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Why Employees and Employers Should Invest in Apprenticeships

By Jacquelyn Adams

Sometimes I get a little wistful thinking of the days when a master of a trade would take on apprentices, eventually training one, in particular, to take over their trade. Of course, I appreciate our progress in gender equality, hygiene and technology. Still, there is something to be said about the relationship, loyalty and mentorship that could arise in this old system. So together, let’s ask the question, what would happen if we embraced this old-world mentality of apprenticeship and sought to find our replacement?

Investment Creates Loyalty

There is a common fear that after you have invest in an employee, they will take their newly cultivated skills to a competitor. No one wants to invest, only to end up feeling like someone took advantage of them. It is a risk we have to acknowledge. But as the dialogue about workplaces is changing, the nature of this risk is changing as well. Employees are looking for employers that appreciate them, invest in them and foster growth. If we have a healthy workplace, we are much more likely to desire to retain that relationship. While the paycheck is still obviously important, that is now only one aspect of the conversation. The more employees feel like they are a valued part of the unit, the more likely they are to stay. So, while this risk will never disappear completely, it is certainly less relevant than it previously was.

Skip the Schaden Freude

On a more personal note, we have all heard people talk about going into retirement or on vacation and “forlornly,” saying everything fell apart without them. The amount of pride emanating during this type of conversation can be nauseating. They presume that they are the ones who can keep things running, and they feel the glory of the superiority that comes along with that idea. If we are solid mentors, and are actively engaged in raising individuals who will replace us, we will not experience that. We will have to make peace with the fact that while we are appreciated in our role, we are not irreplaceable. We will have to prioritize the good of our organization and those around us more than that stroking of our ego.

Replacing Yourself Too Early

Let’s address the more personal elephant in the room. What if, instead of taking their skills to a competitor, your protege takes your job before you are ready to give it up? Yes, there is a risk of a horizontal promotion, or facing an early retirement, not of our choosing. It might not be our first choice, but it could happen just the same. If so, it is understandable to feel frustration, hurt or a host of other negative emotions. Still, we have the opportunity to accept this risk with open eyes. If we have a healthy work/life balance, and our identity is not solely rooted in our job, then there is room for us to adjust and eventually thrive in this change. But if even considering this possibility stirs feelings of betrayal, then our work/life balance might need some examination. Accepting this risk with open eyes allows us to foster pride for our mentorship, instead of bitterness for our replacement.

Raising Up Leaders

Now that we have addressed the primary risks and potential complications, let’s talk about the positive side of “what happens when we find our replacements?” As a mentor, as the master taking on an apprentice, what does this mean for you? Well, it means that you can:

  • Force balance – We recognize that we will not work forever, and that there will come a day when someone will take over our position. By embracing that future, we can have a healthier today, cultivating a life outside of our work,
  • Seek community – Whether we are the custodian, CEO or anywhere in between, when we raise other individuals, we are allowed to embrace our place in the whole. While some might refer to this as a cog in the machine, it can be so much more. It can be our community, and as such, we can strive for the best for those in our community.
  • Leave a legacy – As we mentor people looking for the protégé we will recommend to fill our role someday, we can touch the lives of many “apprentices.” To leave a legacy of cultivating leaders, and a lasting stamp on the business that is far longer reaching than any schaden freude pride.

Reviving this old-world master/apprentice mentality comes with risks. Still, to me, at least, it seems like many of these risks could counterbalance problems within our culture. Mentoring “apprentices” provides us opportunities for us to fight against our looking-out-for-number-one mentality, celebrate our place in our community, and seek the value of those around us. So, I hope we can consider taking a risk on those around us and strive to raise up leaders.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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