The Self-Initiating Apprentice & Skills Checklist – 8 mins

The education of an apprentice on your farm is a co-creation with you. They aren’t passively sitting there  waiting for you to fill them up with information. The quality of their apprenticeship is based on 2 things:  

1) their whole-hearted engagement: they have to show up, everyday, as an active participant ready to engage in all the learning opportunity that is built into your farm or ranch, as well as seek out other resources to augment that learning:  books, videos, podcasts, workshops, local experts or neighbors they can learn from. We also put in dedicated effort to this front, as part of this program, we give them access to a whole network. A community effort. 

2) their experience with their mentor: this is where the difference between an employer  and a mentor becomes clear. A mentor isn’t only teaching them skills; you are investing in them as a person and learner, creating educational environments, and incorporating who they are into what you need them to learn, and what they want to learn (hopefully a lot of overlap).

Adult Learners 

You are involved in an adult learning program. Adult learners: 

  • need to be involved in planning their learning
  • want and need to be able to measure their progress (or lack thereof) independently and able to gauge when they do a job well and when they need to do it better – to be  self aware of their learning.
  • need learning to be relevant to their personal goals
  • prefer learning to have immediate application
  • need to be internally motivated

Photo credit: Mich Lam

Skills Checklist

The Skills Checklist is designed to help you and your apprentice plan their learning for the year. Download it here and you can begin to customize it. 

As soon as your apprentice arrives, go over the skills checklist with them to help you both get oriented to what they can do, what they need to learn right away, and how you want to work with them to monitor their competence level. The skills checklist: 

  • Helps identify learning curves and desired skills from both you and the apprentice.
  • It creates a curriculum for you to try to follow.
  • It identifies what their areas of passion are — what are they most excited to learn 
  • This checklist translates to what you will emphasize in your teaching. 

Revisit it again mid season or more often if you prefer. Use it in your check ins and as a tool if thing aren’t going well. Complete it at the end of the apprenticeship with your apprentice. The coordinators will ask for a copy of it to ensure our program is meeting its goals. 

The Early Days of an Apprenticeship

Especially at the beginning of the apprenticeship, it’s really good to do the task WITH your apprentice so you can figure out what they don’t know, ensure they are using tools correctly and don’t injure themselves or break something.

Some things that you think are a ‘no brainer’ might be completely alien to them – some examples that have come up in the past include the difference between DYED and clear diesel, what fluids to check in a vehicle before leaving headquarters, how to use a shovel correctly, what a flake of hay actually is.

Plan hands-on teaching/oversight up front to be sure they do something the way you need it done. Be very intentional and focused with this — you are learning HOW THEY LEARN, where they are naturally adept and where they will need more patience and help from you and the mentor team. 

Additionally – ask them how they like to learn – do they prefer written instructions to accompany your verbal ones? Do they need to hear something multiple times (probably).