Apprenticeships Will Save Mid-Market Manufacturing

By Andrea Olson, MSC and CEO of Pragmadik 

We talk a lot about apprenticeships within manufacturing, and many skilled positions require an apprenticeship prior to full time employment. Yet with many mid-market manufacturers struggling with a wave of Baby Boomer retirees and business owners making challenging decisions on who will take up the mantle when they step away from the organization, apprenticeships are more important than ever.

Apprenticeships are used across all roles and industries in Europe. Just search for ‘office apprenticeships in the UK’ and you’ll find open, paid positions ranging from Business Administration to Product Management.

Here in the US, we look at these entry-level roles in the “front of the house” operations as internships. Internships and apprenticeships both give you hands on training, but that’s where the similarities end. Internships in the US are readily available for most college students through their school or university and are often generalized rather than specified for a particular trade or industry. When it comes to an internship, most people either do it for a semester or summer and then move on to the next one or get hired full-time. With an apprenticeship, it can take years to complete and requires a full-time commitment.

An intern gets work experience, but an apprentice gets more than that – it typically has classroom instruction attached to it. As we look to replace the “brain drain” that is occurring within manufacturing, the industry needs to start examining how to capture this knowledge and transfer it to the next generation through apprenticeships.

Consider a Baby Boomer who has worked in a specific manufacturing industry for 30+ years. They have worked in product development, and understand the historical changes in the product designs, how they function in the field, and how customers can effectively maintain and service them. They have learned the nuances. They know what the competitors have developed and where they are going next.

Enter the young, recent engineering graduate with no background in the industry. How can this ‘tribal knowledge’ be effectively transferred? Is a traditional internship sufficient, where they typically work on small, insignificant projects and only learn the basic processes and operations of the company? Or is a full-fledged, paid apprenticeship, where the new hire is required to capture in-depth knowledge of the industry and product history more valuable?

Anyone who has completed an internship knows you aren’t going to have too much responsibility. Yes, you’ll get to see how the marketing department works or how customer service operates, but chances are you won’t be creating a marketing campaign or developing a new service protocol. Often internships give people college credits, a small stipend or something to add to their resume, but doesn’t add value to the employer. The difference with an apprenticeship versus other types of training is that it can be directly tied to addressing knowledge transfer instead of simply teaching tactical skillsets of low value. This is most critical to those industries where hands-on experience is key.

Think about those ‘softer’ areas in your organization where you have core team members that know your customers and industry inside and out – sales, marketing, customer service, product development, tech support and human resources. The difference in these individuals is their experience, not solely technical training. Leveraging the concept of office apprenticeships will enable manufacturers to bring in more young talent to the industry, retain organizational knowledge and set the stage for long term growth in the future. So dump the internships and trade up for apprenticeships in the office.

About the Author

Andrea’s 19-year, field-tested background provides unique, applicable approaches to creating leaner, more effective, technology-driven, industrial organizations. A 4-time ADDY® award-winner, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic marketing efforts at two global industrial manufacturers.

In addition to writing, consulting and coaching, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations around the world on how to craft an effective customer-facing operational strategies to discover new sources of revenues and savings. Connect with Andrea to access information on her book, workshops, keynote speeches, training or consulting. More information is also available on and