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The Apprentice: A Tale of Life, Love and Much Else

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by apprenticeships – really!  I was an avid reader of history, ancient and otherwise, and apprenticeships always meant adventure.  One could apprentice with Greek philosophers, British knights, Teutonic alchemists, and farmers, tradespeople and barbers (who were also doctors).  You could apprentice in a household or a business.  And once your apprenticeship was complete, you commanded respect as a trained and educated person with skills to play a useful role in society.

Apprenticeships have always been a stepping stone for both a good job and a great story.  Those tantalizing tales I read as a kid centered, mostly, on a young person’s indenture to some mysterious craftsperson and it always lead to mischief: wild chases, first-time love affairs, and messy screw-ups.  But they also led to the apprentice learning about life, love and labor – specifically the skills to be someone you weren’t before, but better.

The master-storyteller, Walt Disney, even got into the act when he produced the iconic movie, “Fantasia,” with a scene called The Sorcerers’ Apprentice, which to this day still spooks me.  There are also plenty of modern-day books about apprentices: “The Apprentice” (Lewis Libby), “The Apprentice” (Tess Gerritsen), “The Apprentice Series” (James Bryan Smith) and “Rangers Apprentice” (John Flanagan), to name just a few, and a TV show by that name as well (I know I don’t need to tell you who stars in that!). In the modern vernacular, the term sorcerers’ apprentice, was immortalized by “The Sorcerers’ Apprentice,” a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe written in 1797.

But in the last few decades, the term “apprentice” lost much of its luster, as the term became (wrongly) associated with uninteresting vocational work.  Additionally, some of the most successful apprenticeships were offered by unions, but with the decline of private-sector unions, there have been fewer opportunities for students to participate in apprenticeship pathways to a middle-class life.

Luckily, as in any good story, what goes around, comes around, and apprenticeships are once again becoming popular as a way to receive a work-based education. Recently the Obama Administration announced new investments in American Apprenticeship Grants, This competition, to be launched in fall 2014, will focus on partnerships to: 1) create apprenticeship models in new, high-growth fields, 2) align apprenticeships to career learning and advancement, and 3) scale existing successful apprenticeship models. The U.S. Department of Labor is hosting six industry roundtables in June 2014 for a “listening” tour.  Included in the dates is a roundtable on June 19th in Chicago on manufacturing.

The apprentice grant program will make $100 million available to partnerships of employers and employer organizations, community colleges, WIBs, non-profits, and labor and training organizations.  MEP centers – with their direct conduit to small manufacturers – are particularly encouraged to participate in this program. While the grants won’t be released until the fall, the summer would be a good time to look at the Apprenticeship Office website for more information and imagine your participation in this important initiative.  Initiatives such as these will, after time, eliminate the hole in the manufacturing talent pipeline by providing manufacturing-based training and certification.  And you can be part of that sea-change.  Believe me, it’s not sorcery that makes change happen.  It’s you.

About the author

Stacey Wagner

Guest blogger Stacey Jarrett Wagner has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce development issues.

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With a career of more than 40 years in the manufacturing industry, I can look back now and see that I was greatly influenced by my father, who worked for an


Your almost giddy depiction of apprenticeship is charming -- and a refreshing change from the dutiful do-gooderism which characterizes many of the explanations of why apprenticeships make sense, for young people and for employers. There are two main barriers to be overcome to make apprenticeships fly again: 1. The national mindset that getting a college degree is the the only way to go. We've gotta stop glamorizing this. 2. Employers looking to government to provide a fully-skilled workforce. We gotta convince employers that it's in their long-term interest to hire and train young people through well-structured apprenticeships, at their own expense, even though some of these apprentices will then go to work for their competitors. You can see just from these statements that these two main barriers are not easy to overcome.
Not sure if this is best place to ask. But am striking out at Google. My question is: what happens when an apprentice becomes a competitor...can it be done without harming the mentor? I've been going on house/office calls with a terrific computer tech. The idea was for me to take over when he was on vacation or overloaded, but it doesn't appear that will happen often. I've learned a ton about computing from him, both at the job site and in the car between jobs. I'm thinking I'd like to hang out my own shingle, as he has. But when I consider how much I've learned from him, it doesn't seem right for me to use that knowledge to take business away from him. The price I'll charge is also a question. I can charge half what he does and be happy. But if I do, I'll take potential customers away from him, which I don't want to do. (I'm an empty nester, he's raising a family with four children.) How do I price my services without making him lose business? If I matched his price, no one would ever call me, but that's the least worst idea I've come up with so far. Hope to hear some thoughts from you. Thanks.
I'm truly enjoying the design and layout of your site. It's a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Superb work!

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