Tips for Mentoring an Apprentice
Suddenly a young person approaches you and asks you to take them on as an apprentice. What’s your first response? Many contractors are reluctant to take on the responsibility. What about you?
If you’ve never done it before, mentoring an apprentice can seem like a drawback. Maybe you feel like you don’t have the time. Possibly you feel it’s not worth the effort. Or maybe it’s a bit intimidating and you don’t feel like you have the skills to do it.
So why should you do it anyway? There’s a lot of great reasons and they’re beneficial to both you and your apprentice.
The Joys of Teaching
The opportunity to teach and share your knowledge can be extremely rewarding. Yes, there are frustrating days. But with an apprentice, we’re talking about someone who wants to be there and wants to learn. No, they’re not always going to be perfect, but they have made the decision to pursue your trade and aren’t being forced into this. That definitely makes life easier!
One of the great things about working with an apprentice is knowing that there are still people generally interested in your trade. Sometimes it can seem like we’re the last of a dying breed. There’s so much emphasis on getting at least a four-year degree and becoming a “professional.” It seems at times that no one is going into the trades. And there’s some truth to that. Many young people don’t realize they can make a good living in the trades. And the percentage of high school students interested in the trades has declined over the past 30 years.
But having an apprentice around reminds us that there are still people out there interested in what interests us. That’s encouraging, especially when the apprenticeship shows a lot of enthusiasm and desire to learn. Sure, they’re going to have bad days too when they don’t feel like being there. Just remember, though, that they’ve chosen to be there anyway. With you to teach them.
Tips for Working with an Apprentice
Maybe all you need is a few tips to convince you to accept an apprentice. These will help you know how to handle the task. That can make it a better experience for both you and them. Also, just this little bit of information here might make you more confident in being a mentor.
Remember we all started somewhere
Your apprentice might not know much. But that’s the whole point. He or she is there to learn, even if it’s from the ground up.
You too had to start somewhere. Maybe earlier or maybe even later. At some point you knew nothing about your trade, too.
This flows directly out of the last point.
It takes time to learn. And everyone learns things in different ways. Don’t give in to frustration. Give your apprentice time to learn and get the hang of things. Don’t expect them to be on your level right away.
It’s important to allow for questions. But it’s easy to get into a groove and start lecturing and not come up for air. Questions highlight where the apprentice is struggling. They give you an idea of what you need to explain better.
Plus, questions can also make you think about things in a new way. Maybe they’ll highlight a new angle or way of doing things that you’d never considered!
Of course, it’s key that you make yourself available to the apprentice. We know; you’ve got a lot to do. But don’t neglect this person who’s come to you because they respect your abilities.
Set time aside for them so they can ask questions. As far as possible, try to have an open door policy. While there have to be some limits, it’s also important that they can turn to you for advice about pursuing the trade and overcoming obstacles.
Reassure the apprentice
You don’t have to be all touchy-feely, but you should still compliment your apprentice. Let them know what they’re doing right. Give them an “attaboy” when they deserve it.
They may come to you with doubts about aspects of the job – or even about whether they’ve made the right choice of a trade. Encourage them.
Of course – honesty is important too. If you can fairly say they’re not cut out for the work, then it’s important to let them know. That can be the toughest conversation of all. If for whatever reason – physical, intellectual or whatever – they won’t cut it in the long run, sit down with them and explain why. If possible give them suggestions of where they might work better.
Set a good example
As a tradesman and a human being, you’re probably doing things right. But be especially careful to set an example for your apprentice. This doesn’t mean you have to act like an angel. But be sure to work ethically.
Your apprentice is not only learning your trade. Most likely, they’re also learning how to get by in the working world. So set an example of ethical work. Model for them how to interact with clients. Don’t cut corners or pad estimates. Be punctual. Do all the things you normally do that make you a respected contractor, and you’ll have this point covered.
And You Benefit, Too!
An apprenticeship is primarily about the apprentice learning the trade, of course. But it can benefit you and your company as well.
We mentioned a couple benefits above. You get to see young tradespeople starting out. That can be really refreshing.
You also get to think about things you haven’t thought about in years. And maybe you’ll even be thinking about them in new ways. By teaching someone else, you’ll refresh skills and ideas that you haven’t thought about since you were starting out. You may do them automatically now, but going back to the basics helps us all stay sharp.
Another benefit is the additional helping hand. Yes, it does take some time to do the training. But you also get inexpensive help and a willing body. At the beginning they may be little more than a go-fer but as time goes on they’ll have the skills needed to truly contribute.
Since we work with stamped concrete, we can only speak for our own industry. But it’s important to be aware that in some trades there may be legal requirements and according to provincial, state or local laws.
For instance, in many places trades like electricians and HVAC technicians require licensing, and the traditional journeyman and master designations are used. In some cases you need to be at least a licensed journeyman to mentor an apprentice. Others require a master.
In some trades and areas, apprentices need to be registered, as well. There are also a minimum number of hours they needed to work before moving to a higher level.
These regulations may rarely, if ever, apply for cement masons. However, it’s important to check it out. Your equivalent of a Licenses and Inspections office or Board of Contractors can usually provide the info you need.
Taking on an apprenticeship can be a great opportunity. It not only benefits them but the future of your trade as well. And you yourself can learn a lot at the same time. So do a realistic evaluation of your workload and abilities before making a decision. Don’t shy away from it. Instead, feel flattered and be willing to share your knowledge and experience as a mentor.