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The Magic of Developing Apprentices


March 5, 2018

Isn’t it great when you see people develop, perform and achieve at work? It’s magic!

So, how can senior managers use that magic to get involved in the development of the apprentices in their organisations? Here are some of the ingredients:

  • MBWA: as in the photo above, it’s ideal if senior managers can go to chat with apprentices about their work and development at their workstation. Walking the job (Managing By Walking About – MBWA), is a fundamental and vital practice for connecting with all team members. However, many senior managers will avoid connecting with apprentices because they have yet to find ways to overcome the perceived differences in knowledge, skills, experience, perspectives and (sometimes) age between themselves and an apprentice.
  • Ask for their ideas: apprentices will have different perspectives, fresh knowledge and maybe the naivety that enables them to offer new ideas for the way the organisation works. During my industrial placement as a student, I remember taking a train journey with my Business Line Director after a site visit who asked me directly what strategic actions I would take next if I had his job. My goodness, it was a stretching question! I offered him my views and I felt listened to and I felt important.
  • Provide clear feedback: in the early stages of a new career – in a technical role or even in a change to a management apprentice role – the effects of clear, performance enhancing feedback are long-lasting and impactful.
  • Take them ‘under your wing’: for the apprentice, knowing that there is someone more senior who is truly interested in their development, looking out for them and can provide some advice will provide them with the solid foundation to build confidence, be bold and focus on the goals they want to achieve at work.
  • Be a Mentor: building on the above ingredient, it’s really useful and rewarding for apprentices to have a formal mentor to work with. It’s worth proposing, designing or taking part in a programme in your organisation.
  • Create development opportunities: we know that people develop on the job and from formal ‘education’ opportunities. These are part of formalised apprenticeship schemes. In addition, people develop when they are exposed to situations that will stretch them or will expand their perspectives on the organisation or operation they’re part of. For example, how about taking an apprentice to a senior management team meeting? They can witness what is discussed, the nature of topics being addressed, the complexity (or not!) of leading the organisation and give you their views.
  • Act as an equal: job titles and hierarchy can get in the way! Apprentices can view senior managers as kinds of distant ‘sorcerers’ who seem to do some mystical or mysterious things in their roles. I don’t think it’s giving away any secrets to say that this isn’t true! The most productive relationships are human to human, adult to adult. Some apprentices will be the senior managers of tomorrow – treat them as such.

This week I’m taking part in an event at a local secondary school to support the students in finding out more about careers and job roles. Some of these young people will be apprentices in future. As senior managers, let’s make sure that their time at work is full of magic!

Rob McWilliam is a coach, facilitator and consultant at Change Formation. He develops leaders and their teams so that they are assured, bold, competent and determined to succeed. He integrates senior management development with his clients’ in-house mentoring programmes to support the development of people throughout organisations.

Change Formation is an ILM Approved Centre and runs programmes and workshops that can be used as core learning in apprenticeship schemes.

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