Apprenticeship Programs Fuel Employee Experience: Much to Learn From “Made in the Trade”


By Amelia Chan, CPHR

Talent management is a long term commitment which requires executive support, strategic thinking—and an HR mindset.

While leaders conceptually realize talent management drives business results, it is challenging to implement within an organization because of many moving parts.  Successful programs involve ongoing trial-and-error, management buy-in, team work and focus.  While it has the potential to generate wide-reaching returns for the organization, all of its varied components need strategic focus with responsive feedback loops to work.

Apprenticeships Attract, Experience Retains
As spotlighted during my recent judging experience with the 2017 Small Business BC Awards, apprenticeship programs provide a great example of formal talent management in practice, demonstrating as they do the power of experience, the path of potential, and the ultimate productivity which results.

The five SSBC 2017 finalists for Best Apprentice Training Application included: Harbourview Autohaus Ltd. (Nanaimo), Heidout Restaurant and Brewhouse (Cranbrook), Ironside Design Manufacturing Inc. (Chilliwack), Northern Legendary Construction (Charlie Lake) and Rambow Mechanical Ltd. (Kelowna).

As demonstrated by the five finalists, the best apprenticeship training programs, while each unique, have a definitive, shared impact on talent—attracting, recruiting, training and retaining. Moreover, while the active-education and execution are key, the primary strength of the programs are their contributions to the overall employee “experience.”

In fact, while all five finalists had a strong operational focus, each management team agreed that their success resided in putting people first. This HR mindset is a common meme that runs through what is often a “familial” approach, anchored by self-awareness and commitment to excellence.

The Wisdom and Worth of Apprenticeships
There are many lessons to be learned and here is a sampling of how they have made apprenticeships a priority and business advantage.

Transactional to transformative: Using HR tools such as behavioural interviewing techniques, onboarding programs and performance evaluations to supplement the apprenticeship experience is transformative when it comes to talent management.  While these are tools that might exist in any organization, what sets these finalists apart is their innovative alignment to organizational strategy.  This is living proof that the sum is greater than its parts when it comes to the human resourcefulness.  This transformative synergy is achieved by the mentorship team’s impactful touch points throughout the apprenticeship journey.  The transformation feeds back into itself so the reinvention is enduring.

Longevity and Sustainability: The fact that every finalist in this group is from the trades is telling about the culture of mentor/apprenticeships.  Traditionally, “shop” careers were nurtured through close relations and commitment.  Master craftsman passed their skills onto their apprentices thereby ensuring a succession plan while bequeathing trade secrets to worthy heirs.  This tradition is built on a commitment to quality and sustainability.  With multi-generation participation and organizational history as a cornerstone, each business recognizes they need for a long-term solution for sourcing and developing top talent.

Mentorship: The supervisors, management and HR teams in these finalist organizations worked together to create mentors and mentees.  The programs evolved through hands-on commitment throughout—from the shop floor to the executive offices.  Journeyman who mentor are also very involved with the selection of those who enter the program.  This peer support is a key feature, as well as a benefit to the apprenticeship.  Work ethic, emotional support and rapport keep the program cycle invigorated.  Moreover, the successes of the participants are collectively celebrated and a testament to the dedication and passion of the entire team.

P(l)aying it Forward: Each graduating class actively remained in the organization and refuelled/strengthened the next set of apprentices.  In addition to internal benefits, these organizations have given back to industry and society as a whole.  Not only do they participate in educating local schools on career pathways, they support development opportunities (regardless of seniority) and international charitable works.  This ethos of giving demonstrates the importance of the greater good not just for their own businesses, but for the community and greater humanity.

Self-Awareness: One of the most important ingredients of the talent experience is the humility and grit of leadership.  These organizations built their apprenticeship programs on a foundation of curiosity and self-improvement.  Knowing that everyone was pulling together and the overall goal was worth fighting for enabled the participants to experience failure safely.  The willingness and ability to explore weaknesses really sets some of these finalists apart, and into a whole different level of business/leadership maturity.  These honest reflections help their programs thrive despite set-backs and disappointments.

Feedback loops: Every one of these finalists have built their knowledge base from the experience and expense of countless lessons; each has had their time, resources and patience tested. As a result, each apprenticeship program has been continuously honed through the feedback of participant experiences—and the organizations remain committed to the ongoing learning process.  The businesses realize that the success is not solely an immediate, financial outcome or endgame, but a part of the organization lifecycle.

Intuitive HR Savvy at Work
These Small Business BC Awards finalists are intuitively practising savvy HR strategy. Their HR mindset and results are unquestionable.  By putting the focus on their people, their daily discipline and operational commitment has built strong, supportive cultures into the fabric of their businesses, and has ultimately translated into tangible results.  The return of these talent management programs comes back in spades when the employee’s experience with the organization both reflects the employer brand and propels their shared success.

2017 SBBC Winners Announced
The 2017 SBBC Awards were announced on February 23, 2017, and the full roster of winners can be seen at

Amelia Chan, CPHR, RCIC is founder and principal consultant of Higher Options Consulting Services (, providing a wide range of HR and immigration services for small to mid-sized businesses.

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