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
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.
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
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.