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With the Great Resignation underway and ever-changing economic and social conditions, employees are actively looking for more out of their professional lives. Today’s workers want more than just a job to pay the bills — they want a fulfilling career and to work where they feel valued, are invested in and have the means to learn, grow, and advance. 

One of the paths to success in the modern workplace may lie in a traditional art developed in the Middle Ages. Let’s examine the role apprenticeship can play in resolving common problems affecting today’s workforce. 

Why apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship isn’t just for craftsmen in training. A modern iteration of apprenticeship is the process of taking the experts you already have on a subject and using them to educate others in your organization. With more than 80% of organizations facing critical gaps in the skills needed to build resilience during uncertain times, there are increasing pressures on management to train and educate their employees on a continuous basis while still performing their essential job functions. Upskilling is in your employees’ best interests, as well, as doing so will help them ensure their skillsets don’t go obsolete. 

Apprenticeship is an efficient solution to deliver value to your employees without overwhelming your managers. McKinsey and Company highlighted the more democratic nature of apprenticeship over the commonly utilized models of mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship and sponsorship tend to be hierarchical, as the more experienced senior staffers guide greener team members through their careers. 

Apprenticeship, on the other hand, involves anyone with certain expertise or skill, sharing it with others in the organization, meaning a junior-level employee could end up teaching the executive director how to do something new. This approach fosters a culture of learning and teaching throughout the entire organization so all parties can improve their skills continuously.

Benefits of apprenticeship

  • Improved morale: Employees are happier to work somewhere they’re being invested in.
  • Overcome skill gaps: Training and upskilling existing employees is often more cost-effective than making new hires.
  • Promotes learning and teaching: An apprenticeship culture means in addition to learning new skills, teams also teach their own skills to others.
  • Improved retention: Feeling valued at work can help keep employees at their jobs longer.
  • Leads to deeper relationships: Apprenticeship can lead to more adaptable and connected organizations, as everyone is invested in each other’s success and skills-building. 

Bringing Apprenticeship to the Workplace

Any time organizations make system-wide changes, there are bound to be challenges — especially when it includes an organizational cultural shift like apprenticeship. 

Time commitments of apprenticeship

Naturally, your employees may fear that introducing apprenticeship into your organization means their responsibilities and time commitments will increase. Yes, they may love the idea of training and upskilling, but who has the time? To combat this concern, be sure to emphasize that practicing apprenticeship be distributed across the entire organization, relieving time pressures on your most strained groups. 

Encourage your employees to reframe their view of apprenticeship time commitments and see how it can actually be more time-efficient. For example, instead of using their time to complete a task for a colleague, they should invite their colleague to work with them on the project with the intent to educate. After the initial time commitment (which would exist regardless), there is now another expert in the field to assist with future projects. Applied well, apprenticeship culture increases a manager’s ability to confidently delegate work.

Identifying which skills to build

Finally, as an employer, it’s important to identify and communicate which skills are most necessary to the organization’s success. To identify these needs, conduct a holistic audit of which skills are needed to drive value for your business. Once these skills are identified, you can form and execute a tangible plan for skill development. By being specific and targeted in your goals, experts within your organization can better identify the valuable skills they possess, and apprentices will know their time is being invested in developing the skills the organization needs most.

For a deeper dive into adopting apprenticeship, be sure to read “Reviving the art of apprenticeship to unlock continuous skill development” in McKinsey Quarterly. 

Emily Herrington
Post by Emily Herrington
November 10, 2021
Emily Herrington is a New Orleans-based digital marketer specializing in SEO, content, and pay-per-click advertising. She can usually be found at her desk obsessing over data and rankings, or in the kitchen covered in flour.