From education to employment

A culture for supporting apprentices

Alone in a room with a computer, Harriet (not her real name), is sat in front of a computer panicking. She has no idea what to do or what’s expected of her, she’s been told to ‘do the marketing’ and given no guidance. Harriet is a Digital Marketing Apprentice and has been taken on by a company, who like many others, like the idea of a cheap employee. She has not been given an induction, just a series of passwords for the company’s social media accounts and a briefing on what the company does.

And she is not alone; the same story is repeated in giant companies, all the way down to micro-businesses taking on an apprentice. I come across many horror stories whilst delivering the National Apprentice Mentoring Qualification, and they all stem from the same basic problem, much of the workforce do not know how to work with apprentices.

We would all agree that working in the apprenticeship sector is a moving feast of political agenda and finances at any one time. However, the core point of apprenticeships is all about teaching people work skills on the job. Whether it is a new entrant, or an existing employee doing an advanced course, this basic fact remains the same, they are there to learn new skills.

Now the BIG difference is that for many new entrant apprentices this includes learning life and employability skills, in addition to the work skills – a triad of needs that many managers don’t realise. Those experienced in supporting apprentices will recognise the impact social lives and emotions have on an apprentice’s work.

The Work Triad begins with life skills, which are a prerequisite to employability skills, which in turn are required to perform well in work skills:

Life skills – attitude, resilience, emotional intelligence, personal care and hygiene, friendships skills (including falling out with people and making up with them), hobbies or interests, motivation.

Employability skills – time-keeping, getting on with colleagues, appearance, work ethic, boundaries, basic tasks like phone answering or emailing, carrying out mundane or boring tasks, following instructions, speaking to different people.

Work skills – specific to the job you do.

Most new employees come with the first two, most have previous work experience and so understand the simple expectations of an employer. Apprentices don’t come out of the packet like that, there’s a great deal of nurture and expectations needing to be bred.

There’s the apprentice who didn’t even think to tell their boss that his train had been cancelled and he wasn’t going to be in the office.

Then there’s the apprentice who has no idea how to do what they’ve been asked, but feel stupid for asking so they just occupy their time with other things and avoid the task until their manager tells them off for not doing it.

There’s the apprentice, who spends hours each day on the tasks she enjoys, and says they forgot when asked about the other work they are meant to have done.

All of these stories are common place, but without the right culture, normal employee expectations would be applied and each would end with a failed placement.

So whether you are a training provider or an employer, here’s a few things that you need to consider about the culture of the managers working with your apprentices:

  • Make sure they are trained for how best to support those life and employability skills;
  • Foster respect for apprentices – their home life will affect the way they work;
  • Help them to be transparent with decisions – nurture the apprentice’s respect for their managers;
  • Ensure the manager checks that they know how to do something before leaving an apprentice to do it;
  • Remind them to check in with their apprentices regularly and ask if they need anything from you;
  • Make sure everyone takes the time to explain the ‘unspoken’ customs in your workplace;
  • Involve other members of the team in supporting the triad of skills;
  • Give apprentices guidance about what to do in their off-the-job training, don’t just leave them to it.

If you are a manager mentoring apprentices, then download our free checklist to make sure you are doing everything recommended.

Richard Daniel Curtis, Behaviour expert and CEO of The Mentoring School

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