You can think of this phase of the learning journey as an internal bootcamp at your company. This is a critical shorter phase in which apprentices from a variety of backgrounds are leveling-up on the foundational skills needed and internal systems and processes unique to the organization — a safe space to practice with others at their level before joining formal technical teams. Clearly structuring and communicating learning expectations and the unwritten rules of your company’s tech culture is critical to ensuring no one falls through the cracks early on, especially from underrepresented racial and educational backgrounds. Below, we provide tips on how to structure this foundational phase, as well as a weekly curriculum template you can customize for your organization.
Set clear weekly goals & expectations for this foundational phase
Questions to Ask:
- How might we best develop a clearly communicated set of milestones to accomplish each week?
- How might we set up clear and specific expectations as to what doing well at each phase looks like?
- How can we best structure teaching the foundational and system/process skills into this phase to set up apprentices for success once they join their formal project-based teams?
- What are typical processes, approaches, or requirements that teams use at the company, and how can we mirror these?
- Engineering specific examples: Do all PRs need tests? Do all deployments require a copilot? How are incidents handled such as post-mortems/
- What is unique to the company that a person who has not worked there before would be unfamiliar with?
- What group product development processes and best practices are expected at the company, given that apprentices often don’t have this professional team product-building experience?
- Develop a foundational learning curriculum guide with weekly goals (template below)
- Use a step model to progressively bring people to where they need to be in order to advance to the next step without major gaps
- Share this curriculum among apprentices, cohort leads/instructors, and the apprentice’s future engineering manager and mentor to ensure everyone is on the same page with shared, transparent expectations
Below we share a template for a foundational curriculum guide. It provides a framework for setting up clear learning goals each week, which when compiled, constitute the full curriculum for the foundational learning phase. By the end of this phase, apprentices should be equipped to join technical, project-based teams.
Tool: Weekly Curriculum Guide Template
- Week Number and Title: Week number and title for the week tied to the main learning objective
- Overview: Summary of what the week entails for apprentices (fill in a paragraph summarizing the week and its importance/relevant in the learning progression)
- Objectives: At the end of this week, apprentices should be able to: (bullet out specifically what apprentices should know how to do, in terms of a progression of both technical and non-technical skills and any relevant internal systems or processes)
- Lecture: Describe what the cohort lead/instructor will cover and provide links to curricula slides
- Hands-On Implementation: Describe what apprentices will practice / build in a hands-on manner Include relevant links
- Resources: Links to any additional learning resources or guidelines
Keep foundational learning engaging and foster a safe learning space
Questions to Ask:
- How can we ensure that learning is delivered in an engaging way to maximize knowledge retention?
- How can we ensure that learning allows apprentices to experiment and even fail at their new skills in a safe space?
- The 70–20–10 model upholds the optimal balance for learning to be: 70% of knowledge from hands-on, job-based experience, 20% from interactions with others, and 10% from formal educational events
- Utilize various learning and delivery modalities to practice: pre-reads, lectures, group discussions, practice & build sessions in small groups, individual hands-on components, extra resources. Check out lifelabslearning.com for ideas
- As much as possible, move away from lectures over an hour. Keep them conversational and interactive with questions, ice breakers, camera-on if remote
- Leave time for hands-on/practical exercises to practice. If apprentices are learning for example about how to set up a deployment pipeline, have them do the deployment pipeline
- Repeatedly reinforce key concepts to boost knowledge retention as curriculum progresses
- If you have learning and development staff at your company, tap them and their expertise in structuring this phase, or seek out external experts
- Host design thinking sessions with apprentice alumni and ideate with them on how to optimize curriculum & delivery as if you were co-designing a product
- Allow apprentices to practice and fail at their new skills in a safe space
- For example, many apprentices will underestimate the time needed for back and forth on code reviews and miss their first deadline, but when are given structured time to reflect upon improvement, will eventually meet them.
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Tool and best practices co-designed with champion in tech Kevin Berry.
Have questions or comments about the Equitable Tech Apprenticeship Toolkit? Send us a note.