Importance of coaching in apprenticeships

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Coaching in apprenticeships is so foundational that it’s often overlooked. Since apprenticeships are set up so that an individual is continuously learning while contributing to an organization, why should coaching be treated as a separate or special aspect of that experience?

The answer is that coaching is what turns an average apprenticeship into an extraordinary one. It’s what turns a good apprentice into a great one. Coaching is the behind-the-scenes magic that makes it easier for employers to receive maximum value from their investment, and for apprentices to grow in their roles faster and more effectively.

How we define coaching

When it comes to sports, most people know what a coach does. They establish team strategy, motivate players and call plays.

What we call coaching in apprenticeships is the formal one-on-one interaction between an apprentice and a senior member of the Catalyte (or client) team. That senior member is the coach. They can be, as I am, a dedicated coach. Or, they can be an apprentice’s team lead or client manager.

What’s important is that this relationship is formal with set expectations for both coach and apprentice. There’s mutual understanding of roles and the apprentice always knows who their coach is. Coaching sessions happen at a regular interval, not on an ad hoc basis.

Just as in sports, an apprentice coach establishes “team strategy.” Taking inputs from the client, the coach sets the framework for how an apprentice can advance their skills. Since a coach is most likely working with multiple apprentices, they can also see the bigger picture and how to set apprentices up for success within specific client organizations. This creates a custom strategy both for the employer and the apprentice.

The coach is there to motivate their apprentices. As with any employee, apprentices have their own personalities. Some respond better to praise; others with being challenged. It’s the coach’s responsibility to understand these differences and find the best way to get the most out of each individual.

An apprentice coach is also responsible for “calling plays.” What certifications should an apprentice be working on, due to upcoming project work? Are there specific skills (professional or technical) that they need to focus on improving? What resources should they consult to prepare for the next sprint? These are the “Xs and Os” that will help an apprentice continue to progress in their careers.

What we coach

As mentioned, a coach is responsible for guiding an apprentice to improve both their technical and professional skills. It’s this combination that sets Catalyte apprentices apart from other hires. It makes them well-rounded employees who are as comfortable developing an application as they are demoing it.

For technical skills, coaching really depends on the apprentice’s career pathway or client’s specific tech stack. A software development apprentice may need coaching in skills like Python, Jira, Databricks or React. For digital media, it’s The Trade Desk, Meta or Google ad platforms. It all depends on what the apprentice is currently using and what the client needs them to know in the near future.

Professional skills coaching helps an apprentice succeed in a specific corporate environment. To extend the sports metaphor, you could be the best player in the world, but without the ability to work with your teammates, you won’t achieve overall organizational success.

We coach apprentices on professional skills like managing up, improving communications, conflict resolution, presentations, navigating competing expectations, time boxing, staying independently motivated and asking questions. Anything that will help them become a better employee, the things we could all stand to improve.

Benefits of coaching in apprenticeships

The ultimate benefit of coaching for employers is that they get an apprentice who can hit the ground running and deliver value on day one. That’s because the apprentice has the technical core abilities, can ask questions and has the ability to think critically about things. Coaching helps the apprentice continue to grow throughout their engagement and have a positive attitude about their work. All of this is done with minimal employer time or energy. Catalyte takes on this role and has the systems in place to deliver this value without extra client work or involvement in the process.

For the apprentice, coaching sets a structure for their improvement. They know what’s required of them and have the resources available to up their game. There’s no questions about what they need to do next. And that support, on both a professional and personal level, gives them a greater sense of belonging and ownership of their careers. It helps to reduce distractions like imposter syndrome, allowing apprentices to focus positive energies on their client work.

One of the best parts of my job as coach is when I talk with an apprentice and they tell me about something they’ve done for the client; how they helped to solve a problem, how they made something better for the team. Their excitement in applying their coaching for the benefit of others is inspiring. I love being able to work with our apprentices and see their growth. It’s what energizes me. I’m sure it will energize you, too.

This post is adapted from a Sourcing for Innovation podcast. You can watch a preview of and listen to the whole conversation below.

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