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October 2000, Vol. 3 No. 5 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Organising Apprenticeship Programmes: Methods, Pitfalls and Optimisation
Assistant Professor Gambhir Bhatta
Department of Political Science / Affiliate, CDTL

As organisations become more complex with the onslaught of information technology and dynamic work processes, more premium is placed on mimicking these trends in student curricula. Consequently, the role of apprenticeship is increasingly regarded as being central to the students’ learning process. How exactly does this process work and what are some of the pitfalls in organising, managing,and evaluating such programmes? This essay examines these issues.


The rationale for organising an apprenticeship programme is self-evident. It provides a reallife platform for students to experience first-hand what is happening in the world outside and an opportunity for organisations to assess potential labour entrants. It also enables the educational institution to develop a core group of students who will bring into the classroom a newfound awareness of the practical world outside that hopefully can be transmitted in due time to other students.


The development of an Apprenticeship Programme can be contained in four phases, each phase with considerably varying timelines (see Figure 1).

The process begins when an organisation (e.g. an NUS Department) decides to make an Apprenticeship Programme the centrepiece of a learning process that focuses on hands-on and practical training for students. Subsequently, host agencies are identified; this can be either simple (if a history of such collaboration has existed) or complex (if a potential host agency is recent to the scene and is thus understandably hesitant to commit to a novel programme). Next, an analysis of the jobs/assignments to be done is prepared which provides a benchmark to the students and the organisers to work on. This includes specifications of tasks to be completed, learning objectives to be operationally specified, and work processes detailed. Candidate specification then follows since different assignments require different attributes (e.g. for tasks that require front-end contact with the public, a separate candidate profile emerges from that requiring considerable backend roles and responsibilities). Phase One (Preparatory Planning Stage) is complete with the expression of interest not only by the Department to prospective students, but vice versa as well.

Phase Two (Recruitment and Selection Stage) is critical as much of the Programme’s success rests on dentifying suitable candidates for specific assignments. First, the prospective candidates are briefed; then, a round of interviews follows. Normally, the interviews will suffice since the candidates will already have been screened for aptitude, intellectual ability, and seriousness of purpose prior to this stage. A list of selected candidates is then paired against the host institutions’ specifications and a tentative list circulated for analysis and debate. The list is usually accepted as is, although there could be instances of host agencies (or even some candidates) withdrawing from the Programme at the last moment. The final list is determined only after both Department and host institutions have looked at the matches.

Phase Three (Assignment and Monitoring Stage) concerns the duration of the assignment and involves a fair degree of monitoring by the supervisors designated for individual candidates in each agency. The Department generally only enters into the picture if there are extenuating circumstances. This is usually left to the particular agencies concerned. Once the apprenticeship ends, a debriefing session is held to collate experiences (both positive and negative) about the assignments. A final report is then prepared encapsulating the lessons of the entire exercise.

The final phase (Programme Evaluation and Follow- Up Stage) concerns specific actions taken by both Department and host institutions to cement the relationship, substantially alter the nature of the candidates’ participation, or terminate altogether the relationship depending upon the learning experiences of the year’s Programme. The process is complete when these lessons are applied to the host identification stage of the subsequent year.

Optimisation Parameters

Experience has shown that while all steps are taken to ensure the smooth implementation of the Programme, there will always be specific concerns that will hinder the optimisation of the Programme itself. Optimisation parameters include concerns related to candidates, nature and scope of work, inflated expectations and/or egos, and un-oriented supervisors.

Despite a fair amount of control being exercised in the pre-selection stage as to who will be invited to apply for the Programme, there are no safeguards yet to prevent the selection of individuals who clearly are not up to the mark for whatever reason. In such a case, the host institution can do little to optimise the situation but terminate the assignment. This is a serious step that sends a strong signal to both students and other participating host institutions. The problem could be that the nature and scope of work is clearly inimical to the interests of the selected candidates. Top-notch candidates these students might be, but the work available must be tuned to their levels of intellectual ability.

The corollary to this problem obviously is that the candidates themselves come to the Programme with inflated expectations and/or egos of what they are to be doing. More often than not, public sector apprenticeships can be more mundane and rote than they imagine. Hence very early in the Programme, a sense of detachment may set in which, if not addressed promptly, can easily derail the Programme’s success.

Finally, the supervisors of the candidates may also have undue expectations. It is not inconceivable to assume that the supervisors will not discriminate between candidates and regular employees, in which case the candidates necessarily suffer if the pressures are harsh.

As the optimisation parameters of apprenticeship programmes are quite severe, Departments wishing to embark on this venture in the future may do well to keep this in the back of their minds.


However, not withstanding all the concerns with the optimisation parameters, experience has shown that apprenticeship programmes are very worthwhile for candidates. There have been very few candidates that have come out of programmes unsatisfied at being given an opportunity to learn how things are done in the real world. Host institutions, in turn, have expressed strong support for such programmes and it is clear that such relationships can only strengthen.

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Organising Apprenticeship Programmes: Methods, Pitfalls and Optimisation
Setting Up the Department of Biological Sciences' Professional Placement Programme
Practical Training Scheme at the Departments of Building and Real Estate
The Applied Chemistry Professional Placement Programme
The Virtual Laboratory Platform as a Form of Internet-based Apprenticeship
Civil Service Internship Programme for Political Science Students
Internship for Arts Students in the Talent Development Programme ogramme
Apprenticeship in Postgraduate Orthodontic Training
Student Responses to the Pharmacy Practice Preceptorship Programme