Apprenticeships are having a bit of a moment. Gone are the days when being an apprentice meant leaving your home and living alongside your master mentor. Now they are a mix of practical skills, qualifications and work experience.
Yet apprenticeships, in a form that we’d recognise today, have existed since the later Middle Ages when living alongside your mentor for seven years was the norm.
But the apprentices serving two centuries ago would have had a very different experience to that of young people today.
And in 2018 apprenticeships are fast becoming a viable alternative to university degrees and they now exist in many different sectors – from health care to IT and from digital media to law and accountancy. Many apprenticeships are now aligned to degrees in every way.
So why hire one or even become one?
Developing key employability skills is a lifelong process, especially those needed for the new world of work. Everyone now needs to be digitally savvy, regardless of their career path. However, according to research by the World Economic Forum among 350 of the world’s leading organisations, there will be a continuing demand for high-value skills like critical thinking and complex problem solving.
This will go along with a growing need for distinctly human skills such as creativity and emotional intelligence as we look to 2020 and beyond. And we all need to become more agile and responsive and to be adaptable to changes in both technology and workplace culture.
I believe apprenticeships, in particular, help to build those key skills in a faster and more relevant way than university study. Many training providers working with apprentices now advocate experiential learning for apprentices involved in leadership development, where they can face challenges in a safe environment.
And any apprenticeship will naturally involve team-working, time management, honing communication skills and problem-solving because this is all part of the workplace. A university simply cannot replicate these kinds of learning opportunities.
By the time graduates leave university they consequently have not built up these sorts of skills whereas apprentices have been able to develop these over a period of time before they start work.
And that is important because developing soft skills requires a reflective approach, opportunities to build self-awareness and to understand what works and what doesn’t work and to do all of this in a safe environment.
Perhaps there is some way to go and apprenticeships may need to provide more opportunities for this reflective approach. It’s not enough to simply have situations where you work as part of a team. You also need facilitation and support to reflect on what you contribute to a team or where you might do things differently.
This is where a lot of training falls down...
There are great problem-solving activities and real-time on-the-job problem-solving situations but less focus given to the reflection process.
For me the perfect training scenario to build soft skills and self-awareness is a short experiential learning exercise – something, for example, that allows you to go out of your comfort zone right there in that exercise and then a longer period of self and peer-reflection to raise awareness of how adaptable we are.
Only then can we start to look at strategies to become more adaptable day-to-day and then integrating that skill into our wider working patterns.
About Emma Sue Prince
Emma Sue is author of The Advantage – the 7 key soft skills you need to get ahead published by Pearson Business. She has designed an experiential learning workshop based on these skills: adaptability, empathy, integrity, optimism, being proactive, critical thinking and resilience and is currently licensing trainers to deliver these.
Emma Sue provides consultancy in emerging economies and travels regularly to India, Bangladesh and Tanzania advising on a range of large funded projects. She runs a free membership site – Unimenta – for practitioners working in soft skills. When not working Emma Sue runs a local gospel choir in her home town of Godalming, Surrey and is an avid baker.