How to Build a Modern Apprenticeship

apprenticeshipsLast week I wrote about apprenticeship, the ancient business strategy that I recommend every modern manager use. But, ahem, not all managers read my blog and even the most well-meaning managers don’t always follow best practices when it comes to training and coaching employees. (And yes, I know it’s weird to write about apprenticeship when this is going on…)

While you can’t change your manager’s willingness to teach, you can change how you decide to learn. If you’re craving the benefits of an old-fashioned apprenticeship, here are some ways to seek it out, even if no one is offering it to you.

Ask for examples

Does your manager return your draft email with vague feedback like “it’s too long”? That probably invites a lot of questions that you ask yourself, when no more information is forthcoming: How long is too long? Two paragraphs? Five? Would she prefer no summary at the end? What was the extraneous information?

It’s helpful for your supervisor to provide models of exactly what she prefers, but sometimes you have to ask. You can politely say, “I understand my emails are too long, but what would you consider an ideal length and format? Could I see an example of an email that is the right length?” Or, “I’m always trying to improve my email game. Could you BCC me on emails that you think would be instructive in terms of tone and content?”

It’s perfectly fine to delve deeper into curt directions with a request to see models that hit the nail on the head. Your manager is likely to appreciate that you’re taking her feedback seriously.

Study someone from afar

Tony Robbins is one of the most respected business experts of our time. But even he is focused on continuous improvement, and when he wants to do something new, he finds people who are the best at what they do so he can learn from them.

Sometimes you have to take it upon yourself to find your own ways to be “apprenticed,” and they don’t have to be within your company. You can learn from people you don’t even know.

Now, keep in mind that apprenticeship is different from finding a mentor. Mentoring is about asking questions: What are you doing? Why are you doing it that way? Apprenticeship is often more about observation — quietly watching.

So find someone whose style you admire and watch them on Twitter. See how someone with whom you’re working on a project interacts on Slack. Become a voracious reader, a watcher of TED Talks or a conference attendee to identify and learn from professionals whose style you admire.

Find different role models for different skills

Just like with mentors, you might approach the apprentice puzzle from the standpoint of having a “board of advisors.” A supervisor might give admirable sales presentations, while a former professor might know just how to engage in a thoughtful but personable way on social media.

Not one person is perfect at everything, so finding a group of people who are “best in class” at each skill or behavior will allow you to study and emulate the best in the business — from near or far.

Have you ever created your own apprenticeship? What’s something crucial you’ve learned by watching and observing? Let us know in the comments below.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

2 Responses to “How to Build a Modern Apprenticeship”

  1. Daniel Villao

    Very insightful comments. Having spent a career helping business leaders discover the value of formalized registered apprenticeship I really appreciate the insight of moving beyond a mentorship into a saturated learning environment.
    Apprentices learn by observing and then putting into practice knowledge obtained in the work experience as well as through technical instruction, and your observation that self identifying experts to help you create access to proven knowledge providers hits right on the money.
    Thanks for pointing to apprenticeship as a valuable career development model. I hope you also get a chance to talk about its value as a leading edge business model as well. #ApprenticeshipWorks!

    • Lindsey Pollak

      @Daniel – Thank you very much for the comment and positive feedback! I’m glad to know about ApprenticeshipUSA. – Lindsey


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