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Apprentice… you’re inspired

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Apprentice… you’re inspired

External experiential learning courses for apprentices are an impactful and cost effective way to achieve accelerated learning. David Ritchie, Head of Corporate Business Development, The Outward Bound Trust.

The benefits go across the piece – employers benefit from staff retention and highly motivated, successful apprentices. Apprentices develop new skills and receive a strong message about the investment being made in them and their future careers. The results from external experiential training programmes are worth the effort – the benefits for employers and apprentices reverberate in the business through better staff retention, higher motivation and new skills investment.

The key to the success of any apprentice external training programme is the partnership between the course provider and the company sending its staff for training and development. This partnership is important because, on a new course, it can take between six months and a year for The Trust and a new company to develop a new apprentice level course.

During the planning process, The Trust’s course director and lead instructor will meet with the head of training and HR director in the workplace to discuss specific requirements. In addition to the learning objectives of the course, plans may cover delivery details such as branding course centres with the company’s logos, literature or ensuring apprentices wear their company branded clothing during the residential week.

The Trust’s delivery team experiences the working environment of course participants. This helps The Trust incorporate the values and core beliefs – and the cultural language and processes – into the course content, induction programmes and into development programmes for second and third year apprentices. Before attending a course, apprentices are briefed, during which the expectations and objectives of the course are communicated.

Volkswagen Group United Kingdom Ltd has a programme that was developed with The Trust for its second year apprentices. Each week long course focuses on building confidence to deliver excellence in customer service, personal effectiveness, individual responsibility and how each apprentice fits into the overall business. Jack Baxter, Apprentice Parts Advisor for Volkswagen Group United Kingdom Ltd, who recently attended an Outward Bound course explains: “During the week I was faced with obstacles, each with an easy or a hard route out. I was also put in situations where I had to think for myself, learn to rely on myself and use my initiative. It’s exactly the same in the workplace – the easy way out is not always the best option and you have to use your initiative to figure out the best, most effective solution for all involved”.

The Trust uses the experiential learning cycle to develop and structure each course. The four elements or phases are experiencing, reviewing, concluding and planning. The principle is that the greater the challenge given to an individual, the greater the reflection and theorising they will undertake, and the greater the intensity of the learning experience.

Experiencing involves business simulations, projects and the practical experience and exercises that participants get to take part in, for example, expeditioning, orienteering or climbing. During the reviewing phase instructors facilitate and encourage individuals to reflect, describe and communicate their learnings from the experience. This is done throughout the day after each particular task is achieved, such as climbing to the top of a mountain or pot holing through small underground caverns.

More detailed reviews take place each evening, when the group shares the high and low points of the day. The concluding phase uses models, theories and concepts to draw conclusions from past and current experience and then these are applied during the planning phase of the cycle. The planning phase allows apprentices to apply what they have learnt from the previous experience so that they can develop and refine the next level challenge or process they will undertake.

The reflective time during the cycle helps participants to develop their own sense of effectiveness and self-awareness and identify areas for improvement for the next challenge ahead. This reflective time in the experiential learning cycle is empowering and is directed back to how the individual can apply what has been learnt into the workplace.

Core to The Trust’s philosophy is the belief that people are capable of achieving more than they think they can. Each day of a course is designed to incrementally increase effectiveness and confidence through tough yet achievable experiential tasks. The tasks push basic fears about competence to varying degrees to each individual. If an individual or team perceive they can’t do a task the instructor will encourage and support them psychologically and physically help them overcome their fears and lead them to achievement.

Demonstrations of the results of this core philosophy are given in individual apprentice feedback presentations to HR Directors and key personnel within the company during the last day of their course. The presentations are usually 45 minutes long and use a number of mediums, such as presentations, illustrations, roll-play or acting. In-depth questions are also asked about how the participants feel they have developed during the week. Importantly apprentices are encouraged to discuss how they plan to transfer their new skills and strengths back into their working environment.

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