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Government Leaders: Do You Have An Apprentice?

I was just listening to a leadership podcast entitled “The Power of Apprenticeship” and I wanted to share some of the lessons from it.

In essence, there are three steps to successfully engaging in apprenticeship activities:


1. Selecting

– when you see someone that makes you take notice, find a way to personally invest in them

– don’t worry about having a “favorite”; everyone knows there are all-stars that stand out

– don’t just look at your direct reports; consider reaching deep in the organization


2. Modeling

– don’t just show what you do; show them who you are as a leader

– look for opportunities to have them see you in action

– don’t feel like you need to be an expert; just draw from your experience


3. Coaching

– Feedback, feedback, feedback – look for opportunities to share your wisdom

Model – here’s what I do

Explain – here’s why I do it

Demonstrate – here’s how I do it (this doesn’t mean they have to do it your way…they should feel free to innovate)


Why wait until you’re gone and complain about the organization falling to pieces? Start pouring into the next generation of government leaders now and get the satisfaction of watching them grow and advance while you’re still around!

Are you (or will you start) apprenticing?

*** One way to give back is through the GovLoop Mentors Program: Learn more here. ***

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David Dejewski

I’ve had several and enjoyed the experience all but one time. I still hear from many of them. I am proud and humbled to see them succeed. Makes me feel like I did something worth doing.
If you’ve ever considered mentoring, go for it! It’s one of the most rewarding investments you’ll ever make.

Julie Chase

Working in the “blue collar” side of gov employment, apprenticeship is very welcomed and appreciated. While our command doesn’t have an apprenticeship program, my DH command has benefitted greatly from the program. In the WG world, young folks come into the “trades” which sadly are dying. Our gov shipbuilders, aircraft re-fit centers (depots), facilities maintenance, gov vehicle fleets and maintenance are always on the look-out for young folks going into a trade career field. In the last 16 yrs., my husband had the privilige of training apprentices in aircraft re-fit. He said, “once you tell them that they will survive 8 hours without their various gadgets, they turn out pretty good work.” The apprenticeship program affords our section of DoN the benefits of education and “hands on” learning. The apprentices are graded at WG-5 and work 1/2 the day with my husband and spend the other half in the classroom. Once the apprentice graduates they move to the WG8 paygrade. Back in the day, if you were skilled labor, “hands-on” was all you needed. With technology and changing materials for ships, planes, HVac, electrical and vehicles, young tradesman and women bring their zest for technology into the “hands-on” labor. They have shown my husband a thing or to in the process. Often times I hear, “well, it would be cheaper to outsource this work”. My response, is “really”, with all the problems of “background” checks and illegals found working on government installations, “cheap” is a serious security risk. Keep in mind folks working at Depots, facility repair/maintenance and fleet vehicle maintenance have been through thorough background checks and raised their right hand. Oh, yeah. Often times people in gov forget there is whole other government worker out there who is innovative, experienced, needs ongoing training and takes pride in their work. Civilian training depts in recent years have taken notice that the dollars they receive for training civilians, should look to training programs that will be of benefit to “all” civil service, GS and WG. I have met a few of my DH apprentices and the first thing they tell me is that my husband gives them a good “workout”. When they leave at the end of the day, they are exhausted….lol lol.

Camille Roberts

Great post, Andy! There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a apprentice bloom. I have had several, but my first one was the hardest to “let go.” We have a great relationship to this day. Mentoring, in my opinion, does more for me than the mentee. It keeps you on your toes. It has helped me learn and hone the skill of anticipating. Learning to anticipate then acting on it can be very productive.

Many years ago, I worked for a prime contractor to the Department of Energy. I had a supervisor and co-workers all around me in cubicles. I remember being brand new to the organization and I asked some procedural questions to my supervisor. She wouldn’t really answer my question directly. When she did answer, I must have had a weird look on my face because another person who heard me later asked me to go on break with her. During the break, (this was on my third day on the job), I was told not to ask the “supervisor” procedural questions. She believed in “you” making mistakes so you could learn from your mistakes. For a while, I thought she was just singling me out, but over time, it was true. It seemed she enjoyed watching you either fail or struggle. I never really understood why she was in a “leadership” role, if she didn’t want to lead or train others, but I always did my job and volunteered to learn new things.

Luckily, there were other people to learn from. It turned out that my original “procedural” question I had asked many months before ended up netting me a cash productivity improvement award. (This was after a new supervisor later replaced the one who didn’t take questions. <smile>)

I learned a lesson from her though. It really is more productive to SHARE your knowledge! I have maintained that attitude ever since. If you share your knowledge, and others learn, there is so much more that can come from it.

Later, when I started my business, I hired an administrative assistant. She would come in my office often and say: “OK, you said two brains are better than one. Can we do a two-brainer session real quick?” She even pops up on my instant messenger to this day, or calls and says, “Hey, it’s time for a two-brainer.” And, I do the same. I can’t think of a time when that didn’t work. We always seem to find a solution together.

I am currently a mentor for Career Directors International–a professional organization. I can truly say that the mentees I have had in this position have turned into such fantastic opportunities for both of us. One of them now assists me in one aspect of my business and we have become such good friends, yet, technically we are competitors. I found that she can help me and I can help her–it’s a win-win.

We live in a time where sharing is so easy, it is almost effortless. Each generation can learn from each other. It doesn’t have to be a one-way street, and it is so rewarding!

Andrew Krzmarzick

Dave – I like that you still hear from them from time to time. Thats’s the real reward – the ongoing relationship.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Julie – I was thinking about some of the blue collar situations as a model. It’s almost a given in some fields that the apprentice follows the expert around from job to job – watching, learning, doing, correcting, doing again. White collar / knowledge work has similar, common functions that can be taught via modeling and replication.

Julie Chase

Thank you Andrew. Too often I find on gov blogs, message boards, et al, people forget there is whole other workforce out there working for Uncle Sam.

Marsha Stril

The best compliment a manager can have is when the employees that work for them, model their managment style with others. I get buy in from my employees when I bring them into my office and show them the things I do. It’s also good for sustainability of the business.