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Use apprenticeship to upgrade team skills

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in Leaders & Managers,Team Building

You can boost the skills of your work­ers through a time-tested approach: apprenticeship. This helps newer employees benefit from those who have valuable skills and experience to share. At the same time, it improves learning by bridging the gap between ordinary training and daily work.

Two approaches to apprenticeship offer the flexibility to meet many training needs in today's workplace. In a buddy system, an apprentice works with a lead employee most of the time, while a training assignment challenges team members to work at the limit of his or her abilities. Here's how to put these techniques to work:

The buddy system. Let pairs of people—one experienced, one new to the team or assignment—work together for weeks, months or longer. Allow an adjustment period, and give each person the right to terminate the apprenticeship. But keep workable matches in place as long as they offer continued benefits.

Make assignments to the pair, not the individuals. Give them enough demanding work to keep both busy. You'll get better work from the apprentice partner and even more top-notch results than from the lead partner working alone. 

Evaluate the employees on their results as a team. Consider not only their output, but also how much improvement has resulted from the pairing. This reinforces training and skill transfer as part of their everyday work process.

The training assignment. Many projects—such as designing forms for internal use—need only be done acceptably well. Others have no fixed or immediate deadline. If the appren­tice slightly botches such tasks on the first try, there's little harm done—and a chance to do better next time.

Parcel out these training opportu­nities to promising employees. Make each a challenge to someone you feel is just barely ready for it. Have knowledgeable and experienced co-workers readily available, and make clear you'll be evaluating how well he or she draws on these resources. You're taking a risk, but the payoff will be a better-qualified, more expe­rienced employee.

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