I am a big proponent of educating through practice. When looking at the world through this lens the model of apprenticeships is a phenomenal approach to teaching people a profession and a set of skills. The one key ingredient for apprenticeship is to provide and be in the right environment. It is crucial that the company, team and individuals where an apprentice will work are the *right* one. I was very fortunate to have apprenticed at a small company in Germany who cared for their apprentices, provided a base for me to contribute from day one and let me take on responsibilities at break-neck pace to really grow in the early years of my professional life.
My employer didn’t necessarily have a great apprenticeship ‘program’. It was a small company (in silicon valley you would say a startup) and I joined as employee number 13 or so. But they provided an environment where curiosity and willingness to sign up for new interesting work were rewarded through praise, trust, professional acknowledgement and, yes, money (the base-salary was a whopping 650 euros/month. And even though my co-apprentice and I didn’t really do it for the money, the bonus we received for our work was a tremendous addition).
I didn’t realize it back then and to some extent I just was simply lucky to have ended up at that place but as an apprentice it is very very important to pick the right company to work for. I would compare it to picking the right kindergarten or primary school for a child. Especially when just starting out with our professional lives we are largely unspoiled and are a bit ignorant to how things are done in the real world. This relatively clean slate can be a wonderful breeding ground for great contributors, innovators and leaders when feeding it from the right sources. At the same time when companies take on apprentices and don’t care about them and their development to strong individuals and contributors they destroy this great opportunity of paying it forward.
When my brother started his apprenticeship he was excited about his job, the boss and the opportunities ahead. Within less than year he was disillusioned and realized his employer only gave him the shittiest of tasks to do, didn’t invest in him as an individual, used him as cheap labor and even let him work in health-concerning environments. They do not care about being part of developing the next generation of professionals and skilled individuals. He quit his job and will be joining another company after recommendations and more due-diligence on his side.
A friend of mine also didn’t finish his apprenticeship (he apprenticed around the same time as I did). His employer was a large multi-national company. They care about their employees and provide a safe and sound environment but they don’t care about the individuals that go through their program and helping them to really develop to their fullest potential. Companies like that simply operate with the mindset of a huge factory, training the next set of conveyor-belt workers who work from 9-5 without much aspiration to create, be passionate about their work and contribute in big ways. He quit and ended up starting his own (successful) company, which he sold later on.
Of course it is always hard to find a good company to work for. Especially when just entering the work-life one doesn’t yet know what to watch out for. There are more and more programs and initiatives sprouting up in the US that aim to provide a good environment for apprenticeships, specialized and practical training together with companies and support from employers. I am looking forward to seeing parents and individuals realize that there are many other, better, opportunities to educate their children and themselves than there were until now. We have to nurture these alternative ways of education to make them the new mainstream. We just need to make sure the environment we provide is the right one.