticing studio would benefit from your contributions and presence. Speaking from experience - it's very good energy for studios to have keen apprentices in the house.
There's a difference between internship and apprenticeship.This difference would appear to mostly have to do with duration and initiation. Most interns we have at our studios come from local colleges and university programs. The interns are paying tuition to the school, and the schools set up the internships. Internship is a very important aspect to post secondary education, and most schools do a good job of it.
Apprenticeship is a longer commitment. In 'the old days', apprenticeships were arranged by family and or local trades and businesses. It was a long term mutual commitment to foster the learning of a trade. It is not a common practice any more, at least not in the Western World - so the trick of course is finding a studio willing to consider having an apprentice for an extended period of time.
You'd probably have to be a self-starter to the extent that you'll be the one reaching out and presenting a case for your apprenticeship at the studios you have scoped out. And you'll probably need to be open to discussing just how the apprenticeship might work. Maybe they need a PA more than a junior modeller or compositor. But being a PA could also give you access and an overview of work going on in the studio and you could still possibly slip yourself into some aspect of active production. In other words be open - opportunities come in many guises.
Do your research on the studios you want to approach. Know the work and know the people. Be inventive, be genuine, be committed, be persistent - but don't be annoyingly persistent. Most of all: know where you draw the line. Make sure you are treated respectfully and that your commitment is honored. Yes - it's a tough economy right now. Yes, the job market is tight. And even if it wasn't, hungry young animators will often put up with some lack of appreciation in order to get a good foot in the door. Hopefully you won't have to.
Before you email us asking for an apprenticeship, remember our studio is SMALL we have only so many workstations and licenses. Having said that, I'm all in for brainstorming approaches for an animation apprenticeship movement. And I sure hope it's not illegal. It seems like such a good thing!
cartoon by Mort Gerberg