Nine Ways to Set Your Apprentices Up for Success

Learn more about best practices that will set your apprentices, team, and company up for success during and beyond your apprenticeship.

Onramp apprentices are passionate, skilled, and excited to start contributing value to your company from day one. They are also often new to the tech industry. For our clients’ apprenticeship programs, Onramp has sourced, interviewed, and assessed top-level talent who hail from underrepresented groups. These sought-after candidates come from non-traditional backgrounds such as bootcamps, community colleges, and online learning communities, and for many working for a company like yours is a “dream job.” However, while many have some kind of previous professional experience, providing them with guidance to help them navigate their new role will help ensure their success. 

Below we break down how to set up your apprentices, their mentors, and managers up for success before, during, and after their six months onsite with your company. We also share nine best practices that we’ve seen work with our clients time and time again. 

Before you start 

Apprentices want to succeed, but you need to lay the groundwork for their success. If you are just starting your apprenticeship program, it may feel like a heavy lift, but don’t worry, your hard work will pay off. 

At Onramp we’ve found that the first time we run a program is often the most challenging, as managers learn what to expect from apprentices and how to meet their needs as they come on site. After the initial pilot, we find that program participants get into the groove with subsequent cohorts of apprentices. 

Apprentices want clear structures and to know what they need to do to be successful. Before the program begins, create a competency list of what you want to see apprentices accomplish. Specify what you want them to do and how to do it. Apprentices are looking for specific guidance because they want to come to your company and “win” - that is, put their best foot forward and know that they are directing their energy towards projects that will help them accomplish their goals and be hired full time. 

Set up resources and support for mentors and managers

Getting early commitment, buy-in, and engagement from apprentices’ managers and mentors is critical to both the program’s and your apprentices’ success. Ensure that each understands the time commitment, expectations, and how the apprentices will be working with them. Know that at the beginning of the program apprentices will rely heavily on their mentors as they adjust to their new role, and ensure that mentors are prepared to be available.  

Just as apprentices need regular support and community building opportunities, so do managers and mentors. Establish regular touch points for managers and mentors to come together such as bi-weekly group sessions to share notes and weekly Slack check-in. This will help keep communication flowing, build transparency, and enable managers to share experiences and learn from and with each other. 

The first month 

During their first month at your company apprentices will need the greatest amount of support and you’ll want to ensure they have everything they need to be successful. To help ensure a smooth first few weeks: 

  • Hold an orientation session to welcome your apprentices, meet key company leaders, and get to know your company at a high level.
  • Share your roadmap for success with apprentices. Ensure that they know what success looks like from day one and what milestones they should achieve each week.
  • Ensure mentors are available for calls and to provide quick answers. Apprentices will be reaching out daily as they get used to your company’s systems, code base, and platforms, but understand that level of need will taper off as they get comfortable and begin to work more independently.
  • Train apprentices how to ask great questions. Teaching apprentices strategies to ask for what they need will lower managers’ time burden and ensure team members know how to help, what to provide apprentices, and in what time frame.
  • Offer apprentices feedback early and often. Apprentices crave feedback, but because they want to please, they don’t always ask for it. Readily offering feedback that is actionable, specific, and kind will set apprentices’ minds at ease and ensure they are able to jump in and start contributing. 

While the first month can feel intense for both apprentices and mentors and managers, it is critical for ensuring the apprentices feel like they have a solid foundation to build on. 

Midway through the apprenticeship

In correspondence with your roadmap for success, hold a formal performance review half-way through the apprenticeship. You can check the apprentice’s progress against the road map and let them know where they are on track and where there is room for improvement. The collective goal is to move apprentices towards the offer of permanent employment, so being very clear on how they can get there is important. 

Establish ongoing support

Outside of formal reviews, create informal opportunities for check-ins, sharing, and community building among apprentices and between apprentices and other team members. For example, schedule monthly lunch check-ins with apprentices, whether on a call or on site, to talk about how the program is going for them. Having a chance for connection and feedback outside of a formal review enables apprentices to be transparent and be vulnerable about the realities of their experience. It also helps you collect informal feedback about how the program is going and make any changes to better support the apprentices or clarify any questions they may have. 

Nine tips to set your apprentices up for success

Based on our experiences with our clients, we put together these nine action items that you can take to ensure you are providing your apprentices with what they need to succeed. 

  1. Assign a manager and mentor early. If possible, have the manager and mentor create a relationship before the apprentice goes onsite to reduce apprentice nervousness upon joining the team and make them feel comfortable. 

  1. Schedule regular feedback sessions on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Conduct a formal mid-apprenticeship check-in to tell the apprentice if they are tracking to convert and offer suggestions for improvement if not.

  1. Integrate the apprentice onto the team. Include apprentices in meetings, projects, benefits, equitable salary, etc. Ensure they feel like they are part of your team, rather than siloing them on odd projects that do not contribute to the primary work of the team. 

  1. Give apprentices meaningful work that contributes to the business instead of side projects. 

  1. Show apprentices that your company values them professionally and personally. Provide the same benefits allotted to FTEs and an equitable salary. Some apprentices have been consulting or in boot camps while trying to make this career transition and have not been insured. Even if they had insurance prior to this life-changing opportunity, health disparities for people of color are well documented and it is important for apprentices to take care of their health properly throughout their apprenticeship.  

  1. Give apprentices a clear roadmap for success (e.g. what milestones do they need to hit to convert at the end, be specific, set KPIs, measurable goals, objectives, etc…).

  1. Give apprentices opportunities to show you what they can do: start small and ramp up responsibility as they prove themselves able to handle it, whether this is code, presenting at meetings, participating in internal hackathons, working cross-departmentally. Brainstorm opportunities you can make available to them, let them take it so you can see where they shine.

  1. Educate your team about apprentices’ background and set up expectations around the fact that the apprentices are still learning. Encourage your team to be open to answering questions, pairing if needed, to boost apprentice confidence.

  1. Let apprentices know immediately that you understand their unique background and the purpose of an apprenticeship. All candidates want to succeed and at times can feel imposter syndrome since they are coming from a non-traditional educational background or are changing careers. Knowing they are valued for their experience will give them the confidence to relax and focus on learning and the work instead worrying they do not belong because they took a different path to get there. 

You can also view this list as a document for easy reference. 

After the apprenticeship

As the apprenticeship period comes to a close, be sure that you continue to keep communication open with program alumni. Celebrate your wins with both your graduating apprentices and the team members who supported them. An apprenticeship is hard work and recognizing it as such will help apprentices, managers, and mentors feel proud of what they have accomplished.

In addition to celebration, collect feedback from both graduating apprentices and their managers and mentors. What worked? What would they like to see done differently? Gathering feedback will help you prepare for the next cohort and ensure you keep improving and iterating. 

As you bring in new cohorts of apprentices, provide opportunities for apprentices and alumni to connect. Once they are settled in their jobs, you may consider inviting apprentice alumni to be mentors to incoming apprentices. That way they can serve not only as sources of information and support, but also inspiration to incoming apprentices. 

It takes time at first to lay the groundwork for apprentices’ success. Collecting and offering feedback and support each step of the way will help ensure your program has a lasting impact on your company and your apprentice’s careers. 

To work with sought-after tech talent and learn more about launching a successful apprenticeship program at your company, reach out to us today. 

Written by
Dana Breen

Stay in the loop

Be the first to hear about new opportunities, training and events from Onramp and our partners.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.