Essential elements of a successful apprenticeship

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Hailing from the Middle Ages, apprenticeships have been a way to train, employ and guide the next generation of tradespeople. George Washington was an apprentice.

But as we continue to transition from the manufacturing to the digital age, the definition of “trade,” and therefore an apprenticeship/apprentice, is changing. Apprenticeships are an efficient way to fill the talent gap, provide companies with an influx of much needed job-ready talent and open many industries to those with the ability to become high-performing employees.

Here are the elements that are essential to building a successful apprenticeship.


A major difference between an apprentice and a traditional market-hire is the apprentice has a defined path to demonstrate advancement of technical capabilities and personal growth. The market hire is just another body filling a seat.

A successful apprenticeship will have a well defined structure, from apprentice selection to initial training, and throughout the length of the apprenticeship. There is a repeatable, scalable pathway to grow competencies, both technical and interpersonal, that will result in an exceptional employee. The apprentice is building those skills while providing incrementally increasing value.

Coaching, not mentoring

Part of a structured apprenticeship is the concept of precision coaching. Coaching is often equated to mentoring. But a mentor can only give advice or react to the questions/concerns from the mentee. Often an apprentice is at a point in their career where they might not even know what to ask.

Precision coaching is a guided journey through the apprenticeship. A coach, working with a small number of apprentices, transverses a roadmap of training, lessons, articles, exercises, coaching sessions, etc. that focus on specific skills. These skills progress – in terms of complexity, breadth and depth – as the apprentices grow in their roles. The coach closely tracks apprentice progress and can step in to remediate or course correct if the apprentice isn’t moving through the prescribed journey as expected.

Measurable outcomes

The purpose of an apprenticeship is to provide a new, alternative method to source talent. But, if the program doesn’t deliver employees who produce value, then it’s not a viable option.

An apprenticeship should have longitudinal data that shows its efficacy against other recruiting channel alternatives: colleges, bootcamps, etc. Are the apprentices at a similar skill level and how fast do they surpass alternate models as they move through the structured coaching?

The program should also be able to show, in a transparent way, the apprentices’ progress. Where do they stand in their journey? How does this compare to other traditional hires and against historical data? What is their production in a team environment? These measurable outcomes prove the program works, and works better than alternatives.

With these elements in place, you can have confidence in the rigor of the apprenticeship. As with any new sourcing strategy, you can start small and grow over time. Take on a few apprentices and see what benefits they can offer your organization. We’ll explore those benefits in our next post.

This post is adapted from a Sourcing of Innovation podcast on technology apprenticeships.

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