An integrated approach to learning

Apprenticeship closes the divide between on-the-job learning and academic training

There is an implication in the marketplace that education obtained at a formal institution is superior to learning that occurs in the workplace. This myth results in two stereotypes: Conscientious and well taught students who achieve high status academic success opening the door to higher education and professional careers, compared to those with low aspirations taking dead end jobs without long-term security or training.
This myth demeans the option of work-based learning. Developments in learning indicate that an integrated approach to on- and off-the-job training is effective and contributes significantly to development of superbly skilled and innovative employees.
In the public education industry, career and technical education has historically battled for equality of esteem with its academic sibling. The state concentrates its efforts on academic results despite continued calls for coordination of technical education and training. This bias leaves industry and commerce to bear the responsibility for improving technical performance. Yet the academic route continues to fail large numbers of young people who, by the time they reach the age of 16, may prefer to continue their learning on a work-based pathway. Those opportunities are rapidly diminishing today.

However, new technologies and the shift towards the global marketplace in the workplace require a more integrated approach to skills development. In addition, studies tell us that the most effective learning combines theory and practice, giving purpose to education.

I have heard from a variety of apprentices who said they never really understood mathematics until becoming an apprentice in an occupation where math was taught in a practical manner.

Registered apprenticeship has three broad and interrelated aspects. It operates in a contractual framework which governs the reciprocal rights and obligations between an employer and an employee/apprentice specified in a signed formal agreement; formal and informal on- and off-the-job learning experiences; and the cultural and social aspects of and being at work.

Apprenticeship is a model of a “dual education system” that combines training and employment and includes a focus on the relationship between work and learning that can ease and increase participation in a changing marketplace.

According to employers with successful apprenticeship programs, production for the company and specialized skills for the employee is best combined in an apprenticeship. The structured development of apprenticeship requires at least 144 clock hours for theoretical instruction for every 2,000 hours of practical on-the-job learning, but can expand to all of the “art and mysteries” of a trade. This prepares workers – based on industry-defined needs – for today’s high-tech, high-performance workplace with its demands for a blend of technological, information, interpersonal and lifelong learning skills.

Throughout the centuries, apprenticeship has always been a meaningful vehicle for the development and transfer of occupational skills, knowledge and understanding. Furthermore, apprenticeship is an international concept which provides a structure where people can learn and demonstrate their abilities and potential while at the same time discovering their identity.

The direct ties of apprenticeship to employment – the reason Labor and Industries is the apprenticeship registration agency – make it a natural element for an employer-focused job training and learning system.
Ed Madden has been directly involved with federal and state apprenticeship for 26 years starting in 1979 as an Apprentice Radio Mechanic while on active duty in the U.S. Army. He is the Apprenticeship Coordinator for Southwest Washington for the Department of Labor and Industries, the Registration Agency for Washington apprenticeship and staff to the Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council. He can be reached by email at or at 360-575-6927.

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