The Apprentice Mindset to Talent Development

Have you consider adopting an apprentice model for professional development training for your employees? The earn-while-learning premise of apprenticeship programs can easily be applied to more general training and talent development needs. Employees are often sent to classes to learn interpersonal skills in areas such as communication, critical and strategic thinking, conflict resolution, teamwork and collaboration, and leading others. Unfortunately, most of these learning opportunities leave the practical application back on-the-job up to the employee.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines an apprentice as someone who works for an expert to learn a specific skill or job. From early on in history, apprenticeship training for craft skills was utilized to maintain an adequate number of skilled craftsmen.  The North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) along with signatory contractors has funded and operated a skilled craft apprenticeship system for over 100 years. So, it makes sense to apply this model to construction employees across all levels.

The Employment and Training Association (ETA) partnered with the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) to develop a competency model for the Commercial and Industrial Construction industry, based on the foundation of interpersonal skills you can view it here. The model emphasizes the need for professional skill building along with technical knowledge, as vital components to a successful career in the Construction industry. It follows then that we should place similar importance and rigor in learning interpersonal skills as we place on technical knowledge.

In the training industry there are some widely accepted truths about how adults learn most effectively. Adults have varied learning styles; auditory, visual, and hands-on, therefore information should be presented in various ways. Adults are more open to learning and sharing knowledge if they are treated with respect and regard for their prior experience; they learn best when they can relate new information to what they already know. Adults need to see that what they are learning is relevant to their lives, they must understand “why” something is important to know or do. People learn through practice, they need to do and hear things more than one to remember them.

These adult learning principles align neatly with the notion of apprenticeship, learning on-the-job as well as the classroom. Ben Franklin said it best, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” An apprentice approach to interpersonal skill development would help ensure that skills are practiced and improved over time in a more formal manner. Employers create environments where today’s leaders mentor others as they acquire skills, practice, and perfect those skills, similar to the journeyman – apprentice relationship in the trades.  This approach helps ensure that mentors are also learning, and their skills are continuously evolving to meet the needs of the business. The August 16, 2017 blog by the Department of Labor, titled “Building on A Proud History of Apprenticeship”, references studies done by the Construction Industry Institute showing that traditional apprenticeship programs provide a return on investment for employers, in terms of increased productivity, improved safety practices, and elimination of rework. A similar approach for interpersonal skills could also boost productivity, create a culture of continuous learning and professional growth, with existing leaders sharing their expertise and knowledge to grow future leaders in a more structured way. 

It is imperative to have a readily available supply of skilled workers, employers in the construction industry also benefit by a bench of prepared leaders. Interpersonal skills can be more effectively developed through programs that include structured learning coupled with on-the-job training along-side assigned mentors, like traditional apprenticeship programs. This approach could ensure that newly acquired skills are practiced immediately on the job, solidifying and deepening the understanding of the skills. Thus, a workforce that is being prepared at all levels with both technical and professional skills, creating a pipeline of Construction professionals that are ready to climb the leadership ladder.