As an ex-teacher, the apprenticeship program is something that I have a lot of thoughts an opinions on. Here at STaC Solutions we're six months in to working with our first apprentices. As we reach this half way point, I took the time to reflect about the benefits of having an apprentice. In this opinion piece, I want to discuss the benefits we've seen from the program, and maybe help others discover if it's the right choice for them.
If you're thinking about an apprentice, the first question to ask yourself is "what can your business offer an apprentice?". It's important to remember that an apprenticeship is an alternative to a collage course or a degree. The very first thing you should think about it whether you will be able to provide your apprentice with a quality educational setting while they're working with you.
The idea that I hope to challenge is the common mistake that an apprenticeship is an alternative to a junior position. If what you need is a junior developer, the business needs to pay for a junior developer. The focus with an apprentice should be on the education and skills that you are able to teach them during their time with you.
You therefore need to ask if you have the time available to be able to provide this support, if you are at capacity and after an extra pair of hands to help lighten the load - an apprentice is probably not the right choice for your business. Apprenticeships are a start from scratch learning opportunity, which means that you need to be able to have the time to provide this.
What this meant for us was dedicating the time to teach our apprentices how to learn for themselves. We introduced them to the resources available, and modelled how we solved problems. The focus was on the diagnostic skills to find what the problem is and the research skills to find how to solve that problem. If you want your apprentices to work independently, first you need to teach them the skills to be successful.
You should also consider if you have the right culture for an apprentice. As this is a learning position, apprentices need to be able to have a go, and fail. Mistakes will happen, and in fact are an incredibly important part of the learning process. What is the culture of responsibility like in your work place? Are apprentices going to be able to fail without shame? You need to have a "psychologically safe" environment that allows for mistakes to be learned from.
At STaC Solutions we are seeing the benefits of investing into apprentices. It brings fresh perspectives and energy. Nothing breaths life into an old project like seeing the excitement someone experiences when they finally crack a difficult problem! Apprentices bring new ideas and perspective that need to be valued and encouraged by the team.
Having an apprentice also allows you to pass down your own knowledge and the journey that you've been on, which essentially means that you can build your dream team. As you're starting someone's learning journey from scratch, you can nurture the specific skill set and values that are going to best align with your businesses' vision, and can therefore help push your business faster in this direction.
Taking on an apprentice is a challenge for a business, but one that we have found incredibly worthwhile. The investment that we have put into our apprentices is more than paying off as we see them becoming an integral part of the team.