The apprenticeship was once the go-to way to prepare yourself for a career. You would graduate from whatever formal schooling you had and go work closely with somebody who had learned all the things you wished to learn — oftentimes the hard way. After some time working with this person and applying your passions and work ethic to a trade, you would go off on your own.
With the centralization of education in schools and universities and the growth of industrial, low-skilled jobs, the apprenticeship died out. And what a shame that it did! It was replaced by rote memorization, credentialing at every level, and a growing skills gap. Add in groups like the AMA and the American Bar Association creating legal barriers to work, the apprenticeship pretty much died in the 20th Century.
What little elements of it remained stuck in the blue collar trades, where pure ability to get work done was more important than credentialing or showing up to work in a cubicle. The effect of this was essentially two-fold. First, it shut off the idea of hard-work and training from the non-blue collar world. Second, it created the image in people’s minds that apprenticing for work was somehow unworthy of those outside of the blue collar trades (despite the fact that doctors essentially do apprentice during internships and residency after graduating from medical school).
The idea that on-the-job learning and a trial period for success at work fell out of vogue in the white collar world. All the while, the Information Revolution chugged forward, led by dropouts in Silicon Valley and engineers trained on-the-job at Bell Laboratories.
For years, if you had wanted to recreate something like the apprenticeship for the makers and doers of the world, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible. First off, you would have had to find two difficult-to-locate groups of people — those who want somebody young and ambitious working near them and those who are the young and the ambitious. Second, you have to fight against the tide of over-credentialing. Sure, the apprenticeship-like model gives you experience, skills, and a network, but everybody else is being pushed towards their third higher ed credential. Fighting against that pressure can be hard for people. Third, the world is a lot more complex than just one of doctors, lawyers, blacksmiths, and apothecaries. You would have to have access to knowledge that makes the theory-side of learning how to do SaaS sales, or back-end development, or content marketing, or operations analysis possible.
That all changed with the Information Revolution. Now it is possible to reinvent the apprenticeship for the 21st Century.
Companies today move quickly. Founders and senior executives don’t have time to put the energy and resources into an apprentice that the old model required. They do have the ability and time to let others learn from them and the pure teaching and mentoring can now be offloaded on to virtual-based advisors.
The pure-knowledge aspect of today’s increasingly complex work environments is solved by access to the Internet. The Internet’s ability to simultaneously centralize and distribute useful knowledge breaks down the barriers to knowledge that faced ambitious young learners in the 20th Century and before.
The Internet has a secondary effect of killing the emphasis on the credential. When before founders, investors, and partners would be skeptical of somebody claiming to know X, Y, and Z without a verified credential, access to the entirety of their history and their projects through the Internet and platforms like LinkedIn, AngelList, and WordPress reduce the need for the trust wrapped up in the credential.
This creates a perfect storm for a return to the apprenticeship model outside of the pure trades. The 21st Century is already defined by doers and makers — entrepreneurs, developers, roboticists, designers, and builders — and locking the future of these industries behind stodgy, slow-moving institutions designed for a 20th Century workforce is not just antiquated. It’s dangerous.
As we go forward in the coming years, this process is sure to continue. As more entrepreneurs put less weight in credentials and more weight in what a candidate can do and has done, we’ll see more opportunities to get careers started outside of academia. This accelerates the learning process, accelerates growth for the companies working with these new apprentices-for-the-21st Century, and accelerates the process of the marketplace — allowing young people to get the experiences and knowledge necessary to launch their own ventures earlier than they otherwise would.
And this is what we’ve built with Praxis. When asked to describe exactly what the Praxis experience is for companies and for young people, I’ve struggled with different phrasing. “Apprenticeship” is most inclusive, but it implies for the companies that they’ll have somebody following them around in an almost-passive role; it implies for the young people that they’ll be working on construction sites or welding things together. The reality is that it is an apprenticeship, just reinvented for a world that has experienced the Information Revolution. The learning and mentoring is picked up not only by the business partner but also by Praxis staff, who fill in the niches that the business partner does not have the time or availability to fill it. The emphasis on building something — under the old model, this would have been a portfolio of patients, a building, or a successful piece of work — returns with ease-of-access to portfolios and track-records with the rise of the Internet. And the pure-learning aspect is curated directly by Praxis, as to not leave anybody curious about growing intellectually out in the cold.
That’s our mission with Praxis. If that excites you, come join us.