Whatever happened to the once upon a time popular apprenticeships programs? This practice goes back hundreds of years in history back to when we had students of a particular craft (for example, a tailor or engineer or some technical skill) – they would study for a number of hours in the day followed by an actual experience/practice of those particular skills – sometimes it meant that they offered some payment or lodging or food in exchange for their time and assisting the craft master – while learning the craft. Usually these applied the 50/50 ratio of learning 50 % in the class and 50% on the job – which makes sense. If you think about it, in the world of corporate learning, we take the 70-20-10 approach, with 70% being on the job learning. Why we are not applying the same in universities is a question in my mind – because it works, and it actually does prepare people for work by letting them take theory into actual practice. Furthermore, these took place from weeks to months of application. Sometimes, even 3-4 years – over the period of the whole study of that particular degree/skill. It was an integrated approach between institutions and organizations.
Today, the gap between institutions and organizations could not been larger – and it is continuously growing. Finding the right talent is one of the biggest challenges companies are facing today globally. Finding great talent is a whole other level of challenges. Holding on to that good talent is another layer.
Now hear me out – sure, apprenticeships were initially meant for more technical roles, but why don’t we make it mandatory across all practices? Why can’t a marketing student or a political science student go to work in an actual company in their field of study after class?
Now you might be thinking, we have internships – isn’t that the same thing? No, it is not. Not the way internships are designed today. Sure, medical internships are a bit more structured and actually give you some exposure and experience, but medicine is (unfortunately) not the most popular major – today the most popular major (based on enrollment of undergraduate students in institutions globally) is still business. I will give you a moment to think over this one…
THE MOST POPULAR UNDERGRAD MAJOR TODAY is business – which (with no offense to anyone who studied business) does not teach business or any tangible skills. Furthermore, it is so broad that a graduate from a business degree really has trouble figuring out what they do with that piece of paper. How is a student supposed to get a job without having an idea of what they can do, without a skill, or exposure?
Back to internships - most internships do not offer any substantial on the job learning - it is more of a checking the box for the student and the corporate. And, more often than not, no job comes after.
To make things event worse, we have graduates expecting high salaries and managerial roles (particular popular expectations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia). And, we cannot blame them, we have fed this narrative to them from early age.
We (educators, parents, counselors, corporate leaders and students) are part of the problem.
When did we create such soft environments for students where we basically tell them – just study, get good grades, focus on studying, don’t worry about working right now, it might be too much for you to do both? We are limiting their potential for the future. That is literally what we are saying to our students as educators, parents, counselors, and event students are saying this to themselves. I hear these statements repeatedly at different conferences where I speak globally, and I think it is time we change the narrative.
So, what are the solutions:
1. Let’s change the narrative
2. If you are a student – please understand that every semester that goes by without you getting exposure to actual work experience is every semester you are falling behind when it comes to the opportunities
3. If you are an educator/counselor/leader of an education institution – start changing the narrative, allocate resources towards career development for your students – they will become your best ambassadors in the world and that will ultimately bring you more future students (aka profits – not that should be the main motivator here, but higher ed is a business as any other)
4. If you are a corporate – start investing more in your talent pipeline, establish proper apprenticeship opportunities or more tangible internships.
And, last but not least – let’s all start communicating better, talking with each other, trying to create solutions, because it is a win-win for all parties involved.
‘Til next time…