What apprentices learn in the workplace
Selena Chan is the recipient of a Prime Ministers Award in Tertiary Teaching Excellence and a member of the Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence.
Two of the blogs I follow provided me with the nucleus of this article. One is from artichoke, a New Zealand educator who writes eloquently and provocatively about the use of technology (ICT) in education. The other is from Stephen Downes, a Canadian academic well known within elearning circles for his daily blog which collates elearning related news.
At the time of reading the above blogs, I had just completed a month of intensive data analysis on interview data towards a PhD. The main objective of the research is to build a model of how apprentices belong to a workplace, become and eventually be bakers. So the blogs resonated with my thoughts and the headspace I was then steeped in.
Stephen Downe’s post (2006) on ‘things you really need to learn’ provided me with a starting point. This was especially in light of what the New Zealand government has planned to do with young people who leave school with no school qualifications or who are in trouble with the law. Both the previous government’s proposal to raise the school leaving age (Stuff, 2008) and the present government’s plan to institute boot camp (NZ Herald, 2009) for young offenders overlapped and contrasted with what I was finding out about how an apprenticeship supplied young people with purpose in their lives.
So here are some thoughts, gleaned from apprentice narratives about what apprentices learn during their indenture:-
Predicting consequences:- when someone is at the bottom of the ladder in a workplace, they very quickly learn how to predict consequences within your defined place in the hierarchy. Basically, they learn the consequences of their actions / or lack of actions very quickly via the way in which bakery products turn out and learn to not take that route again. If they are slow in this area, they have lost their apprenticeship.
Reading:- between their first and third block courses, I often see an improvement in the ability of apprentices to read and write. This is because they have to hone their literacy skills in a meaningful and situated manner. They don’t have to write an essay on a topic they have no clue about but have to fill in forms and complete written work that are important towards becoming a baker.
Distinguishing between truth and fiction:- very prosaic for most apprentices. It either works or it doesn’t! The evidence is concrete in a production focused work environment producing large quantities of product which have to be good quality day after day after day.
Empathy:- I find a developing empathy between young people and their parents and workmates. They come to a realisation that everyone works hard, moans little and gets on with the job. Young people find out that their parents are not lying when they say how hard the workday has been when they themselves put in 12 to 16 hour days in a physically and mentally demanding job.
Creativity:- apprentices really enjoy this aspect of a trade, to be able to put their own stamp on a product (as in finishing it well). It is one of the aspects of their work which provides interest and excitement. The opportunity to have their ideas discussed, to be able to progress their ideas and then actually produce something that looks good, tastes yummy and sells well with a healthy profit is intrinsically rewarding.
Communication:- yes, most have to come to grips with this, otherwise, no one else will speak up for them at work. They have to be able to make themselves heard and learn to succinctly state their case. Otherwise, the boss has other more important things to do.
Learning to learn:- strategies that work in the workplace include working out who to learn best from, when to ask questions and recognising their strengths and weaknesses. Third year apprentices articulated these skills, which for many, was quite a meta-cognitive feat.
Staying healthy:- yup! Bakers have to get to bed early enough in order to get up at 3am to go to work. Bakers have to rest up on day offs to be ready for the next week’s physical challenge. Bakers have to drink lots of water while at work and eat at regular times. Apprentices who would have had no breakfast when they went to school and a lunch of packet chips and a bottle of fizz now apply principles of nutrition learnt at polytech to their own eating habits.
Valuing yourself:- taking responsibility for themselves is one outcome of an apprenticeship. Third year apprentices are planning ahead to extend their career, travel, to widen their horizons before they settle down and have kids! Barely in their 20s and they are planning ahead for themselves and their families.
Living meaningfully:- this comes through in statements like “ I have got a trade now” and “it’s something I can depend on … where ever I go ….. for the next few years …. For the rest of my life…” The trade provides purpose to young people who left school with few prospects along with a vocational identity that they can take pride in.
For almost thirty years, I have observed first year through to third year apprentices attending block courses at CPIT. Most first year novice bakers are still unsure about their role in baking. However by the third year, most are working as supervisors in the bakery. Undertaking the research to track the apprentice journey is a real privilege. It provided the opportunity to dig deeper and to try to fathom some of what goes on during an indenture. Apprentices not only learn the skills, knowledge and attitudes to become bakers but they also learn much about themselves. So instead of more school or boot camp perhaps encouragement into an established trade might be an alternative way to re-engage disenfranchised youth with society.
Artichoke (2008) “I'd love to kiss you, but I just washed my hair...". Retrieved 2nd March 2009 from http://artichoke.typepad.com/artichoke/2008/01/id-love-to-kiss.html
Downes, S. (2006) Things you really need to learn. Retrieved 2nd March 2009 from http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2006/08/things-you-really-need-to-learn.html
NZ Herald (2009) Government boot camps to target 'ticking time bombs' Retrieved 2nd March 2009 from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=10...
Stuff (2008) Clark launches attack early. Retrieved 2nd March from http://www.stuff.co.nz/4381324a6160.html
Adapted from a blog I wrote on 1st February 2008:- http://mportfolios.blogspot.com/search?q=what+apprentices+learn