Apprenticeships everywhere

In my corner of the design world, we’ve been talking a lot about apprenticeships. Some look at them primarily as a way to expand the entry points into the industry again, while others as a means to bridge the gap between today’s formal design programs and workforce readiness. I’m a big fan, and would love to get the chance to build one within a distributed company.

But I admit that when I first heard of apprenticeships, the idea bothered me. Most people point to trades and guilds when describing their merits, which made me think about today’s bootcamps, which I have some beef with. I don’t like the idea of locking someone into one way of making a living or the creation of a second-class beneath people with a fancy-ass university degree (like me).

But apprenticeship models are everywhere, and not all of them are about teaching you the one thing you will do forever. As a society we’ve also ascribed a large degree of elitism to some. Here are a handful that I’m personally knowledgeable about:

  • In research, you spend time as an assistant, learning how to apply for grants, or build a lab, or handle the peer-review process, before you move onto becoming a principal investigator. You’ve already earned your PhD.
  • In the ballet world, apprentices spend a year dancing and studying roles. This is after being selected from the top of their class after maybe 12 years of training. Not all will end up being asked to join the company.
  • In mental health (my previous life), the time spent working on getting your license is an apprenticeship. In the US, it’s typically the last year of a doctorate. You put in a certain amount of hours seeing patients or clients, on your own, paid, but under supervision.
  • In medicine–the time spent working towards getting your license is an apprenticeship. Much more institutionalized hazing in this system. Also the longest, cheapest by the hour, more debt you take on, and the more it “locks you in” to a specialization early on. Ironically, it’s the most [socially] prestigious one.
  • The Jedi also very yes.

There’s much variation between these examples. The type of person you’ll find, the amount of training leading up, the level of specialization they’re expected to have already chosen, and the risk in practicing without completing the apprenticeship. In all of these examples though, people are paid, people do real work, and people have someone who cares about their success–and the continuation of the craft/practice/discipline–close by. That’s ultimately the point.