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Managing apprentices: Simple supervision suggestions for success

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Now that the fall semester has started, here are a few things to consider when your apprentices are in school.

New apprentices

The first few weeks: New apprentices typically experience a number of big shocks. The first shock is that they have to attend school on a regular basis. For many, this is the first structured classroom experience since high school.

The next big shock is that they may have to purchase additional books.

Another shock comes when they are told that there will be homework. How would you like it if you suddenly had homework? While they are trying to adjust to all these changes in their lives, they learn that there will be tests and quizzes -- and they do count!

As an employer of a new apprentice, it is important that you or someone from your company take on the role of a mentor. Talk to the apprentice about the classroom experience and let them know in a positive way what to expect. Make sure that they are prepared with a notebook, pencil, pen and money, in the event that supplemental books are needed. A little positive action on your part can make a huge difference to the apprentice.

Realistic expectations: Sometimes it is easy to assume that new apprentices don't know anything about the trade. Other times it is easy to assume since the new apprentice is receiving some classroom time, he or she should know how to do many things.

It is important to have a basic idea of the skills and knowledge of each apprentice. As they progress through the program, those skills will increase. Ask the apprentice for a copy of the course syllabus. The syllabus will outline when each topic will covered in the class. Share the syllabus with both the journeyman and the project supervisor. Suggest that to the extent possible, the work experience should correspond with the classroom experience. It is understood that this may be an impossible goal for some and very attainable for others. Apprenticeship works best when there is a direct connection between the job and the classroom experience.

The first two months: For most apprentices, settling into an academic routine is fairly easy. For a few others, having to take tests and, for the first time in several years, having to find time to study can be very difficult. Potential academic problems often appear within two months of the first class.

Stay in contact with your apprentices, especially in the first few months. This can be a frustrating period for the apprentice, but most will not say anything until it is too late. Ask specific questions about the class content. If there are signs that help is needed, here are a few suggestions:

First and foremost, have the apprentice talk with the instructor, either before or after class. Instructors will offer additional insights into the material when the apprentice approaches them.

The San Diego Community College District offers academic assistance for free.

Ask a fellow apprentice to be a "study buddy" or a tutor for the apprentice. If structured properly, both apprentices can benefit from the experience.

Academic assistance in any form can really make a difference. The key is to catch potential problems early. ABC staff will work with new apprentices to help ensure their success.

Returning apprentices

The first few weeks: Returning apprentices may not need as much immediate attention, but there are changes in their lives each semester. These changes can include having new instructors with new teaching and grading methods.

In addition, they may be facing a more challenging curriculum.

Staying in contact with the returning apprentice makes a lot of sense. Ask a few questions and listen to the answers. If there is a new instructor, encourage the apprentice to give the new instructor time before making judgments.

It is not unusual for ABC training staff to hear complaints about new instructors the first week or two of class. Most of the time we then hear how great the instructor is just a few weeks later-often from the same person who made the initial complaint. It always takes a little time to adjust to change.

Realistic expectations: Returning apprentices are usually a little easier to gauge as far as skills and abilities. Most of the time they have been with your company for some time and you know what they can do. On the other hand, this can make it easier to make assumptions that may not be true.

As with the new apprentices, it makes sense to ask for a copy of the course syllabus. The syllabus should give you an idea of the coursework that the apprentice will study during the coming semester. Talk with the apprentice about their classes, and discuss your expectations. The journeyman and the project supervisor should be a part of the discussion to ensure that the apprentice receives the corresponding work experiences.

Understanding the overall training needs of your apprentices will go a long way to ensuring that you will receive their best effort and that they will meet or exceed your expectations. Please share this article with your skilled workers and those who supervise apprentices. You will be glad that you did.

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