In a previous post, I wrote about the idea of creating your own apprenticeship to learn new skills or pivot to a new career or industry. Apprenticeship is an ancient concept, of course; you may associate it with registered apprenticeships that train people for the skilled trades or other professions. An apprenticeship is designed to have the apprentice work alongside a more skilled worker, observing and learning (often through actual classroom instruction as well.) When the master decide the apprentice can perform specific skills, the apprentice moves on to become a journeyman. The process can take years for some occupations.
Your do-it-yourself apprenticeship may not be recognized by any trade association, but you can create a worthwhile learning program of your own if you’re ready to change careers.
The first step is identifying your ultimate career goal and the skills you need to master to achieve the goal. It’s important that you have a clear and specific list of what you want to accomplish from your apprenticeship. Let’s say, for example, that you want to start a catering business as a side gig to your office day job. Here is a partial list of the skills and knowledge you might need to acquire:
- Information on licensing, local business zoning codes and laws, insurance, and health and safety requirements for food service
- Information on certifications, credentials, and training that might be useful
- Essential equipment for professional caterers
- How to build menus and create dishes that appeal to a variety of clients (or accommodate special dietary need such as kosher, vegan, or gluten-free_
- How to price your services and manage within a specific budget
- How to market your services, whether and how much to specialize
- Billing and business practices common to the industry
There are many more things you might need to know, but you get the idea. You’ll need to prioritize these – figure out what’s most essential to your success. You may also do research and work on learning some of this information on your own. Then your task will be to confirm your research findings and assumptions with your mentor, instead of starting to learn from scratch.
Next, identify your ability to commit to your learning program or apprenticeship. Are you going to ask for a meeting (or more than one) to ask questions? Or would you rather learn by doing? Depending on your skill level, you could ask to volunteer or work for your mentor so you can see an effective operation in action.
Ask about entry level (or skill-appropriate level) tasks you could perform for your mentor. In the catering example, you might help with food prep, work at setting up and serving at an event, or help with marketing or billing. You may offer your skills as a volunteer if you have no experience, but you’ll still need to comply with worker policies and guidelines, including getting any background checks, etc.
You may qualify to work as a paid employee or contractor, which is even better, because you’ll get paid while you learn. Just make sure your mentor/employer is also willing to help you expand your knowledge and skills to achieve your goals. (“I’ll work as a server for events, and we’ll get together at least once a month so I can learn how the back office functions should be managed and help with some simple administrative tasks.”)
Inevitably, someone reading this will say “Who would give a potential competitor insider knowledge? You’d have to be crazy to give away your trade secrets to someone who could set up shop and take away your business.”
And you might be right. Some business owners or professionals might very well think like that. Those are NOT the people you want to work with. Those who are the best at what they do will think differently. First, they’ll always be on the lookout for talent, so if you turn out to be reliable and trainable, they’ll want to persuade you to work for them. That’s one way for you to get into the business.
If they are very good at what they do, it would be years before you could provide any meaningful competition for them. Experts don’t worry about competition from beginners. Even if you have some sort of inspired take on the business that wins you some customers early on, your mentor should be cheering for you. Real pros are generous with what they do; part of their mission is to make their profession stronger and more diverse. Look for someone with that mindset.
And look for more examples on how to create your own apprenticeship in future posts.