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The Resiliency of Apprenticeship: Upward Mobility in Today’s Industrial Workplace

02/23/2023 Blog

Today’s industrial workplace will develop tomorrow’s industrial leaders. However, those leaders will not have the simplicity of home-grown group dynamics as enjoyed in previous eras. Today, leaders of skilled craft trades are dealing with and will continue to deal with advancements in technology, which means that being a leader in these industrial spaces will require more ancillary skills outside of a trade to be successful in leading highly effective teams.

The use of modern technology in industrial workspaces includes the use of drones, robots and digital communications between equipment. These enhancements require broader knowledge as an operator in skilled craft trades, and different management techniques by their leaders. For example, arc time for welding can be reported in real time, minimizing the need for rudimentary calculations or hand-written addition and subtraction reporting. These enhancements assist with better planning, goal setting and adjustment to changing dynamics; but only if the individual worker is able to utilize those benefits. Not only will these technological advancements require broader training for the trade person, but their leaders will also have to learn to manage, lead and direct in order to navigate these teams efficiently and effectively.

So, here is the big question: how? How can companies that depend on skilled craft trades ensure that their leaders and followers acquire the training to support these technology enhancements? And how do these companies do so while protecting the bottom line for the stakeholders: ensuring that their goods and services remain competitive in the marketplace and absorbing the cost for training and quality service? For me, the solution ends where the world of education began: apprenticeships!

Yes, I am biased! As a third-generation shipbuilder, a second-generation Army service member, and the first of my family to graduate from The Apprentice School in Newport News, Va, I have a fondness and appreciation for skilled craft trades and education. The Apprentice School is one of the best in the world and I am a proven example that apprenticeships work. Apprenticeships provide students with a chance to learn and perfect a skill, receive relevant classroom instruction, and graduate with an education that is recognized in industries across the globe.

In ancient Greece, an apprenticeship existed between a novice and an expert of a particular trade. An apprenticeship today has a more formal approach but still maintains the needed rapport between expert and novice. In some European countries, apprenticeships continue to be a part of the fabric in their public educational process. In America, apprenticeships have an office within the Department of Labor, which can also provide funding opportunities for participants. “” serves as a “one-stop shop for career seekers, employers, and educators.

It is my belief that the immediate need for the millions of skilled craft trade job openings can be best served by building a plan towards the future, a solution that aims to build a funnel for the fulfillment of these job openings and training needs of our industrial future. My hope is that community college networks partner with small and large companies to better utilize the benefits of the apprenticeship to close the gap. Community colleges are nestled within the pulse of their local educational needs, but most are lacking in the industrial understanding of how to close the educational gap needed to help fill these job openings within skilled craft trades. The triad of education, apprenticeship and industry working together to assist the American skilled craft trade workforce is a “WIN WIN WIN WIN” with the American worker owning the largest portion of the win column.

Industry wins by ensuring that their workforce receives the relevant type of training workers need. Education wins because enrollment numbers will increase by reaching a larger segment of the industrial workforce population not normally seen in higher education as a resource for their educational employment needs. The Department of Labor wins because the funding identified for apprentice programs is effectively put to better use. Lastly, the working class wins by having received apprentice training which helps job seekers qualify for the many job openings in their local communities.

A veteran of a skilled craft trade can develop into a master of a skilled craft trade. However, a master of a skilled craft trade may still struggle with managing/leading a team. Effective leadership requires training. Leading a team of skilled craft trades is going to be different from leading a team of exact science team members. Transformational leadership is what much of the business community utilizes for measuring effective leadership. However, it is my opinion that skilled craft trades are better followers of practitioners who adopt and possess authentic leadership traits. Nonetheless, effective leadership within skilled craft trade industries have huge opportunities for improvement to consider (if they are going to get ahead of the current challenges).

The future industrial leaders of skilled craft trades will not likely hold degrees in physics, accounting, or other common areas of study. These leaders are typically seasoned experts from within the occupation. The benefit of having an industrial leader with an apprenticeship education is the authenticity in the type of education an apprentice receives. For this reason, apprenticeship offerings should be considered by the job seeker, the educator and most importantly – the industry. The growing need to educate, train and develop a qualified and better trained workforce has a solution available in apprenticeship. Apprenticeships can also help with the challenge of educating those future graduate leaders in the technological advancements that are happening in industry.

Becoming an apprentice is not a new concept, but it is a proven path of success towards an industrial education. Education, training, and professional development for an individual or team is expensive. Apprenticeships are still one of the most effective avenues towards educating individuals seeking to learn an industrial skill that can successfully position them to earn a livable wage, a successful future, and upward mobility.

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