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5 Layers of Learning for a Modern Apprentice

Apprenticeships, trade training and indentured service under a skilled master or journeyman are age-old concepts that pre-date recorded history. For thousands of years it was common for pressure to be placed upon one that showed a skill, talent or trade to bear the responsibility of passing on their knowledge to a younger generation. In a lot of cultures throughout history, it was mandated that one could not receive payment for their services unless they had involved an apprentice in the work. These practices safeguarded villages and societal structures from future skilled-labor shortages, with master and apprentice working side by side in an ongoing cycle of learning and teaching.

In my career at Faith Technologies, I have been blessed to work with so many wonderful folks willing to take the time to teach me the trade and build the skills needed for my success. Unfortunately, not everyone has a strong resource available to ask questions every time they have one. A lot of times as an apprentice, you must wait until you’re sitting in a classroom before you’re able to connect the dots of learning. The delay between the struggle in the field and finding resolution and understanding in the classroom is just too long.

The construction, energy and electrical industries are changing quickly, so our solutions to having training available and ready to deploy must be faster to grow our skilled labor of the future at a strategic pace. Here are five strategies that we recognize as being key to achieving a world-class training program.

  1. Learning by Doing: There is no substitute for experience. Most of our learning comes from simply doing the tasks and learning best practices as we go. Our peers and co-workers are comprised of a mix of differing experiences and skill levels to ensure that you always have somebody to learn from and you always have somebody you can teach.
  1. Field Instruction: “Plan your work, work your plan,” right? How often are we looking at our plan and asking, “Does my team have the necessary knowledge to perform all of these tasks?” When we’re planning out our work one to three weeks in advance, we identify these learning opportunities and pencil in the time for some just-in-time training. Whether it’s gathering around a computer, sending out a video link or bringing in an expert, taking this time is critical to performing work safely, and productively!
  1. Virtual – Self Paced: What better time to learn about concepts like load calculations, electrical theory, fiber optic transmission fundamentals or National Electrical Codes than shortly after performing related physical work relevant to those topics? If you’re an electrical apprentice tasked with pulling and installing wire all week, I doubt there’s much time to stop working to discuss voltage drop calculations or the theory behind why we do what we do. Tracking daily tasks and aligning them with relevant virtual training is key to getting the learner to care more about the subject matter.
  1. Virtual – Instructor Led: After we’ve learned by doing and learned from peers and mentors on the job, there comes a time where you need to sit down, off the jobsite, and go deep on a subject with other learners while being led through the content with an industry expert. Having the opportunity to ask your bigger picture questions and get answers in real time isn’t something we’re often afforded while in the field. Having access to the people and the tools necessary to allow this across geographic regions is critical to success.
  1. Lab and Classroom: Finally, having the tangible experience of going to the expert, surrounding yourself in a learning environment and getting your hands on tools and equipment that are difficult to find in the field may be the least timely of strategies and have the highest cost of effort, but it has a very high yield on learning. Lab settings should not expertly recreate what can be commonly found on the jobsite, but should instead be a sandbox to explore concepts and execute new-found levels of understanding within an intrinsically safe environment.

As a technical training manager at Faith Technologies University, my team and I are working hard to deploy these strategies at our locations across the country to make our training offerings timely, relevant and efficient. I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts and let me know what you see when you picture the learning path of the apprentice of the future.