To be clear, I am in no way associated with any training organization that promotes apprenticeships. My only qualification to write on the matter is that over a 20 year period I trained apprentices at my Bendigo Workshop building Lightweight A-Class and Taipan Catamarans. Of these apprentices 5 became highly skilled tradesmen, they were terrific employees, and helped my business grow.
Its sometimes suggested that trade apprentice are slave labour. Yes some employers abuse the system, I believe they are fools to themselves and miss the opportunity. In most cases I’m confident that apprentices are a lot better off than paying for a university education up front with no income at all for 4 years.
How I made it work:
The average kid comes in with two left hands, a mobile phone and no idea about the real word. You have just taken over the role of their mother for 40 hours a week.
First priority is make them safe, some basic training in what’s dangerous, what looks dangerous but isn’t and how to tell the difference. (this needs reinforcing as time goes on) Then the basic rules– phone in locker except at breaks, you want their full attention. If they don’t agree to this they don’t want a job!. Be on time (ie ready to start work, not pulling in the driveway!), footwear etc. Put this in writing.
Next is to find a set of suitable jobs, very simple jobs. The aim here is to give them practice at basic skills and using their hands, over and over until they become habit. The jobs initially are very limited in scope, as the weeks go on more complexity can be added, one task at a time. Included in these jobs is cleaning mowing the lawns etc, this is not about saving money on cleaning staff, it’s about:
1. Understanding that every job is potentially their job,
2. Cleaning and keeping the business presentable IS part of the job.
3. Establishing a routine of “always something to do”.
The apprentices that that did this job cheerfully went on to be excellent tradesmen, those that objected were flagging their attitude was not right and always went on to have issues.
After a month or so I found they were too useful to do a lot of cleaning, and this aspect soon became minor. Now I had someone who could do just a few jobs, but do them really well. A good strategy was to have them be that second set of hands in whatever I was doing.
Three months in our apprentice is fully occupied with a limited range of tasks. Time to decide if this is the right person. If they are the right person you will be relying on them, if they are not they will be consuming your time with endless small issues that keep repeating. Look at the attitude, are they prepared to do all jobs cheerfully, do they ask to clarify instructions, and most importantly are they showing steady improvement?
If there are problems at 3 months be sure they will be bigger problems at 6 months. If in doubt let them go, or at a minimum extend the trial period, and make it clear why and what they need to do in the next 3 months to keep their job. Fail to do this and you will spend the next 4 years chasing late comers and telling people to get off their mobile phone.
I always insisted my apprentices attended all their trade school, this sometimes required some flexibility by all parties. I would not allow the college to use recognition for prior learning, my attitude was they were there to extend to the apprentice aspects of the trade I did not have in my workshop, and RPL would be a cop out for the school.
In the later years I allowed others (employees) to supervise the apprentices, this seemed like a good idea, the issue was the training just was not as good, though it was demanding to be personally involved, it did ensure they were trained in the best techniques. This may have been a symptom of a deeper problem I had, but it does show the importance of being totally aware of what’s going on.
Then at the end of their time they magically become a tradesman, now their mastery can start, a good tradesman never stops learning.
What did I get? Useful help that was profitable from 1 month in, a skilled workforce trained in my way of doing things.
What did they get?
An education and qualification that paid them while they learnt.
A win for all.