The first day of attending the 2009 Eastern Seaboard Apprenticeship Conference (hence, ESAC) was, in all honestly, amazing, and I would expect nothing less. The opening ceremony was truly moving, which was opened by the Boston Police Bagpipe and Drum group, followed by our national anthem sung by Dan Clarke, an amazing singer with the Massachusetts State Police. As they say up here in these parts, it was “wicked cool.” Although I am now a Louisiana girl, I’ve also been a Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts girl as well. So, being in the Back Bay of Boston again has been a sentimental walk down memory lane, to say the least. Boston has a charm and feel to it unlike any other city I’ve known, and the opening ceremony was reflective of that – moving and unforgettable. Only New Orleans can rival it.
But even more impressive than the opening ceremonies was the keynote speaker. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that most of the conferences I have attended over the years have had lackluster keynote speakers at best. But today was different. Today was Mark Breslin of Breslin Strategies, Inc. – author, strategist, expert, and truth monger. He is a consultant for group training programs and labor-management relations. In my opinion, he is a visionary as well. (Mark, I take cash or money orders only, $5 per word for the kudos).
So, after participating through two sessions of his, I knew I had to share with all of you. His core message, in a nutshell, is this: Times have changed, so apprenticeship programs, particularly those in the construction and building trades, need to change with them in order to stay relevant, grow, and compete.
Well, after listening to him, I am a believer in the Breslin mantra. It’s time to get real and face the music. Apprenticeship programs, especially the ones that have been around for a long time, are missing the boat. They hope to keep running their programs the same way they always have, which used to work, but doesn’t any longer. There is a deep rooted apprenticeship culture in some industries – we’ll call it the “old school” way – that worked well with baby boomers, less so with Generation X, and next to impossible to apply to Generation Y. It’s getting harder and harder to develop and retain the high quality apprentices that employers need.
In an effort to keep this from resembling the length of a masters dissertation, I’ll give you a quick tease of the high points that were covered, which emphasize the need for apprenticeship programs to take a hard look at how to better serve their customers, which require a cultural shift in thinking.
- Apprenticeship programs should be regarded as leadership development training, and encouraged.
- Apprenticeship programs would be more effective if they adopted the same priorities as the top ten most admired companies in this country have, such as providing a high return on investment, disciplined evaluation, creating a people based culture, long term planning, and innovation.
- A supervisor training track should be implemented and available for apprentices that are identified early on as leadership material – don’t make them “pay their dues” for ten years before they’re promoted – long after they’ve left for greener pastures.
- The top three motivators for apprentices are praise and recognition, participation in decision making, and money. Generation X and Y, those that are prime recruiting material, respond most favorably when these motivators are used.
- Apprenticeship programs need to do a better job of harnessing the power of including apprentices in the decision making process, creating a culture of thinkers.
- Contractors need to make changes in the worksite culture as well, by changing success measures, implementing more organizational accountability and creating an environment of responsibility and respect.
- Foremen/supervisors need the three Ms: money, motivation and mentoring – in order to maximize their effectiveness on the job, and gain the tools necessary to develop apprentices into thinkers and leaders as well.
I know what you’re thinking, training directors and contractors. “My program is of the highest quality! There is plenty of accountability! But these kids today, they’re lazy, unreliable, and don’t value hard work. We have to break them down the build them back up, make them realize their place, and they have to pay dues like I did. We’re not going to hold their hands and tell them how wonderful they are, like their mothers do. These kids need to learn a lesson.”
While there is truth to this, there is also truth in the fact that we need to change with the times, and admit that some of our programs need a serious shot of vitamin B12 to reenergize and revitalize. We need to develop leaders and thinkers that take pride in their work and believe in it. Breslin calls it a culture of “from head to heart to hands.” No, he’s not a hippy, kumbaya, lets-hold-hands kind of guy. He gets it. Trust me on this one. I didn’t even scratch the surface here with everything he covers. You need to check out his website, www.breslin.biz. It’s worth it, I promise.
Stay tuned for The ESAC Diaries, Part 2: Feed Them and They Will Come.