Human Resources, internships, apprentices and the future of work for all of us
Are we practicing modern human resource policies or those over 100 years old?
There has been a significant change in the last few years in how graduates and undergraduates are developed and employed. Indeed this directly impacts most of us working today in one way or another. Most of these changes are purported to be for the benefit of both business and individuals and businesses alike. But are they?
What got me thinking about this has been my recent commuting to an assignment. On the way to rail stations and standing on the platforms are people on their way to work. There is nothing unusual about this until we look at what they are carrying. Most people are transporting 2 bags, or one large one. The reason… people are carrying their laptop computer with them.
Long before the 1960s crafts people were expected to purchase their own primary tools and carry them to work. As the mobile phone and laptop are in essence the core tools of the modern office worker is this a step forwards or backwards? Not to mention the data security risks attached with transporting these devices with 1000s left on London Transport services every year alone. We think we are in a modern age and yet as employees many of us are expected to act like employees of years gone by.
Even the way we treat our “potential talent” of the future is putting our future recruitment at risk. For example if we under reward a trainee or intern, why would they want to work for us in the future when they are fully experienced and qualifies, if when they are learning we do not show them that we value them along the journey?
Early history of business led learning**
Apprenticeships had a long tradition where historically the parents or guardians of a minor would agree with a Guild’s Master craftsman the conditions for an apprenticeship which would bind the minor for 5–9 years. They would pay a premium to the craftsman and the contract would be recorded in an indenture. In more recent years of course apprentices have been paid a wage, although with internships this is starting to reverse!
Apprenticeships were a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a skill. Apprentices (or in early modern usage “prentices”) or protégés build their careers.
Their training was done while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade, in exchange for their continuing labour for an agreed period after they become skilled. Theoretical education may also be involved, informally via the workplace and/or by attending vocational schools while still being paid by the employer.
The modern concept of an internship is similar to an apprenticeship. Universities still use apprenticeship schemes in their production of scholars: bachelors are promoted to masters and then produce a thesis under the oversight of a supervisor before the corporate body of the university recognises the achievement of the standard of a doctorate.
Also similar to apprenticeships are the professional development arrangements for new graduates in the professions of accountancy and the law. A British example was training contracts known as ‘articles of clerkship’. The learning curve in modern professional service firms, such as law firms or accountancies, generally resembles the traditional master-apprentice model: the newcomer to the firm is assigned to one or several more experienced colleagues (ideally partners in the firm) and learns his skills on the job.
Changes that mean old systems cannot work
Originally the apprenticeships of old worked because learning the skills and knowledge was a life time investment. Giving 5 years of you life for free provided the ability to generate an income for the remainder of your life – plus the ability to generate additional income by training future apprentices. This was a sustainable model. It was sustainable as whether parents gave money or not, full living expenses (food & accommodation) were met by the “master” or employer. This was seen as a fair exchange, little or no salary but full living expenses. This is not the current case!
In 2011 however apart from the traditional areas of crafts and hand skills, the modern professional needs to re-learn continuously, indeed it has been suggested that any knowledge we have is all but redundant within 5 years. This is particularly true within office, finance and call centre environments. In such case, many jobs at a basic level can be learnt within weeks, so the value that an individual can gain is limited.
If as organisations we cannot get a return from people while paying them during “training” then perhaps we need to re-visit our business models.
** sources :