The Apprentice’s Journey

APPRENTICESHIP training has been historically a top-down system. The apprentice left home, usually at a young age, and went to live with and was indentured to the master. Often, the master was the apprentice’s father.  The status of the apprentice was similar to that of a servant. Not much has changed in the construction industry where the apprentice generally starts out as the ‘gopher’ who is sent to get the coffees, to get material, to fetch tools, to do the heavy lifting. Like the rest of us in the Western world, the apprentice is motivated by compensation. Initially, this means that the longer you work, the more you get paid.  But he or she soon realizes that for the guys at the top, the harder you work and the more you accomplish, the more you get paid. And to get to the top, he must serve his time on the job, complete his sessions at school, and pass his Certificate of Qualification exam to get his licence. They understand the process and when we get them in school, they are motivated and committed to the process.

They have 2 mentors – the journeyman on-the-job for 4 years and the professor in-school for 24 weeks. For the in-school part I see myself as their mentor, their’master’, and their ‘father’, standing in their parents’ stead.  My goal is to win their confidence right off the bat, to let them know that I am a fellow-traveller, a licensed journeyman, and that I want them to succeed. They lend me their ears  for they see that I am a friend, a carpenter, and a practising tradesman. If I am no longer working in the trade, I become irrelevant and they tune out. A big part of my job as a professor is to stay current in the trade, working both with the head and the hands. When I am not doing contract work, I build houses with Habitat for Humanity to stay in touch, to feel their pain.

I know that quite a few of them struggle with academics and so I aim to meet the numbers – 10% explaining, 25% demonstrating (with props), and 65% of class time having them get involved practising.  Graphic Powerpoints, how-to videos, building code references, span tables, manufacturer’s videos, show-and-tell, these are all aids in the classroom that help them to grasp the concepts. I can see how this way of teaching will translate well online, as long as it is structured carefully and the technology works and is well supported. All of my classes have the same sense of structure and order, just like my jobsites. I believe that all of us need structure and we flourish when we are in a caring environment. There are always some in each class that grasp things quicker that the rest, but I encourage community, helping each other. As Red Green says, “we’re all in this together”. And they understand Red Green. He was just at the college and he drew a larger crowd and tickets were higher-priced that they were for Randy Bachman.

People learn when they are motivated, when they see the point of the or purpose of the information, and when they are committed to learning. They learn well and easily from teachers who feel that they are ‘called’ to their profession, who are motivated in their work and committed to the success of their students. The lessons need to packaged to suit the audience, in duration and level of difficulty. Whether an adult or a child, we all respond positively to encouragement and praise.

Training Apprentices



1 Comment on Personal Learning Theory

  1. Mary Wilson says:

    Michael, this is an interesting set of diagrams. What strikes me most though is your comment about being in a quasi-parental role with the learners. I’m struck by it because I know several people who have returned to school to take up a trade after working in other fields. I’m wondering if the relationship seems the same when the learners are older? I can understand that the master/apprentice role isn’t age dependent.

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