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Tips on Managing an Apprentice

When I first started working with BuildWithin and learned that I would be managing an apprentice, I was a little apprehensive. I wasn’t sure how managing an apprentice would be different from managing a regular employee. I soon learned it wasn’t much different than managing any other employee with a few key differences.  

Understand the Apprentice Journey

I took the time to understand the apprentice journey and what is needed for someone to graduate from an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships require a minimum of 144 hours of Related Technical Instruction (RTI) that’s coupled with on-the-job training and competency development. Apprenticeships also require a mentor so it is crucial to set up the correct ecosystem for my apprentice to be successful and for me to fully understand the competencies, my apprentices’ curriculum and what’s include in their RTI. 

Set Clear Goals and Expectations

Early on I was very clear with my apprentice on my expectations for him and how much time he should spend learning each day. I defined my management process - how often I expected to meet with him, how often he should plan to meet with his mentor, and any other meetings he may need to attend. I also designed his first project around learning the tools we use everyday and familiarizing himself with our current work and processes needed to complete that work.

Engage and Motivate

I was lucky in that my apprentice was very easy to motivate and engage with. I looked for signs of stalled or projects with little progress and offered support - either from myself or from another team member who perhaps has more expertise in that area. I showed how the projects and the work that my apprentice worked on contributed to the greater team effort and provided him with lots of feedback and praise as necessary. 

Communicate and Provide Feedback

Effective communication and regular feedback are at the heart of a successful apprenticeship. We had weekly check-ins and team meetings that helped monitor the apprentice's progress but also provide a platform for them to voice their concerns or ask for support. As my apprentice became more autonomous, our checkins became biweekly. I also sought and received feedback from other team members on my apprentice’s work and progress, which I shared with him or had them share directly with him. 

Nurturing Skill Development

My general approach for skill development was Shadowing to Doing with Supervision to Autonomy with Feedback. I first had my apprentice shadow my work then assigned him projects in a controlled environment and then real projects with unknowns and many moving parts. We had quarterly competency check ins where we assessed progress on competencies and how to develop skills. In these check ins, we created opportunities to develop new skills or to assign projects that are aligned with my apprentice’s observed strengths.

Post Apprenticeship Transparency

Towards the close of an apprenticeship, I sat with my apprentice and discussed his portfolio of work, his performance and upcoming projects in which he had a vital role in its success. 

Managing an apprentice was not simply a learning journey for the apprentice, but a valuable learning experience for me. I learned so much from the experience - including new insights into how to frame projects in fresh ways, how to encourage the development and growth of everyone on my team - including myself! 

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