When I graduated University in 2009, there was a dearth of jobs. The seeming conundrum that met graduates everywhere was the job application riddle "entry level job: previous experience required."
With bad options available, I stumbled around until I found an alternative by accident. I took a job at a smaller company, making very little money, but where I had access to the CEO on a daily basis. I was able as a hungry, young person to see the inner workings of a business and have an immediate impact. I was getting paid way below market rate, but in return, I was getting something much more valuable: experience, opportunity and one-on-one on-the-job mentorship from someone with 15+ years of entrepreneurial experience. And I progressed quickly up the ranks to Marketing Director before leaving to work with another company and eventually founding my own business.
I accidentally found this, but it's really nothing new. Through the trade craft and working trades of the past, these opportunities were plentiful - they were just called apprenticeships. Now, with an ever-increasing number of traditional job paths going by the wayside, and a huge spike in interest in entrepreneurship and remote work, apprenticeships are starting to making a comeback.
I spoke with Taylor Pearson, author of The End of Jobs and creator of GetApprenticeship, to talk about this new trend and how some of the youth of today are rediscovering a tried and true career path.
What was your personal experience with free work?
I did SEO for a local marketing agency as free work for a couple of weeks and then was hired for a job right after. I knew people that spent months and years submitting resumes in order to get a job. That's free work too. The approach of doing free work for a company with a clear path to getting paid seemed better than that.
What made the concept click for you?
The free work concept instantly made sense to me. I heard about it when I was in college and thought "I'm already paying someone else to make me do work, so doing it for free is a step up."
That's doubly true when there's a very clear path from free work to paid work.
Where did the concepts of apprenticeships originate?
In Medieval Europe, it was traditional for aspiring tradesmen to apply for apprenticeships with a master of their craft. They would go to work in the master’s shop, usually for around seven years, before passing into the journeyman phase where they were required to do a project that they would submit for review to their prospective guild.
If they passed, they’d be accepted as a master who could start the whole cycle over by taking apprentices. This was the way skillsets were passed on among families and communities for centuries.
Why do you think it's starting to make a comeback?
Increasingly, the type of work in demand is the kind which requires tacit knowledge as opposed to explicit knowledge.
Explicit knowledge is the kind that can be written down in clear instructions. With the rise of computing, those instructions can increasingly be turned into software.
Tacit knowledge, as opposed to explicit knowledge, is difficult to transfer to another person by writing it down.
If you listen to the way entrepreneurial people talk, they use similar language to craftsmen like blacksmiths. They talk about a tacit feeling of the market and a sensing of the competition in the same a blacksmith has a tacit feelfor his work. The apprenticeship model is the best way we know of transferring tacit knowledge.
What sort of benefits have you seen in your own life from doing free work and apprenticeships?
The main thing is the quality of opportunities you have access to. A lot of the opportunities I got were for really interesting, fast growing companies that didn't have a lot of cash (but gave a lot of autonomy).
I eventually got to do things like build a web marketing team in Asia when I was in my mid-20s because I started with free work.
What have been the benefits that you've seen other people have?
The most impressive one by the numbers that I've seen is Vincent Nguyen.
In Vincent's words, "I was working on a side project while juggling three internships in an attempt to figure out what I wanted to be. None of that soul-searching helped until the apprenticeship came along and allowed me to move to the other side of the world to get away from family pressuring me to finish college."
He started doing an apprenticeship for Empire Flippers, and within three years was running a multi-six figure consultancy for Facebook ads.
That's a very rapid rise - you don't see many jobs that set you up for that.
(Side note: A month ago, Vincent just hired his own apprenticeship bringing the cycle full-circle.)
How many people are looking for these opportunities?
I have a few thousand people (through Get Apprenticeship) that are to-be-apprentices. I do think there are at least thousands of companies which, if they understood the idea behind an apprenticeship and how it would work for them, would be willing to offer them. I doubt there are that many on my email list though. That number is more likely in the hundreds.
I think a big part of the problem is that the idea of an apprenticeship is still new and the idea of an apprenticeship for knowledge work is REALLY new.
A lot of people want "an interesting and meaningful entry-level job that will let them meet their long-term financial goals."
That's what an apprenticeship is, when done right.
For an employer or a to-be apprentice, what's the one-sentence pitch for why they should try out apprenticeships?
For employers: Hire A+ talent for entry level sales, marketing and operations roles
For apprentices: Get your first paid, non-technical job at a remote start-up.
The culture and the opportunities are shifting. If you're looking for the best, you need to do something different. For a lot of the up and coming A-list talent, apprenticeships are that something.