Mentorship in Apprentice Programs

January is National Mentorship Month in the U.S. and Canada!

Mentors can be found in virtually every profession, and mentor/mentee relationships can be formed during any stage of a career. However, more formalized mentor relationships are often found in apprenticeship programs. Skilled trades are typically the most apprenticeable occupations since they require extensive on-the-job training. 

Apprenticeship programs continue to grow in importance and popularity as North America confronts a significant skills shortage as well as the increasing cost of postsecondary education.

For Mentorship Month, we look back on our August 2021 Benefits Magazine article “Successful Mentoring for Apprentices” by Stuart Bass. Following are a few of the highlights about the key role that mentoring plays in formal apprenticeship programs.

Successful mentoring programs typically include a structured working relationship between journeyworkers (mentors) and apprentices (mentees) that includes goals to document progress during on-the-job training. Although some classroom style instruction is usually included, the majority of apprenticeship training happens when practical hands-on skills are taught by journeymen teachers. Additionally, in some settings, the mentor provides training on foundational job skills such as safety, troubleshooting, and effective communication and problem-solving. 

Formal apprenticeship programs can help ensure the effectiveness of the mentorship process by providing a train-the-trainer program for journeyworkers. The training should acknowledge the journeyworker’s knowledge/experience and encourage them to serve as ambassadors for the program and their profession. Additionally, mentor training should include information on styles of learning and examples of how to structure instruction based on each mentee’s needs.

Not all journeymen will have the qualities needed to be a mentor. Apprenticeship sponsors should have a selection process that includes discussing the journeyman’s desire to share their knowledge, good communication skills, positivity, strong problem-solving abilities and empathy.

Effective mentors fill many roles, including teacher, guide, counselor, advisor, motivator, coach, role model, door opener and referral agent. Of course, these roles vary and evolve with each mentorship relationship. 

Mentors also grow personally and professionally from a mentorship program. They build their leadership and management skills, feel the satisfaction of giving back to their profession by building more skilled workers and often learn from their mentees as well.

Some employers are concerned that apprenticeship/mentorship programs are expensive and that journeyworkers may be less productive while serving as mentors. However, the long-term ROI should far outweigh any financial concerns. In addition to growing a more skilled workforce, mentorship is regularly proven to develop loyalty and engagement. This improved retention rate should result in savings for recruiting costs.

Ideally, mentoring should support diversity and inclusion efforts for the sponsoring organization. Today’s employees and apprentices are comprised of people from different genders, age groups, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. Mentorship provides the opportunity for the mentor and mentee to develop mutual respect and appreciate the differences in their backgrounds and experiences. The structure of formal mentorship programs can allow for more successful apprenticeship for employees from traditionally underserved populations.

Mentorship has a multitude of benefits for the apprentice, the journeyworker and the organization. The structure of a formal mentorship program allows mentors and mentees to cultivate a relationship that’s productive and advantageous to all involved.

Mentoring is beneficial in all sectors and repeatedly demonstrates the power of sharing knowledge and skills between employees in different stages of their careers. Apprenticeship programs that include a formal mentorship component as part of the training process experience increased success. As North American trades organizations need more trained employees, mentorship programs could be a key factor in filling the skills gap. 

The International Foundation has extensive resources on apprenticeship programs including best practices and regulatory updates on our website. Want to know more about the current apprenticeship landscape? Stay tuned! Our 2022 Top Trends in Apprenticeship Programs survey results will be released in a few weeks.

Cara McMullin
Communications Specialist

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