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STRUCTURING THE LEARNING JOURNEY – Structure Project-Based Learning On Teams

The universality of the apprentice experience decreases most during this phase. Teammates are different, projects are different, pace is different because apprentices are typically spread across different technical teams. This variability can increase risk for bias and inconsistency to creep in and affect outcomes for apprentices, particularly those from racially and educationally underrepresented groups. For this reason, it’s all the more important to ensure that certain safeguards and standards are in place to enable equitable opportunity for conversion by the end of this phase. Learn more below!


  • Scope appropriate teams for apprentices

The team becomes the living classroom for the apprentice, so finding a nurturing, appropriate, and compelling team environment for individuals coming from alternative education backgrounds is critical to their successful conversion.


  • Plan for it to take a significant amount of time consulting with technical managers about their team’s interest/fit
  • A culture of mentorship and collaboration on the team must be strong and encouraged by a committed technical/engineering manager. Avoid sink or swim team environments.
  • Engineering managers who have the ability to scope work well (prescriptive and tightly organized at first, and progressively more flexible) make a good fit
  • Seek out managers with an understanding or high interest in working with early-in-career individuals, or who themselves come from alternative education backgrounds.
  • The team must have more junior technical mentors who can foster the needed skills the program identifies (frame as a professional development opportunity for mentor)
  • Avoid teams comprised of primarily senior members, unless there is a very strong culture of mentorship
  • Seek out teams with projects/tickets that are strongly aligned with what the foundational learning phase has taught apprentices
  • Scope appropriate project-based work

From an equity lens, racially and educationally underrepresented groups too often get assigned the work no one else wants to do, or end up cleaning up others’ messes. We want to ensure however, that apprentices are growing their skillsets, contributing to projects that matter, and learning at the appropriate level.


  • Assign apprentices projects/tickets core to the team (part of the team’s existing sprints) and the organization, as that are helpful in developing important skills that build into new growth areas
  • Avoid mission critical projects with tight deadlines that leave less space for learning
  • Smaller projects across a number of areas are also okay to allow apprentices to learn a number of new concepts, but should still offer structure and growth in a specific direction
  • Don’t assign pet projects, busy work, or work no one else wants to do that have no implications (ex in engineering: focusing only on bug fixes, documentation, or testing is something to avoid, unless these are a fast sequence of stepping stones to feature work)
  • Don’t plug and play work intended for interns
  • Structure project-based work for success

After work is scoped, it’s important to phase and structure it in a way that expands apprentices’ skill sets towards conversion.


  • Have 3–4 projects/tickets pre-scoped so that when apprentices join the team, they can hit the ground running
  • Expand from helping with small fixes at first to greater responsibility and ownership over time (always with mentorship and support)
  • Ensure access to a dedicated technical mentor for pair work and learning
  • Ensure there are resources for the apprentice to reference in this phase; provide them upfront
  • Point apprentices to where they can ask for help (technical expert or a help channel)
  • Give apprentices practice implementing the same skill in a new context, but more independently, so they can internalize the learning before moving forward
  • Keep projects tightly scoped and divided into manageable, discrete tasks
  • Must balance learning from mentor, planning how to build, and hands-on building
  • Set clear expectations and create open communication channels

All your earlier scoping work may be in vain if apprentices and their managers and mentors are not on the same page about progress towards conversion. Below are some tips to encourage regular and open communication and to help avoid unexpected surprises or conflicts.


  • Each team may have its own performance expectations, which is why evaluation guidelines for conversion must be very clear and understood (see tool X)
  • This is the last phase before conversion. The technical manager’s decision to convert the apprentice or not shouldn’t be a surprise to the apprentice because the feedback should have been shared by the manager and mentor regularly along the way
  • Remind managers to continue to have discussions with apprentices and their mentors and vice versa; often managers are not kept on the same page. This can be done via Slack weekly check-ins, or virtual/in-person weekly check-ins.
  • If tensions arise between a manager, mentor, and apprentice, encourage the apprentice to talk to the apprenticeship program leader about it to allow the program lead to advocate and problem solve. Avoid having apprentices directly confront people who are evaluating them about major challenges, tensions, perceived or actual discrimination, etc, when they already may have imposter syndrome or fear of being perceived as difficult or not competent.

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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.